This is a very long post about Albert’s first exhibition.
Leroy became Premier recently, and we are so proud of him. I will write about that later. We got devastating news about Affe back than, and that was all I thought about, so I never wrote an update on our amazing Leroy, but I will.
Claire turned 10 months recently and now she can be exhibited and judged in the open class (class 9). If she fulfills certain criteria, she gets certificates. She can become a Champion if she gets three CAC certificates from three different judges, on three competitions. That is what Leroy got and became Premier (he is a neuter, but Premier requires the same number of points and certificates as Champion; their certificates are only called CAP, not CAC).
We exhibited Claire to get her used to stressful situations since she was small, and Leroy followed since he is our coolest cat. But then it went so well for him, he was a natural born star. Claire is now very cool as her granddad is; she stands with no fear at judges’ table, is not scared or anything like that. She is curious and sweet and takes stress really well. Very good!
And what about Albert?
After the accident last year and the operation, Albert has recovered completely physically and has no fear of jumping, running and playing. On the other hand, he developed fear of being lifted, after a longer period of pain after the injury. Even when the pain was gone, he was scared to the point of looking like he was panicking that someone might touch him and lift him! I could lift him, but I saw that he was scared. I am not sure if it got worse with time, but it did not get better. I bought a book about clicker training, but Albert does not care much about cat candy, so I could not use it on him. I read about CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), and exposure therapy and I thought that I should maybe exhibit Albert and desensitize him that way. In short, he would be exposed to the things he is afraid of and with time his phobias would be hopefully gone.
But, what a scary path to take! We tried desensitizing him a lot at our home, but he needed something beside that.
Claire and Leroy were going to the big Easter cat exhibition organized by Stockholms Kattklubb. After a lot of thinking and assessing the dangers and risks for our little Albert, we decided to take him there as well. I sent in one application for him, thinking that we can always give up – if something goes wrong at start, we leave him at home on the exhibition day. If he becomes too stressed there at the exhibition hall entrance, hearing, feeling and seeing all the cats and people, Jocke would take him back home. If he cries and is stressed in the exhibition cage, we take him back home and so on. We were not sure if we would be able to take him to the judge’s table at all. The thing is that if a cat gets stressed and scared, there is a limit that you do not cross in exposing the cat to further stress. Cat shows are very stressful, and the most of the cats that are there are used to it, and trained since they were kittens, and less scared of everything than newcomers. I’ve seen and learned how experienced exhibitors pay attention carefully to how their beloved cat feels, and pull them out of competition if needed. It happens all the time! Everyone has a bad day, even otherwise perfectly balanced and stable cats. So, we were ready to do the same with Albert.
Albert was never aggressive in his life, he is an amazingly gentle cat who loves other cats, takes care of small kittens as their second mom and does not get into conflicts. He was always very nice at the veterinary, although he was scared and in pain at times, he was never a single bit aggressive. There was a possibility he would be at an exhibition, but knowing my cat emotionally, I did not think that could ever happen. Not Albert. Never. But he could get very scared, get into ‘fight or flight’ mode and try to escape; and what would you do when you cannot escape in a situation like that, when instincts take over and all you have to defend yourself are your teeth and claws?! So, we thought of every possibility, and were prepared. Sofie, who has Goofy, Albert and Claire’s dad and helps me a lot about everything exhibition related (she is very experienced, Goofy is an International Grand Champion) was also ready to help. She did not seem that worried, though. She met Albert, took him in her arms and carried him around like a baby and thought he would be fine. She also has his father and uncle and knows their temper. But she was also ready.
And so we got up to go to the exhibition early in the morning of Saturday March 30. I got ready and thought to catch Albert and put him in the pet carrier before we put Leroy and Claire into another carrier. Albert cuddled with me, ate some of his favorite food, was relaxed and playful.
