|EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the story of of a cat with a strong personality and a poor attitude. In this case, it is a Persian, but it could just as easily have been any breed of cat. As much as the story is about the cat, it is also the story of the owner. An owner who was determined to help her kitty overcome her attitude problem... an owner who was willing to try to think like a cat to figure out the key to changing her cat's behavior... an owner who believed in her cat and never gave up believing in her...|
Symphony at 10 months. Photo by Helmi Flick
Photo by Helmi Flick
Once Upon a Time…
I had a cat that I believed in and her name was Symphony.
She was a pretty little girl, but she had a BAD attitude and her own way of doing things… She fought with me during each and every bath and would hide under the bed when it came time to leave for the show. Perhaps she was trying to live up to her full name - Symphony-of-Destruction?
The judges didn't like her pissy looks and her “I am so much better than you” attitude. They finaled lesser quality cats and passed her over, much to my dismay.
This was a battle of the wills and I was not to be outwitted by a 7 lb cat! I would not quit, even though many other exhibitors told me I should. They would shake their heads when they saw us coming to the ring and laugh at the small Persian with such bad disposition. “Some cats just shouldn't be shown”…”Not every cat is a Show Cat”...and “I would never force a cat to show if they didn't like it”…were just a few of the comments made to me regarding Symphony. I was becoming more and more disheartened as each show. I didn't want Symphony to continue with her poor manners and I certainly didn't want to risk her scratching or biting a judge.
Symphony: The Early Days
Symphony, pictured on the right at 5 weeks of age, was born an only child.
Symphony's mother, CH Sunlit A Touch-of-Cream, came down with pyometra at the age of 10 months before she was even bred. Even though the infection was cleared, she had a hard time conceiving. I put Creamy with several males, but none were successful in getting her pregnant. My last hope was the only other male I had- a young, unproven solid Black male named CH Rare Earth Blade-of-Zorro. I had wanted to have a litter full of Red and Cream Smokes, but it looked like this boy was my only option.
Symphony was the last to be born in a litter of three. Her cream smoke brother and her blue cream smoke sister were both stillborn. Symphony looked dead at birth too, but after anxious minutes massaging her limp body, I was able to get her breathing. She was to be the only living kitten that Creamy would ever have.
Because Symphony was the first and last in her line, she was specially precious to me and therefore treated like the diva she was born to be. I was a little disappointed that she wasn't a Cream Smoke, but determined to make the best of it. Even at a very early age, I could see that she was special. Her eyes were enormous and her head was so large it looked like a bobble head.
I kept her separate from the older kittens from another mother that I had at the time, fearing that they would injure her vulnerable eyes. I don't know if it was this lack of play time and sharing with other kittens or her natural personality, but Symphony started hissing at her own mother by the age of 5 weeks and had to be weaned from her early. In all of my years breeding, I've never seen anything like it.
My Problem Child
Symphony didn't show very well as a kitten. At her very first show as a barely 4 month old kitten, she was already hissing at the judges.”You're too young to be hissing” one judge exclaimed, much to my embarrassment. Her undercoat was so undefined, another judge told me he thought she wasn't even a Smoke at all, but rather a “neither /nor”. He also admitted that he had never seen a Blue Cream Smoke before in almost 40 years of judging. I knew that even though her coat didn't look right at that moment, she was definitely a Blue Cream Smoke, and in time, her sparkling white undercoat would reveal itself again, but I was beginning to realize just how special Symphony really was.
Not An Easy Grand
There are some exhibitors who believe that if a cat hasn't granded within a certain number of shows, it isn't worthy of the title. When you are showing a minority color, in a minority division, with little to no ring competition, to judges who probably haven't even seen the color before - these “rules” do not apply. I honestly don't know how many shows it took me to grand Symphony, but I do know it was more than ten.
Symphony was not an “easy grand” and had to take a break from showing in order to have a litter of kittens before I was able to finish granding her. I had hoped the time would help her mature and calm her attitude. She turned out to be a wonderful mother to her babies.
Symphony and her daughter, GP Rare Earth's Bittersweet Rhapsody, a blue cream smoke
Photo by L. Johnson
I felt optimistic when we returned to the show hall many months later, but it only took a few shows before she was up to her old tricks - hissing, swishing her tail madly and throwing dirty looks at the judges. We were able to finish her Grand Champion title fairly quickly, however, I had serious doubts about whether or not Symphony would allow herself to be campaigned. I felt it was important for more judges to see a high quality blue cream smoke simply because the color and quality were relatively rare. Indeed, there had only been a handful of blue cream smoke regional winners in the entire history of CFA.
