DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
The Aloha Cat Fanciers' Halloween cat show at McCoy Pavilion featured festive cats. This group of felines and their owners have built solid friendships together. They are, front row from left, Diane Umeda, Donna Street, Betty Leach and Marylyn Sanada. In the back are Gerald Umeda, left, and Sandy Adams.
Families bond within little-known Cat Fanciers Association
"Isn't he just the cutest thing ever?"
There's an old saying: You can't choose your relatives, but you can choose your friends. To members of Aloha Cat Fanciers, that's just not true.
Sherlane Dick carries pictures in her wallet of her favorite family member, a fluffy purebred Persian named Ala Orange. There is a picture of Mr. Orange sunning on a chaise lounge, the couch and enjoying the view from Dick's lanai.
To Dick and other members of the Aloha Cat Fanciers, family members don't have to be human; they can be four-legged and furry, and most important, feline.
ACF's annual Halloween show is a place to worship the average "household" cat (mixed breed, or pedigreed without paperwork), as well as admire the lines of fancy-schmancy types such as Siamese and Persians. When you hear talk of "the perfect animal," you know you have stepped into the right place; all the key phrases are what you expect to hear -- murmurings about good bone structure, good coat, good eyes, with owners waiting in the wings like proud pageant mothers.
ACF is a small, close group with more than a few multigenerational families of breeders and pedigreed pet owners. While cat shows may not be as popular as dog shows, more than 350 Cat Fancier Association shows are held yearly around the country; in Hong Kong cat shows often bring crowds of 5,000.
"You get hooked on it," said participant Marylyn Sanada.
Some competitors, although they might not belong to a cat club, have lovingly raised the animals from birth, choosing a specific pedigreed type to resemble the animals of their imaginations; others have taken in abandoned strays or cats from local shelters.
IT IS SAFE to call Sandy Adams a cat lover. The Kaneohe resident has taken in multiple strays. "I have seven that sleep in my bed and two more at a friend's house."
Adams is dressed for the Halloween show, cheerfully talking about her pets while a trail of blood-red liquid makeup trails down her forehead.
Her partner, Donna Street, is also a cat lover, and both are suckers for cats with hard-luck stories. They have taken in strays that have wandered up to their door, as well as several abused and neglected cats. All the cats are now neutered and spayed, living peacefully on their land after being given a clean bill of health by the vet.
Both are supportive of the Trap-Neuter-Return-Manage Programs, in which feral animals are sterilized, then monitored as they return to cat colonies around the island. But Street and Adams can tell you stories about their pets, such as the one-eyed cat found in a Dumpster at Keehi Lagoon, and the pair of brothers that wandered up to their door, one at a time. One of which, Red O'Feral, now in good health, placed fourth in the household competition this year.
"Each of them was a rescue," said Street. "I love each and every one of them."
Adams and Street are the nucleus of the household pet division. They have five cats at the show, including a 12-year-old calico named Boo Boo that they had given to Adams' mother, Betty Leach, after her husband, Fowler, died three years ago.
"I was always a dog person," said Leach. "But when Donna and Sandy -- my two daughters -- gave me Boo Boo, she turned out to be more company than I ever thought I needed."
Adams and Street have even collected cat show "groupies," Gerald and Diane Umeda, whom they met last year at an expo. "Diane and Gerald have gone so far as to offer to take the whole pride of ours, should something happen to us, and they have six of their own," said Adams.
Adams' and Street's friend Sanada and her daughter, Melissa, are acquaintances from previous shows. Melissa is now a steward at the show and is learning to be a judge's assistant. Her cat, Nohea, a Persian without the paperwork, is a princess for Halloween, with a tiara on her head.
"I love everything about the show," said Sanada. "The showing, all the friends you bump into, hearing the judges' opinions. It's a learning experience. You find out what you can do to improve your cat, like the grooming. (As for my friends) we sort of adopted each other."
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Charlee Abrams, left, enjoyed the cat show with her granddaughter Mikki Biete, 5, and her daughter Cori Biete.
IF THE atmosphere in the household pet division is boisterous, it tends to be all business in the pedigreed division, where a feline can cost upward of $1,500.
Charlee Abrams, her mother, Lucy Caple, daughter Cori Biete and granddaughter Mikki Biete are four generations of cat breeders within one family.
"My mother -- who is 87 -- and I hope that we give inspiration to the next generations, that they will pick up the baton," said Abrams, a full-time real estate agent. "We just took to the pedigreed cat 20 years ago."
Abrams, a member of the Hawaii All Breed Cat Fanciers, is one of two Siamese cat breeders in Hawaii. She has been doing it for two decades on Kauai, traveling to Oahu shows four times a year. Her granddaughter takes part in the family tradition as a steward at shows, cleaning up cages.
The local branches of CFA each hold a show a year and compete in a regional competition with owners and breeders of pedigreed cats.
"While 30 percent of cats in the U.S. are purebred, only about 10 percent are show cats. (The shows are) really like Miss Hawaii or Miss America," said Abrams.
Linette Barrios and her granddaughter, Veronica, are a multigenerational family joined at the hip when it comes to breeding cats.
"It's just a way for us to spend time together," said Barrios, an entry clerk and president of ACF.
With pedigreed cats, beauty is defined as that which best fits the trademarks of a given breed. CFA standards recognize 36, said Betty Denny, a CFA judge since 1959.
"Breeders want to produce the best quality. ... We're trying to do right by the breed," said Barrios. "We're not there to produce for the public. These cats are for people who want a once-in-a-lifetime fabulous cat. ... You want to better the breeds ... (and) breeders won't give cats to just anyone."
It was her daughter, Ana, who got her interested in cat shows. "I was a dog person. My daughter had wanted cats. We both joined at the same time."
Pedigreed pets, like mixed-breed pets, are paraded separately before four judges in categories of kitten (younger than eight months), premiere (neutered or spayed) and champion. Unlike house pets, every pedigreed cat is scored up to 100 points and can go on to regional competitions. While owners of household pets may show their pets locally, they do not earn points for major shows.
To come up with show-worthy cats, "breeders spend more money than they actually make," said Barrios.
Breeders will tell you the art of creating the perfect animal gets into the blood. But a few say they like the idea that they are improving the health of a breed.
Not everyone is convinced. For her part, Adams, who has attended the shows for five years but is not a member of the club, said her preference still lies with household pets.
"They've got street smarts. We don't care if the cats do well. We just want to meet people with similar interests. The cats don't care. The (shows) are for the owners."
Aloha Cat Fanciers meet at 4:30 p.m. on the first Sunday of every month. Call 261-4354 for location.