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The truth about cats at the Westminster dog show

By: Karin Brulliard The Washington Post
February 10, 2017 Updated: February 10, 2017 at 4:10 am
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Cat breeder Anthony Hutcherson shows off a Bengal Cat during a press conference, Monday Jan. 30, 2017, in New York. The Bengal Cat will be featured at the 141st Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in a non-competitive "meet the breeds" exhibition, where cats will be shown for the first time, Madison Square Garden, Feb. 13-14. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

For fans of the Westminster Kennel Club dog show, the headline might have been alarming: "The Westminster dog show is adding cats this year," Newsweek informed the world last week.

But while this was not exactly fake news, it was also not exactly true. Cats are not about to tread on show dogs' sovereign terrain or usurp their hold on prime-time television pageantry (kitties already rule the internet, after all). Westminster is still a dog-only show - for now.

What is true: Cats will, for the first time in several years, be on display at a joint Westminster-American Kennel Club event Saturday, two days before the canine competition begins. It's called "Meet the breeds," an occasion where members of the public can ogle and learn about many dozens of dog breeds, each with its own booth.

This year, out of the kindness of their canine-loving hearts, and because of a bit of public pressure, the American Kennel Club decided to bring back cats. Forty breeds of cats also will have booths.

But the cats on display are "not just everyday regular felines," noted Brandi Hunter, an AKC spokeswoman. They are designer breeds such as Maine Coons and toygers, Nebelungs and Bengals - one of which stole the limelight from three new dog breeds introduced at a Westminster news conference last week.

What also sets these cats apart from the ones at your home is that some compete in agility contests. Perhaps you have seen dog agility competitions: Pooches race through obstacle courses, guided by a handler who cannot touch them nor entice them with treats, toys or any incentive for their efforts.

Cats do that, too? Not exactly. Anthony Hutcherson, the owner of the Bengal that generated all the cats-at-Westminster headlines last week - a mini-leopard named Jungletrax Abiding Ovation - said the basic idea is the same: Get the cat to complete an obstacle course quickly and flawlessly. But these being cats, they need a good reason for doing this. So, feline agility allows - and from the cat's perspective, requires - handlers to lure the animal through the course with a toy on a string.

Basically, the cat thinks it's hunting, rather than doing its owner's bidding, Hutcherson said. In general, some cats are more cooperative on agility courses than others, he said.

"I don't know if it's temperament. Sometimes I think it's intelligence," said Hutcherson, who's on the board of the International Cat Association. "Not that the smartest cats are the ones that are best at agility. Sometimes I think it's the opposite."

It's more about prey drive, he said. "Some cats, if they see something that looks like a mouse or bird, they're going for it 100 percent," he said. Others "are well fed and have everything they want."

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