For some, showing cats can be as difficult as, well, herding cats

For some, showing cats can be as difficult as, well, herding cats
Tonkinese kittens share some play time on the bed top of owners Linda and Carmen Martino. Photo by Rachel Stine

DEL MAR — In the Martinos’ small home in Vista, there are nights when Carmen Martino is kicked out of the petite double-bed he shares with his wife Linda and forced to sleep in another room. On such nights, those doing the kicking are their Tonkinese kittens.

The Martinos have been breeding and showing pedigree cats for nearly 25 years, specializing in the Tonkinese breed. They currently have two litters of the kittens.

“I tell people it’s so much cheaper than a psychiatrist,” said Linda Martino as the kittens frolicked around her feet. “(The cats are) just loving me up and they are my Valium.”

The Martinos’ passion is embodied in their website, VivaTonk.com, and their YouTube channel by the same name dedicated to their Tonkinese cats.

The Martinos will be showing two of their cats, Cosset and Chantilly, at the Food and Water Bowl XXI hosted by the San Diego chapter of the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) Jan. 26 and Jan. 27 at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

Carmen (left) and Linda (right) play with some of their pedigreed Tonkinese kittens, which they have bred according to CFA standards. Photo by Rachel Stine

More than 150 exhibitors will be showing over 300 cats at the show, the largest of its kind west of Mississippi.

At the show, cats will go whisker-to-whisker for top awards in breed standards and an agility competition. But just as much as the show is an exhibition of cats, it’s also a testament to people’s devotion to their furry felines.

While non-bred cats can be entered into the household cat class, the show’s competition emphasizes on showing pedigreed cats.

Exhibitors go to extensive lengths and expense to breed and show purr-fect cats in order to win top ribbons.

The majority of the competition ring will be dedicated to judging cats based on breed standards established by the CFA. Points are awards to cats with physical characteristics that best match the physical qualities of their respective breeds, according to Sandee Gilbert, the show’s press coordinator.

The breed standards differ and emphasize certain qualities, such as head shape or coat color, more than others.

“You want a specific breed to look a specific way, otherwise you could just be breeding for anything,” Gilbert said. “We (CFA members) basically consider people who do not breed their cats as backyard breeders.”

“(Breeding cats) is a commitment of emotions and finances,” explained Linda.

She and her husband breed four litters of Tonkinese kittens each year. In doing so they take on the burden of paying for the kittens’ food, litter and medical expenses, which often amount to more than the kittens’ selling price, Linda said.

Furthermore, she must deal with the emotions of raising the kittens for a few months and then parting with for specifically selected owners.

“The kittens are my children, and I want them to be happy,” she said.

After breeding pedigreed cats, actually showing them requires a great deal of dedication and additional expense from exhibitors.

This weekend’s show required a $55 to $45 entrance fee for each cat, not to mention the cost of travel and lodging for the exhibitors who are coming from all around the country.

Exhibitors that aspire for their cats to get their paws on awards must also groom their cats for each show.

Linda considers herself lucky to be showing Cosset, who requires little grooming due to her short hair. Linda has in previous shows exhibited a longhair Persian cat, which required hours of shampooing, moussing, and blow-drying to prepare for a show.

Exhibitors that enter their cats in the agility competition are exempt from the efforts of breeding and showing, as well as the expense. All breeds of cats are eligible to run the course for a $10 entry fee.

The greatest challenge for exhibitors in the agility competition is their own cats.

“Cats are all intelligent in their own special way, and we don’t know which cat will take to agility training or not,” said Joan Miller, who is one of the main orchestrators of the educational portion of the cat show.

Miller has been a member and served on the board of the CFA chapters for about 30 years. She bred Abyssinian cats for 20 years, as well as showed her cats and judged competitions for about 32 years.

Miller explained that unlike dogs, cats have no desire to please their owners and instead only wish to please themselves. As a result, exhibitors must encourage their cats rather than train them to complete the course.

“What you do when you’re training a cat is encourage them to do something they like to do,” she said.

Even with the best of encouragement, so many cats loose interest in the course during competition that there is a four-and-a-half-minute time limit for each kitty contestant.

“It is as much fun to see the people trying to get the cats to do what they want,” said Linda, who is entering Chantilly into the agility competition. “It is a hoot.”

Aside from the competitions, the show also offers the opportunity for the CFA to educate the general public about cats.

“We are trying to raise the value of cats in people’s lives,” Miller said about the San Diego CFA’s educational efforts through its upcoming show.

She will be presenting and helping to coordinate the show’s educational presentations, which have titles including “Senior Cats are Special” and “‘Training’ Cats.”

“I think that there is an attitude out there about cats that they are animals that won’t show you affection, or that they’ll be too independent, or take too much work. And I think that is something that needs to be overcome with our educational efforts,” said Miller.

Regardless of which felines catapult to the top, this weekend’s show is bound to display CFA members and contest exhibitors’ great love for their catty companions.

“Cats are, for me, the epitome of excellence. As a discerning pet-owner, I think cats are mysterious, and aloof, and independent, and marvelous animals,” said Miller. “Whether they are pedigreed or not, they are all wonderful.”

Proceeds from the show will go towards organizations that care for cats and perform cat health research including the San Diego Humane Society and The Winn Feline Foundation.

Tickets will be available for cash only sale at the door and will cost $9 for adults and $7 for children, seniors, and military. Visit sandiegocat.org for more information.

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