Cats Muscle In On Pedigree Chums At America's Top Dog Show

  • 12/02/2017
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Dogs from petite papillons to muscular Rottweilers showed off their four-footed agility at America's version of Crufts, tackling obstacles from hurdles to tunnels - and so did some other rare breeds - cats.

It included a cat agility demonstration contest, while more than 300 of America's top agility dogs vied in a more formal competition.

It did not exactly mean there were cats in the 140-year-old dog show, but it came close enough to prompt some "what?!" and waggish alarm about a breakdown in the animal social order.

Some Twitter users have portrayed the development as a sign of impending cat-astrophe.

A satirical Chicago Tribune column declared that "we can't just let cats start racing across the borders of traditional dog events".

Even some Westminster competitors found the juxtaposition jarringm, or "so weird", in the words of Hannah Naiburg of Milford, Connecticut, who guided her terrier mix Molly in Westminster's agility contest.

But others tipped their hats to the cats that were padding and prowling around their own course, most of them trying the sport for the first time.

"Good for them," said Tina Ackerman of Goffstown, New Hampshire, who handled her bichon frise, Bubba Watson.

"There's no way we could ever have trained any of our cats to do agility."

Bemisu, a one-year-old sphynx cat nicknamed Misha, had never tried the sport before Saturday.

But within half an hour she was following owner Blake Gipson's toy-dangling signals to hop through hoops and run through a mesh tunnel, so well that she bested about 30 other cats to win.

"I had no idea she would learn so fast," said Mr Gipson, whose nearly hairless, down-covered cats share his Denver home with a pit bull.

"She's smarter than I ever gave her credit for."

If Saturday's Meet the Breeds event, sponsored by Westminster, the American Kennel Club and The International Cat Association, gave felines their first chance to share Westminster's spotlight, it also illustrated that there was plenty of everyday crossover between the dog and cat camps.

In fact, a 2011 CBS News poll found that 23% of American pet owners have both a dog and a cat.

Agility is increasingly popular for both species, seen as a way to give the animals activity and strengthen the bond between pets and their people.

Lonnie, a mixed-breed dog born in an animal shelter, used to be "afraid of everything", even being in a car, owner Robin Lembo said.

She started training Lonnie in obedience and then agility to build her confidence and now the eight-year-old is so outgoing that she eagerly ran the agility course in front of crowds Saturday.

And Mrs Lembo of West Milford, New Jersey, is all for cats getting into the agility act.

"I keep telling my husband to try it because he's a cat lover," she said

As every cat owner who has watched their pet walk along a railing knows, feats of agility come naturally to many felines.

But training? A cat?

It is easier than many people think, though cats are often more motivated by chasing toys than getting treats, said Vickie Shields, who oversaw Saturday's agility demonstrations.

A former trainer of dogs for field trials, she helped organise cat agility as a sport in 2003, largely with the goal of getting people to play more with their cats.

"People think cats are solitary - they aren't," said Ms Shields, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, noting that wild cats often form colonies.

"You can do stuff with them, too, it's not just dogs."

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