I swear – that cat can read my mind! I am very well aware that cats are experts on reading our body language, so I pretended that I was just going to get some socks from the wardrobe, petting Albert casually and then simply fetch him, when he all of a sudden ran away in the speed of light over the bed towards the door. Instantly I knew that I had to catch him there and then, otherwise it would take me some time to do that and he would just get stressed while running away from me. He never runs away like that except when we are about to get him to the veterinary or leave the cats in the cat hotel if we are traveling. Cats can read minds! So I threw myself after him, over the bed, as fast as I could, and although he is faster, I am tall and can stretch my arms and I managed to catch him. It was like a scene from a Mission Impossible movie! My little Albert turned his head and gave me an evil eye. That was fine, I am used at that; he was just trying psychological tricks on me since he was caught. Of course that did not work; we simply got him into a pet carrier. Leroy and Claire were easy to catch; we just went to them and lifted them. No problems whatsoever! They are really easy to handle, two relaxed and cool cats, thinking mostly about different ways to obtain cat candy. But it is Albert who is a superior being; evolutionary more advanced and fitted for survival than Claire and Leroy. He is my special cat. And so there he sat, caged and all ready to go.
At the exhibition
The first thing you do when you come to the exhibition is to show the papers, where they check the cat’s vaccinations and hearing status for the white cats and then you go to the veterinary to perform a quick checkup on a cat. The cats should be apparently healthy and clean, eyes clear, no problems with nose, ears etc. I opened Albert’s cage first and asked him to come out. No, he did not want to do that. Well, that was hardly surprising. No cat wants to go out from its cage, everyone has to get them out somehow. And so I pulled him gently out and he was rotating and stretching as I pulled him out. It was a bit comical; he turned into a 2 meters long cat, stretching his legs and his already long body as much as he could, holding to his blanket and the cage. And then when he was out, he complained in his strong voice with a very special nasal ‘Mauuu’, but he was nice. He decided to be verbal and protest, but he sat nicely and let the veterinary examine him. Then Claire and Leroy were examined, all the cats went back to their carriers and we went to the big exhibition cage where they were to spend the most of their day.
Jocke and I felt like we reached a huge milestone. Albert did not get a nervous breakdown (yet), and in spite of that he had a quick glance at several hundreds of other people and cats, he was still ok. He was scared, but he was not in a state of shock. So far so good. We arranged the cage and let first Leroy and Claire, now experienced show cats, come in and then Albert followed.
Everything from that point on happened very fast and I was mostly attuned to our cats and logistics on how to get them to the judges when it was time for them to be shown. Leroy went to Mr. Michael Edström, an experienced judge from Sweden, polite and diplomatic, but also a bit strict (which I think is good). Leroy got his CAPIB and nice words. Also, Michael held him so beautifully and showed him to the audience when he talked about him, which made Leroy look even more like the king of the world. I am not good in showing our cats, I hold them in a not so good way, I think. I can see a huge difference when experienced judges and assistants stretch them so nicely and hold them so that the cats are comfortable, and that shows. The cats look so much better that way.
And then there was our turn to show Albert and Claire. I was getting stressed since I was to show them directly one after another. Jocke went back home after he helped me put the cats in the cage, since he had a cold and did not feel well. Sofie said she could get Albert while I was showing Claire.
Our white cats had a French judge, Mr. Roberto Lubrano. We talked about Claire while she was very sweet, not nervous at all, sniffing his papers and the flowers on the table. What a difference training and exposure can make! She was not this relaxed at her first exhibition. It got better and better every time.
And then I turned back, a bit afraid that Sofie is still struggling with Albert somewhere back in the hall, or that he escaped and that someone will yell soon, as they usually do when that happens – ‘Cat on floor!!!’ and so on, but, no – there they were, Sofie held Albert in his blue baby blanket, calm and silent, sitting in the first row and looking at us!
Everything happened even faster from that point in – Sofie and me swapped the cats and the judge started looking at my little Albert who uttered a very loud ‘Mauuu’, sounding like a duck toy more than a cat (well, he is a Siamese with good lungs). The judge laughed at the sound and praised Albert’s lung capacity. Well, there is a reason why we named our breeding ‘La Voix’, it was after Leroy’s strong voice that was inherited by many of his children and grandchildren, Albert more than others :).
‘Mauuu’ said Albert. ‘What a body!’, said the judge kindly.
‘Mauuu’, my broken duck toy repeated. “Beautiful head, what a triangle!”, said the judge and smiled at the duck Albert.
I hugged and kissed my Albert so he would get less scared, and he looked at me with his deep blue eyes wondering what in the world is going on right now, when he was lifted, stretched, looked at and all. Then I got to hold him up and show him and he got nominated for the panel, as the judge’s choice for the best neuter boy in category IV (Oriental, Siamese, Balinese and other related races) which I was not prepared for at all. I was so confused that I forgot to take the medal he got, but the assistant was fast to help me so we went back to the cage with the white ‘Mauuu’ boy and the medal!!!
