Felines of all kinds put on a show for area cat-lovers

Carrie Bechard holds Chippy, a 16-pound Persian retired champion, at the New Hampshire Cat Show and Agility Event at Everett Arena.

Carrie Bechard holds Chippy, a 16-pound Persian retired champion, at the New Hampshire Cat Show and Agility Event at Everett Arena. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

Judge Vicky Merrill passes out the ribbons to the winners at the at the New Hampshire Cat Show and Agility Event on Sunday, May 5, 2024.

Judge Vicky Merrill passes out the ribbons to the winners at the at the New Hampshire Cat Show and Agility Event on Sunday, May 5, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Emily Campbell holds her family’s cat Chase at the New Hampshire Cat Show and Agility Event.

Emily Campbell holds her family’s cat Chase at the New Hampshire Cat Show and Agility Event.

Carrie Bechard grooms Chippy, the 16 pound Persian retired champion at the nside the New Hampshire Cat Show and Agility Event on Sunday, May 5, 2024 at Everett Arena in Concord. Bechard says the cat was used to the grooming techique as they start the practice at an early age.

Carrie Bechard grooms Chippy, the 16 pound Persian retired champion at the nside the New Hampshire Cat Show and Agility Event on Sunday, May 5, 2024 at Everett Arena in Concord. Bechard says the cat was used to the grooming techique as they start the practice at an early age. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

A photo and ribbons inside the New Hampshire Cat Show and Agility Event on Sunday, May 5, 2024 at Everett Arena in Concord.

A photo and ribbons inside the New Hampshire Cat Show and Agility Event on Sunday, May 5, 2024 at Everett Arena in Concord. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Brandy Campbell holds out her arms as her family’s cat Chase jumps to her inside the New Hampshire Cat Show and Agility Event on Sunday, May 5, 2024 at Everett Arena in Concord.

Brandy Campbell holds out her arms as her family’s cat Chase jumps to her inside the New Hampshire Cat Show and Agility Event on Sunday, May 5, 2024 at Everett Arena in Concord. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

A sign at the entrance of the New Hampshire Cat Show and Agility Event on Sunday, May 5, 2024.

A sign at the entrance of the New Hampshire Cat Show and Agility Event on Sunday, May 5, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Butty sits with a bag on his head at the New Hampshire Cat Show and Agility Event on Sunday, May 5, 2024.

Butty sits with a bag on his head at the New Hampshire Cat Show and Agility Event on Sunday, May 5, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Judge Vicky Merrill checks a cat at the at the New Hampshire Cat Show and Agility Event on Sunday, May 5, 2024.

Judge Vicky Merrill checks a cat at the at the New Hampshire Cat Show and Agility Event on Sunday, May 5, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Judge Vicky Merrill checks a cat at New Hampshire Cat Show and Agility Event.

Judge Vicky Merrill checks a cat at New Hampshire Cat Show and Agility Event. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Carrie Bechard grooms Chippy, the 16 pound Persian retired champion at the nside the New Hampshire Cat Show and Agility Event on Sunday, May 5, 2024 at Everett Arena in Concord. Bechard says the cat was used to the grooming techique as they start the practice at an early age.

Carrie Bechard grooms Chippy, the 16 pound Persian retired champion at the nside the New Hampshire Cat Show and Agility Event on Sunday, May 5, 2024 at Everett Arena in Concord. Bechard says the cat was used to the grooming techique as they start the practice at an early age. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Owner Tracy Roberts gets ready to kiss her Chippy, the 16 pound Persian retired champion at the nside the New Hampshire Cat Show and Agility Event on Sunday, May 5, 2024 at Everett Arena in Concord.

Owner Tracy Roberts gets ready to kiss her Chippy, the 16 pound Persian retired champion at the nside the New Hampshire Cat Show and Agility Event on Sunday, May 5, 2024 at Everett Arena in Concord. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Emily Siriois and Trevor Bonk of Concord wearing their cat tops at the at the New Hampshire Cat Show and Agility Event on Sunday, May 5, 2024.

Emily Siriois and Trevor Bonk of Concord wearing their cat tops at the at the New Hampshire Cat Show and Agility Event on Sunday, May 5, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

A cat plays with a toy at the New Hampshire Cat Show and Agility Event on Sunday, May 5, 2024.

A cat plays with a toy at the New Hampshire Cat Show and Agility Event on Sunday, May 5, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Carrie Bechard grooms Chippy, the 16 pound Persian retired champion at the nside the New Hampshire Cat Show and Agility Event on Sunday, May 5, 2024 at Everett Arena in Concord. Bechard says the cat was used to the grooming techique as they start the practice at an early age.

Carrie Bechard grooms Chippy, the 16 pound Persian retired champion at the nside the New Hampshire Cat Show and Agility Event on Sunday, May 5, 2024 at Everett Arena in Concord. Bechard says the cat was used to the grooming techique as they start the practice at an early age. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Carrie Bechard grooms Chippy, the 16 pound Persian retired champion at the nside the New Hampshire Cat Show and Agility Event on Sunday, May 5, 2024 at Everett Arena in Concord. Bechard says the cat was used to the grooming techique as they start the practice at an early age.

