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Pschemp, Wikipedia // CC BY-SA 3.0
Pschemp, Wikipedia // CC BY-SA 3.0

A Brief, Fur-Filled History of Cat Shows

Pschemp, Wikipedia // CC BY-SA 3.0
Pschemp, Wikipedia // CC BY-SA 3.0

If you’re a die-hard feline fancier, you’ve most likely been to a cat show. Between the elaborately decorated cages, the agility contests, and the perfectly groomed Persians, you may have a) left the premises needing Benadryl or a lint roller, or b) wondered how these juried competitions began.

Turns out, ailurophiles have wanted to show their furry companions off to the world since long before the Internet popularized cat videos, or memes transformed felines like Lil Bub or Grumpy Cat into celebrities. Many sources say that the world’s very first cat show was held at the St. Giles Fair in Winchester, England in 1598, but beyond that, there's not much information about the event (if it actually took place). In subsequent years, more cat owners might have hosted similar, lesser-known affairs. But the event that truly put cat shows on the map was a national competition at London's Crystal Palace in July 1871.

Harrison Weir, an artist and "Father of Cat Fancy," who authored the first pedigree cat book, Our Cats and All About Them (1889), founded the UK's National Cat Club and was the first to set standards for specific cat breeds. Thanks to these bona fides, he’s usually credited with organizing the Crystal Palace show. Other accounts state that naturalist Fred Wilson, who served as superintendent of the natural history department at the Crystal Palace, was instrumental in planning it. (Newspapers also mention that Wilson may have hosted his own small cat show at the venue three years prior.)

In any case, the grand Crystal Palace event reportedly showcased a range of exotic cats. According to varying reports, between 150 and 211 were shown. A staggering 200,000 guests are said to have ogled a range of Siamese cats, Manx cats, Persian cats, and English Shorthair cats. Newspapers noted the presence of other unusual felines, including a Scottish Wildcat owned by the Duke of Sutherland, an Algerian Cat that was listed as a “French African cat,” a polydactyl cat that had 26 claws, and a tortoiseshell cat. Some cats are also said to have belonged to the Palace's workmen, or to have been caught in the palace cellars and thrown into cages to satisfy the event's animal quota.  

Weir and one of his brothers, John Jenner Weir, served as judges along with the Reverend J. Cumming Macdona, a well-known Saint Bernard breeder. Weir had written a set of guidelines to judge the cats by, which he called “Standards of Excellence” or “Standards of Points.” They were later transformed into a manual for cat show organizers called “Our Cats.” Participating felines were sorted into different classes according to color, shape, coat length, and body type. Awards were granted to cats that fit Weir’s criteria, and prizes were also given to the event’s “fattest cat” and “biggest cat.”

The cat show ended up being such a public success that Weir organized another cat show at the Crystal Palace several months later. The first cat competition had been planned in a hurry, and showcased many fancy pets from aristocratic households. The second show, however, encouraged working-class individuals to submit their ordinary domestic cats. Weir hoped that by celebrating the humble Tom, owners would take better care of their feline companions. The follow-up exhibition ended up displaying far more kitties than the first one, and an expanded judge pool awarded trophies to pedigreed and "working men's cats" alike. 

Meanwhile, between the two Crystal Palace shows, a feline frenzy spread over the denizens of Europe. Four other private cat shows were held by entrepreneurial members of the lay public—two in London, and two in Scotland. Soon after, cat shows became a common occurrence in Europe. 

Eventually, the practice crossed the Pond. The first well-known cat show in America was held in New York City’s Madison Square Garden in 1895. Fanciers began organizing their own events, and various American cat clubs and associations were formed.

Over the years, cat shows gradually morphed into the be-glittered, be-furred, and, well, slightly absurd animal pageants they are today. Of course, all countries rely on separate breed standards, and each cat group adheres to its own rules and regulations—meaning one cat show isn't necessarily like the other, depending on its location or organizer. Still, it's fun to know where the practice got its start—and to know that the Siamese, which is now the ninth most popular cat breed in America, was once seen by a journalist at the first Crystal Palace show and described as an "an unnatural, nightmare kind of cat." Times and tastes may change, but rest assured: As long as there are cats, there will always be cat people ... and cat shows. 

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holidays
Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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Animals
If You Want Your Cat to Poop Out More Hairballs, Try Feeding It Beets
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Have you ever wondered if there’s a way to get your cat to poop out its hairballs instead of hacking them up? If so, you’re likely a seasoned cat owner whose tolerance for gross stuff has reached the point of no return. Luckily, there may be an easy way to get your cat to dispose of hairballs in the litter box instead of on your carpet, according to one study.

The paper, published in the Journal of Physiology and Animal Nutrition, followed the diets of 18 mixed-breed short-haired cats over a month. Some cats were fed straight kibble, while others were given helpings of beet pulp along with their regular meals. The researchers suspected that beets, a good source of fiber, would help move any ingested hair through the cats’ digestive systems, thus preventing it from coming back up the way it went in. Following the experiment, they found that the cats with the beet diet did indeed poop more.

The scientists didn’t measure how many hairballs the cats were coughing up during this period, so it's possible that pooping out more of them didn’t stop cats from puking them up at the same rate. But considering hairballs are a matter of digestive health, more regular bowel movements likely reduced the chance that cats would barf them up. The cat body is equipped to process large amounts of hair: According to experts, healthy cats should only be hacking hairballs once or twice a year.

If you find them around your home more frequently than that, it's a good idea to up your cat's fiber intake. Raw beet pulp is just one way to introduce fiber into your pet's diet; certain supplements for cats work just as well and actually contain beet pulp as a fiber source. Stephanie Liff, a veterinarian at Pure Paws Veterinary Care in New York, recommends psyllium powder to her patients. Another option for dealing with hairballs is the vegetable-oil based digestive lubricant Laxatone: According to Dr. Liff, this can "help to move hairballs in the correct direction."

[h/t Discover]

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