Gen. George Patton, 17, a brown tabby Persian better known as Jeep, passed away recently leaving Burleson resident Carolyn Owen cat free for the first time since 1968.
“I got my first cat and the numbers just grew from there,” Owen said. “But we soon realized that anytime we wanted to go somewhere we had to find someone to care for the cats. Now that my husband and I are retired, it’s his turn, so that we can have the freedom to travel.”
Cats will nonetheless remain close to Owen’s heart.
“I’m biased I fully admit,” Owen said with a laugh. “I always say anyone who doesn’t like cats simply hasn’t had the opportunity to get to know one and doesn’t know what they’re missing. They’re have such dear personalities.”
Owen also said she has no plans to forego contact with cats anytime soon.
For starters, she’s scheduled to judge Cleburne’s upcoming cat show from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Cleburne Conference Center, 1501 W. Henderson St.
The event marks the latest of several cat shows held at the center over the past two years, several of which Owen judged.
“It’s a very nice facility and a great place for cat shows,” Owen said of the conference center’s recent popularity as a cat show hot spot. “The people who work there have always been very nice and helpful, which makes a difference. It’s always nice to get a smile and an attitude of ‘How can we help you?’”
Marsha Ammons, Ozark Cat Fanciers Inc. secretary and treasurer, called Owen, who she’s known for 20-plus years, an asset to the cat world.
“She dearly loves cats and brings a great wealth of information on all the breeds and just cats in general,” Ammons said. “It’s funny, she’s one of the few judges I know who gives the cats a little massage when handling them, which helps a great deal because sometimes they can be uptight and that helps relax them.”
Through the years Owen bred and sold cats, mainly Abyssinians and Persians, and competed in and judged cat shows. It all began shortly after she married.
“I always wanted a cat growing up, but my mom wouldn’t let me have one,” Owen said. “So, as soon as my husband and I got back from our honeymoon, I went to the Austin pound and got a kitty cat.
“Not long after I went to a cat show and fell in love with Abyssinians and bought a not show cat [Abyssinian]. Then later a show cat [Abyssinian] and then another. We raised Abyssinians and Persians for many years but then, because of time and space, just had Persians.”
Owen’s love of cats, and show competition, grew and a friend in Houston later suggested that she apply to be a show judge.
“I started as a clerk for a judge, which gives you a chance to see and handle every cat entered,” Owen said. “Which was fun because when you’re [competing in a show] you don’t really get a chance to get around and see all the different cats.”
Owen began training — a process she likens to an apprentice trainee program — in 1974, judged her first show in 1975 and hasn’t looked back since.
“I was approved as an all-breed judge,” Owen said. “I was lucky because today they don’t allow [judges] to judge both long and short-haired cats.”
Unlike show dogs, which are separated into sporting, hound, working, non-sporting, toy, terrier and herding groups, the 35 or so recognized cat breeds simply separate into long and short-haired groups and even they often compete together.
Owen’s passion for competing in and judging cat shows has taken her across America and around the world.
“We spent a month in Australia judging cat shows on the weekends and stayed in the homes of cat fanciers between shows,” Owen said. “Me, a little West Texas girl going all over the place. If you’d asked me when I was growing up if I’d ever be able to do that, I would have said, ‘No way!’
“It continues to amaze me.”
Cat judging 101
Much like show dogs, standards exist for each recognized cat breed.
“Yes, written standards for each breed in which the various features of that breed are described and points allotted to that specific cat by the judge based on how well it meets the standards of the breed,” Owen said.
Owen admits it’s hard at times to remain unbiased when faced with a particularly “cute and cuddly” cat or kitten, but said personality plays little or no role in judging.
“Not really,” Owen said. “Only to the extent that a cat must be amenable to inspection and handling. Now I will say that a happy cat usually tends to show better, but evaluations are based on the breed standard.
“It helps, too, judging over time because you become more familiar with more breeds. People may not always agree with my decision, but they understand I’m judging fairly.”
Unlike most dog shows, cat shows don’t always necessarily name a best in show, Owen said. An international cat show held November in Ohio is roughly the cat show equivalent of the Westminster and Crufts dog shows.
“The Houston [cat show], which held its 60th annual show in January, was also one of the biggest shows in the U.S.” Owen said.
Cat shows occasionally air on TV, Owen said.
“I’ve been on TV a few times,” Owen said. “Once in San Diego presenting the [Best of Best Award] and another time on ‘Animal Planet.’ It’s kind of fun when one of the spectators at a show says, ‘Hey, I saw you on TV.’”
Although America boasts about 600 cat clubs and shows remain prevalent, two-day shows have grown scarce, Owen said.
“I wish for the good old days like everyone else,” Owen said. “With the one-day shows it seems everyone wants to get in and get out and I think the two-day shows used to be a lot more fun and warmer. But the economy and cost of doing [a two-day show], well they started scaling back 10, 12 or so years ago.”
This weekend’s Cleburne show is a two-day affair because the Fort Worth Cat Club is sponsoring one day while the Ozark Cat Fanciers are sponsoring the other.
“You see more of that, groups working together to share costs,” Owen said.
The cat business is more about passion than profit, she said.
“It’s a hobby really, raising cats,” Owen said. “You have to really love it. It’s difficult to make much money certainly if you take into consideration your costs. Anyone who thinks they’re going to make a lot of money raising and showing cats will be disabused of that thought real fast.”
Still, Owen urges anyone interested to visit a cat show and learn more.
“When [owners] are not busy grooming and getting their cats ready almost anyone will be happy to talk to you,” Owen said “You can also look around and get an idea of what breeds you might be interested in.
“Another thing is that breeders are often times looking for homes for their retired cats. A lot of people’s first cats are retired show cats. They make great pets because they’ve had so much attention paid to them.”
Owen’s business card shows a cat gazing at its reflection in a pool, the reflected version sporting longhorns and marking Owen as a die-hard University of Texas fan.
“Funny thing is, I always seem to get booked to judge a show on Texas/OU weekend,” she said. “I’d wear an earbud in my ear if I thought I could get away with it.”
Cats and dogs
Stereotypes to the contrary, Owen said many would be surprised by the number of cat fanciers who also have dogs.
“I don’t know if people who show dogs also tend to own cats,” Cowan said. “But, unlike what many people think, cats and dogs get along fine; if they’re raised in a family they’re just part of the family.
“I’ve had poodles and Brittany spaniels and it’s funny because the poodles kind of adopted cat behavior.
“But any relationship, whether it’s cats or dogs, you get out of it what you put into it.”
Daily admission to the Cleburne Cat Show is $5 for adults. $4 for seniors and children 3-11 and $12 for a family of four.