Cat Fantasia

by Thomas Beller

06/03/2006

4 W 33rd St, NY, NY 10001

Neighborhood: Chelsea

For several hours one afternoon last week, the unremarkable interior of a midtown hotel room was transformed into a kind of cat fantasia for the nineties, featuring some of the more exotic and genetically up to date entries in the Ninth Annual Cat show, which was recently held at Madison Square Garden. Cats were perched on chairs and couches and windowsills– a few even deigned to step on the floor. Their owners stood fawningly over them waving what appeared to be feather dusters lined with sparkly sequins while the cats jumped up, stared inquisitively, or assumed some other quintessential cat pose–provoked by this mystery object, referred to appropriately as a “cat tease.”

Though beautiful, most of the cats present would not be mistaken for regular house pets. One, named Battle Hymn, has been groomed to resemble a lion (or a poodle) and spent the afternoon resting languorously on its own divan, decorated in a cheetah pattern that also matched the bow tie around its neck as well as the skirt, bracelet, and earrings of its owner, Lise Gerard. On a windowsill, nestled into a cat-sized playpen lined with pink fur, a father and son Sphinx team curled up, the father diligently licking the wrinkly infant. The sphinx is a breed far from the average cat– in fact one is likely to pause a moment before venturing that it is a cat at all. Their owner described the sphinx breed as, “a cat with no clothes on.” In fact the sphinx is a breed of cat that has no hair, only a faint stubble that any skinhead would be proud of, and a worried and wrinkly face. In order to best appreciate their beauty, their owner advised, “It helps to think of them as Yoda or E.T.”

The star of the unusual cat sweepstakes, however, was a breed making its debut at this year’s cat show–The Long Haired Munchkin. This is a breed that owes its existence in large part to Dr. Solveig Pflueger, a geneticist for “both humans and cats.” The Munchkin’s major distinction is that it has very short legs. “It’s the cat equivalent of a dachshund,” Dr. Pflueger said, as she twirled her Cat Teaser above a Munchkin while it vainly tried to leap up after it. Dr. Pflueger suggested that the long haired Munchkin would be ideal for someone who didn’t want their cat leaping up on counters and sofas. Joan Rivers has apparently dubbed it, for reasons that are unclear, The Doctor Ruth cat.

Some of the cats fit a more conventional definition of beauty. Victoria Garvin, an administrator in the paintings and sculpture department of the museum of Modern Art, is the owner of Ursa Minor, an Oci whose main distinction, in addition to a lithe sleek body, is a spotted coat of hair that closely resembles that of a leopard. Ms. Garvin, who lives in a house in Northern New jersey with nine cats and a brother, suggested that the “jungle look” was enjoying a bit of a vogue among cats.

Perhaps the most low key cat/owner pair was that of Fred Andrews and his cat Hermes. Mr. Andrews, who happened to be the only male owner present, sat quietly in an arm chair throughout the afternoon, wearing a V-neck purple sweater. Hermes, an ash gray Chartreux, huddled against his stomach, which provided a bit of a perch. “He terrified,” said Mr. Andrews of his cat. “It’s his first show.”

The Chartreux is a rare breed of cat in America; they originated in France and only arrived in 1970. Legend has it that the only ones that survived the two wars were those living in monasteries.

Mr. Andrews, a thirty one year old Staten Island native, entered the world of pedigree cats in 1986. He consulted the Simon & Shuster Guide To Cats and settled on the Chartreux because it was beautiful and also, “Because that was the one that looked the most normal. I wasn’t interested in any of the funky looking cats.”

The Chartreux is so rare that those wishing to acquire it usually have a six month wait, and kitten can cost up to a thousand dollars. Mr. Andrews now has nine of them, who live with him, uncaged, in a two bedroom apartment. The one male Chartreux gets the other bedroom.

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