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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Roadside Bear Statue in Wales is So Lifelike That Safety Officials Want It Removed
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Wooden bear statue.

There are no real bears in the British Isles for residents to worry about, but a statue of one in the small Welsh town of Llanwrtyd Wells has become a cause of concern. As The Telegraph reports, the statue is so convincing that it's scaring drivers, causing at least one motorist to crash her car. Now road safety officials are demanding it be removed.

The 10-foot wooden statue has been a fixture on the roadside for at least 15 years. It made headlines in May of 2018 when a woman driving her car saw the landmark and took it to be the real thing. She was so startled that she veered off the road and into a street sign.

After the incident, she complained about the bear to highways officials who agreed that it poses a safety threat and should be removed. But the small town isn't giving in to the Welsh government's demands so quickly.

The bear statue was originally erected on the site of a now-defunct wool mill. Even though the mill has since closed, locals still see the statue as an important landmark. Llanwrtyd Wells councilor Peter James called it an "iconic gateway of the town," according to The Telegraph.

Another town resident, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Telegraph that the woman who crashed her car had been a tourist from Canada where bears are common. Bear were hunted to extinction in Britain about 1000 years ago, so local drivers have no reason to look out for the real animals on the side of the road.

The statue remains in its old spot, but Welsh government officials plan to remove it themselves if the town doesn't cooperate. For now, temporary traffic lights have been set up around the site of the accident to prevent any similar incidents.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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10 Scientific Benefits of Being a Dog Owner
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The bickering between cat people and dog people is ongoing and vicious, but in the end, we're all better off for loving a pet. But if anyone tries to poo-poo your pooch, know that there are some scientific reasons that they're man's best friend.

1. YOU GET SICK LESS OFTEN.

Dog snuggling on a bed with its person.
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If cleaning commercials are to be believed, humanity is in the midst of a war against germs—and we shouldn't stop until every single one is dead. In reality, the amount of disinfecting we do is making us sicker; since our bodies are exposed to a less diverse mix of germs, our entire microbiome is messed up. Fortunately, dogs are covered in germs! Having a dog in the house means more diverse bacteria enters the home and gets inside the occupants (one study found "dog-related biodiversity" is especially high on pillowcases). In turn, people with dogs seem to get ill less frequently and less severely than people—especially children—with cats or no pets.

2. YOU'RE MORE RESISTANT TO ALLERGIES.

Child and mother playing with a dog on a bed.
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While dog dander can be a trigger for people with allergies, growing up in a house with a dog makes children less likely to develop allergies over the course of their lives. And the benefits can start during gestation; a 2017 study published in the journal Microbiome found that a bacterial exchange happened between women who lived with pets (largely dogs) during pregnancy and their children, regardless of type of birth or whether the child was breastfed, and even if the pet was not in the home after the birth of the child. Those children tested had two bacteria, Ruminococcus and Oscillospira, that reduce the risk of common allergies, asthma, and obesity, and they were less likely to develop eczema.

3. YOU'LL HAVE BETTER HEART HEALTH.

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Everything about owning a dog seems to lend itself to better heart health. Just the act of petting a dog lowers heart rate and blood pressure. A 2017 Chinese study found a link between dog ownership and reduced risk of coronary artery disease, while other studies show pet owners have slightly lower cholesterol and are more likely to survive a heart attack.

4. YOU GET MORE EXERCISE.

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While other pets have positive effects on your health as well, dogs have the added benefit of needing to be walked and played with numerous times a day. This means that many dog owners are getting 30 minutes of exercise a day, lowering their risk of cardiovascular disease.

5. YOU'LL BE HAPPIER.

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Dog owners are less likely to suffer from depression than non-pet owners. Even for those people who are clinically depressed, having a pet to take care of can help them out of a depressive episode. Since taking care of a dog requires a routine and forces you to stay at least a little active, dog owners are more likely to interact with others and have an increased sense of well-being while tending to their pet. The interaction with and love received from a dog can also help people stay positive. Even the mere act of looking at your pet increases the amount of oxytocin, the "feel good" chemical, in the brain.

6. YOU HAVE A MORE ACTIVE SOCIAL LIFE.

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Not only does dog ownership indirectly tell others that you're trustworthy, your trusty companion can help facilitate friendships and social networks. A 2015 study published in PLOS One found that dogs can be both the catalyst for sparking new relationships and also the means for keeping social networks thriving. One study even showed that those with dogs also had closer and more supportive relationships with the people in their lives.

7. YOUR DOG MIGHT BE A CANCER DETECTOR.

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Your dog could save your life one day: It seems that our canine friends have the ability to smell cancer in the human body. Stories abound of owners whose dogs kept sniffing or licking a mole or lump on their body so they got it checked out, discovering it was cancerous. The anecdotal evidence has been backed up by scientific studies, and some dogs are now trained to detect cancer.

8. YOU'LL BE LESS STRESSED AT WORK.

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The benefits of bringing a dog to work are so increasingly obvious that more companies are catching on. Studies show that people who interact with a pet while working have lower stress levels throughout the day, while people who do not bring a pet see their stress levels increase over time. Dogs in the office also lead to people taking more breaks, to play with or walk the dog, which makes them more energized when they return to work. This, in turn, has been shown to lead to much greater productivity and job satisfaction.

9. YOU CAN FIND OUT MORE ABOUT YOUR PERSONALITY.

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The kind of dog you have says a lot about your personality. A study in England found a very clear correlation between people's personalities and what type of dogs they owned; for example, people who owned toy dogs tended to be more intelligent, while owners of utility dogs like Dalmatians and bulldogs were the most conscientious. Other studies have found that dog owners in general are more outgoing and friendly than cat owners.

10. YOUR KIDS WILL BE MORE EMPATHETIC.

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Though one 2003 study found that there was no link between pet ownership and empathy in a group of children, a 2017 study of 1000 7- to 12-year-olds found that pet attachment of any kind encouraged compassion and positive attitudes toward animals, which promoted better well-being for both the child and the pet. Children with dogs scored the highest for pet attachment, and the study notes that "dogs may help children to regulate their emotions because they can trigger and respond to a child's attachment related behavior." And, of course, only one pet will happily play fetch with a toddler.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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