But I wouldn't campaign Symphony unless I could find a way to help her enjoy the shows more.
Symphony at 10 months. Photo by Helmi Flick
Photo by Helmi Flick
Improving Symphony's Attitude
I was given lots of advice from more “experienced” exhibitors on how to "cure" Symphony of "herself".
I didn't cage Symphony at home. Never had. Lots of people told me to you HAD to cage show cats... and if I just caged Symphony it would improve her attitude. The theory is that caging is supposed to make the cat hungry for attention, so when the judge takes her out of the cage at the show, she would be thrilled and happy and respond accordingly.
So, I put her in a comfortable cage at home and ignored her.
Now, I'm sure there are some cats that are caged who see coming out as a reward, but Symphony wasn't one of them. She didn't need my attention. The only thing she wanted was food!
In fact, since her pregnancy, Symphony had grown substantially and she was no longer a 7 lb cat. She was now topping over 10 lbs and getting closer to 11 lbs!
I actually had one judge insinuate that she was pregnant! Symphony needed to be put on a diet! She needed exercise!
Caging was not helping, so I decided to concentrate on her weight problems for a change of pace.
Symphony's veterinarian, who is also a breeder and exhibitor in CFA, assured me that her weight was nothing to worry about. She was not “extremely obese”, as one judge had recently announced to the spectators upon seeing her. The vet did think she might look better if she lost a bit of weight though. While discussing Symphonies health, we also talked about her attitude problem and my vet suggested some behavior modification techniques.
There were things that motivated Symphony to behave well. Luckily, most of these were food related. Her favorite treat was Chicken Baby food, so I started to give her a couple of spoonfuls after each ring until she knew to expect it as her reward. I also allowed her to eat non-diet kibble at the shows as opposed to the usual bland diet food that she was eating at home.
Avoiding The Triggers
The more I thought about it, the more I realized there were several “triggers” that would turn Symphony's mood in the wrong direction; being combed before the ring; judges that handled her too roughly; being pulled out of the cage by the judge too soon after I had just put her in. I learned to listen to her and avoid the things that annoyed her, while at the same time accentuating the things she looked forward to... and gradually, her attitude changed for the better.
The Tide Turns!
As Symphony's attitude softened, the judges began to take notice of her and reward her quality. She began climbing higher in the regional standings. By December, Symphony's smoke undercoat became more defined, and the Best Cat rosettes started rolling in. She slimmed a pound and a half off and that helped too. We made trips outside of Region 3 to New Mexico, Arizona and California where she won more Best Cats, while always climbing higher in the standings.
I was so proud of Symphony and the progress she had made. Many of the people who knew what a struggle it had been for use were congratulating us and the applause at ringside for Symphony grew. Even complete strangers took the time to tell us how wonderful Symphony was and to ask about her unusual color.
Of course, not everyone was pleased. Some of the people who owned cats that Symphony had passed in the rankings no longer give us a pleasant smile at the shows. Some wouldn't speak to us at all.
That part of campaigning gave me pause. Everyone likes to think that cat shows are like any legitimate competition and the spirit of “Let the Best Cat win,” will always prevail, but unfortunately, there is this little thing in the Cat Fancy called “Politics.” You may not want to acknowledge it, but politics is a phantom that will reveal itself at times, especially near the end of the show season when things get very tight point-wise. Judges have their favorites. They favor certain cats that they would like to see climb higher. I wish I could say all of CFA's judges were completely unbiased in their selections, but think that would be very unlikely. Politics does exist, and it is something that must be dealt with if you intend on showing and especially campaigning. I came to realize that I probably wouldn't win any popularity contests when my cat was defeating cats that were owned by well known exhibitors.
What I Learned... Believe in Yourself... and Believe In Your Cat
It certainly wasn't an easy journey with Symphony, my second homebred regional winner. But perhaps the fact that the road was a bit rocky ended up being a positive more than a negative. Together, my contrary kitty and I learned quite a lot along the way. I learned never to let someone's disparaging remarks discourage you from pursuing your dream. I learned that if you have a “difficult” show kitty, make sure you explore all of the options available to you before you throw in the towel. You may just find something that works. And perhaps most of all, I learned that if you try hard enough, and the cat is good enough, even the small breeder with a minority color can aim high and climb to the top...
Photo by L. Johnson
GC, GP, RW Rare Earth Symphony-of-Destruction
Multiple Best Cat Winner
3rd Best Cat in the CFA's Gulf Shore Region 2007-2008
Best Smoke and Best Blue Cream Smoke in CFA's Gulf Shore Region 2007-2008
2nd Best Smoke Nationally and Best Blue Cream Smoke in CFA 2007-2008