(photo by Melissa Leu)

CIVIC CENTER — From the time she was a little girl, Karen Williams has wanted a fluffy, white cat.

Like any hobbyist, Karen started small. She bought her first kitten, a white Persian, while living in Wisconsin. Three moves and thirty years later, she’s traveled to countless cat shows, become an established breeder and has recently started entering her cats in competitions.

For the Santa Monica Cat Show, Williams drove almost seven hours from her home in Mesa, Arizona to showcase her cats, as well as to sell two red tabby and white shorthair kittens.

“Cat shows get you out of town… it’s coming to a new city. You get to meet new people, see vendors and find out about new products on the market, talk to people and look at other breeds of cats. You don’t get to do that at home,” Williams said.

More than 300 cats and kittens of all breeds competed in the 44th annual show, put on by the Santa Monica Cat Club, last Saturday and Sunday at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. The competition was isolated to the southwest region of the Cat Fancier’s Association, which includes California, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii.

“This is really one of the largest shows that they have in the Santa Monica area. It’s probably the only show in the Santa Monica area,” said Art Graafmans, the show manager who got involved to give back to the cat owner community.

“I love cats. I’ve had cats my whole life,” said Ellen Karr, whose friend encouraged her to buy an ocicat for its unique spotted look.

“Because I am a breeder and I have numerous cats at home. When I travel to a show I only bring one or two cats, so you know they really get one on one time with mom,” Karr said. “It’s like one on one time that you spend with your own children, and that’s always special.”

Karr, who breeds ocicats and manx cats, also sends her animals to compete. Judges award ribbons based on how well the cat conforms to the standards for each breed in its category.

Kittens, which are 4-8 months old, premier cats, adult cats that have been spayed or neutered and champion cats, adult cats that have not been altered, are further differentiated by sex and color.

After judging all the cats in a class, judges choose their final top 10-15 cats or kittens to receive rosettes. Household pets are all judged in one group and the winner receives the merit award.

“You don’t have to have a pedigree cat to show in a pet show,” Ellen Karr said. “If you have your cat at home that is really outgoing. You bathe it, you groom it, you trim toes, you can enter it in the household pet category.”

“It’s competition. The more you win the more excited you become and the more fun it is,” Williams said.

Aside from the breeders and competitors, notable celebrities such as Billy Bob Thornton and Nicole Kidman have also joined general spectators, exploring aisles of cats ranging from the exotic to the everyday household pet.

Erin Cloke, who owns a cat she describes as a “mutt,” attended the show with her husband and two children because her “kids want[ed] to see the cats.”

“We actually came a couple of years ago because we saw the sign outside. It’s a very interesting culture of people. Lots of cats you see [here] that you don’t see anywhere else in the world,” Cloke said.

“It’s a hobby. It’s more than what you see on the surface. A lot of us raise cats because we genuinely love them. It’s a life commitment. You don’t just do this. You do this because it becomes your life,” Graafmans said.

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