Carrie Bechard grooms Chippy, the 16 pound Persian retired champion at the nside the New Hampshire Cat Show and Agility Event on Sunday, May 5, 2024 at Everett Arena in Concord. Bechard says the cat was used to the grooming techique as they start the practice at an early age. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Brad Dicenzo displays his cat tattoos at the New Hampshire Cat Show and Agility Event on Sunday, May 5, 2024.

Brad Dicenzo displays his cat tattoos at the New Hampshire Cat Show and Agility Event on Sunday, May 5, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Brandy Campbell holds her family’s cat Chase inside the New Hampshire Cat Show and Agility Event on Sunday, May 5, 2024 at Everett Arena in Concord.

Brandy Campbell holds her family’s cat Chase inside the New Hampshire Cat Show and Agility Event on Sunday, May 5, 2024 at Everett Arena in Concord. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

By CATHERINE McLAUGHLIN

Monitor staff

Published: 06-11-2024 2:23 PM

Fifteen-year veteran cat judge Vicky Merrill held a petite, tawny cat before the crowd to explain her score, remarking on his “wonderful profile” and “nice, heart-shaped face” as she turned his head to the side.

As she complimented his tail, he stretched his neck up to nuzzle her dangling earring, winning a hearty “Awww” from onlookers.

His personality was, as the crowd could see, quite charming. But, Merrill was resigned to say, that doesn’t fully matter from a scoring standpoint.

He lost points because of his pear-shaped body, she explained. The way his weight was distributed toward his hind was “non-traditional” for the Exotic Shorthair breed.

Even as the crowd cooed, Merrill placed him back in his cage, sanitized her hands, neck and judging table, and moved along in her scoring.

One by one, she unpacked her rankings of 10 cats to the onlookers: a nervous and vocal Bengal, an alert, playful Abyssinian who she caught mid-air in an attempted escape, an Occicat with perfectly uniform spots and bright, round eyes and a blue-point Siamese — who she could tell was an experienced show cat because of how she could move it around like putty, stretching it calmly down her arm to show off its length.

This round of judging was one of dozens taking place inside the Everett Arena at the Seacoast Cat Club’s show on May 4 and 5. Most people’s experience with pet shows comes from hours on the couch in a Thanksgiving food-coma. But unlike dog shows, cats at this event were not separated by group or placed in a bracket. In each round, judges evaluated all different types of cats based on the standards for their gender, color and breed. The cat best matching those expectations in its respective category would win top marks. Owners entered their cats in multiple rounds of judging, hoping to collect as many high rankings as possible.

“Every ring is its own show in itself,” said Andrea Hantz, a Seacoast Cat Club member and show organizer. “It could be totally different from one judge to the next.”

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Show manager Tracy Roberts brought her white and gray Persian “Char-O’s Chip Off the Old Block” with her to the show, but he wasn’t competing. Chip, as he’s commonly known, is a national award-winner and — at a seasoned two-and-a-half years old — is recently retired.

Roberts fell in love with showing after she fell in love with Persian cats. Her first Persian was a gift from family after she completed cancer treatment, and it was the breed, and learning from friends how to properly care for and groom it, that got her hooked on the hobby.

“If you ever see a big cat going by and a little person peeking out from behind it, that’s me,” Roberts said. “That’s how I always am.”

Showing, and the friendships she built through the club, have brought her out of her shell, she said.

“I’m kind of a background person,” Roberts said. “But Chip and all my friends drove me right to the top — because it takes a village to keep going at this level.”

The show, hosted in Concord for more than a decade, drew not only these feline aficionados but “cat people” of all stripes hoping to get their fill of furry friends.

For many attendees, it was their first time at a cat show. Some had heard about the event through friends, while others had seen judging clips on social media and turned out to see it in person.

Emilee Sirois and Trevor Bonk of Concord have two Ragdoll kittens at home, one of whom, Kelvin, joined them at the show — not in a crate, but printed on Bonk’s t-shirt with his name in marquis at the top. While Sirois has been around animal shows before, she’d never been to a cat show and had seen videos online. The pair were hoping to meet fellow Ragdoll owners.

“We came to see what we might be in for with fully grown Ragdolls,” Sirois said.

Many in the crowd donned their favorite kitty garb as they wandered through the maze of carriers, judging rings and vendors. Some, like animal control officer Brad DiCenzo of Haverhill, Mass., took it to the next level: DiCenzo had a partial sleeve tattoo of Siamese cats, his favorite breed and what his family always had when he was a kid.

The hobbyist nature of cat shows fosters a culture of camaraderie, Roberts and other owners explained. There are no professional handlers: unlike show dogs, cats are evaluated without the coaching and preening of anyone other than the judge.

Cat shows are also more approachable because they include a household pets category for any cat that doesn’t fit squarely in a breed. These cats, because they are not held to a breed standard, are judged on their overall appearance, health and, more so than pedigree cats, personality. All judging is subjective, but this one in particular plays to the judge’s preferences, Hantz said.

The household category can also be an on-ramp for the curious into the hobby, getting a chance to learn the show ropes without investing in an expensive and high-maintenance pure-bred pet.

For many, though, the show was simply a way to be around their favorite animals.

“It’s fun to imagine what she would say about our cats,” attendee Jill Murphy said as she watched Merrill’s judging. Her family has two diluted Calicos at home, but she was skeptical at the idea of showing them. “They’re troublemakers.”