I was too stressed worrying about what might go wrong, too scared that Albert will get in shock and my whole cunning plan with the exposure and training will not work out that I forgot about the competing part of the show and what that means.
At every show there is a part where your cat gets judged and possibly gets certificate, and then there is another part, for the ‘Best Of’, competition, where every judge nominates his ‘Best Of’ choice and then they compete later against the cats that other judges had as their pick. Albert was now nominated, at his first exhibition, where, as you understood from my long introduction, we had very low ambitions – to get him to the judge’s table if possible, and train him not to be scared of being lifted and exposed to stressful situations. And here he was, ‘Mauuu’ Albert, nominated to the panel, with a certificate and a medal!
I gave him some cat candy, and then we looked each other in the eyes for a long time. I half blinked, which is a friendly and calming signal in cat communication, and after half a minute, he blinked back at me, calming me back. I had tears in my eyes.
Sofie helped me so much with the logistics and explaining what will happen after the lunch break. We went to have a lunch in a nearby restaurant and I texted sick Jocke to tell him what happened. He called me back immediately, as shocked as I was. 🙂
At the panel
In the afternoon our category IV was the first to go to the panel. The cats were put in cages in a long row and a whole lot of people gathered as an audience to see what would happen. Albert was then all alone, left in a cage only with his blanket, with a hundred of people staring at him and many judges and assistants walking around and looking at his and other cats’ cages.
The cats were not silent, they made sounds and meowed, in their special Siamese and Oriental voices, but then Albert said ‘Mauuu’, like a little duck, louder and more special than the other cats and people paid attention.
‘Mauuu’, again. Some started laughing. The most of the cats looked at the audience, and so did Albert, but then he turned around and showed his back. Clever cat, I thought – what he did was a sign that he wanted to be friendly and show that he is not dangerous. But it was funny, all of the other cats competing mewing in not so strong voices and looking at us, and then the only white boy, showing us his gorgeous back and, loud as a very amplified duckling, saying ‘Maaau’ occasionally. After he thought it was enough of showing clearly he is not dangerous, he turned back and looked at us with his almond shaped eyes.
And then it was time for him to be carried out from the cage by an assistant and be judged again, against the other judge’s candidate. The assistant was very skilled, she held baby Albert gently but still he was stretched so nicely, his long body and legs showing prettily; he looked like the most beautiful cat ever. Everything from that point on happened like in a dream. My heart raced, and the speaker announced over the microphone that we have a winner, and that the owners should come and take over their cats from the assistants.
‘Mauuu’ said Albert the Loud Duckling again and was louder than the speaker with the microphone. People laughed a bit, but in a nice way. I went up and took him in my arms, and instead of stretching him, I started cuddling with him. He looked for eye contact. And then the speaker said something, but I was not sure what. The others first applauded, then laughed. Albert said ‘Mauuu’, but in a lower and sweeter voice, cuddling, and then when I went to get his little blanket and go from there, the speaker read again that ‘SE* La Voix Albert is chosen the Best In Show neuter boy, category IV’ and I looked at the audience that was now laughing at me instead at my cat with a duckling voice, and then I understood that Albert was chosen as the best in show and that we got one of those pretty crystal BIS ornaments and went into the history!
I lifted Albert in the air and he said a winner’s ‘Mauuu’ and everyone laughed and applauded and we went to the speaker that congratulated us. She pointed microphone at Albert asking if he had something to say, but he decisively kept his mouth shut for about 30 seconds while looking straight to the audience with his deep blue eyes and everyone bursted into laughter again, now because of his dramatic silence.
That is my story about Albert, one little cat, special as few, who came, saw the big world and won the whole competition just by being himself.
We have a long way to go, and he will always be special in his ways, but I hope he will get less scared of things again with time and training. I love him so much. Our Foreign White boy who broke his breast bone last Easter, went through a lot of pain and later the operation, left with some fear that we are trying to fight off together; he came back in his full beautiful person this Easter and took Best In Show at his first exhibition ever!
When we came home, Albert was happy; he cuddled and purred and went around as if he understood he did something good. And he did – I am happy he managed to take all the crowd and noise and what was going on so well, and better and better as the day went on. It is not easy. He is just a little cat. ♥