Five Things I Learned When My Somali Worked As A Pet Me Cat

See how one outgoing cat became a breed ambassador and joined a kitty welcome committee.

Go ahead and give Summer a pet at the cat show!  Via Janiss Garza
Go ahead and give Summer a pet at the cat show! Via Janiss Garza

This past weekend, my cat Summer made her debut as a Pet Me Cat. A Pet Me Cat is a semi-official breed ambassador at cat shows. Cats that are competing in judging rings are usually very carefully groomed, and their busy owners don’t like having them handled by spectators. But really, what fun is a cat show when you can look but not touch? That’s where the Pet Met Cats come in. The spectators can pet them, and the cat’s companion answers any questions they might have about the breed, the cat show, or the cat herself.

You won’t find Pet Me Cats, or the officially sponsored Ambassador Cats at every single Cat Fanciers Association cat show, but the larger ones will usually have several. The show I brought Summer to, the San Diego Cat Fanciers Food and Water Bowl, is the biggest cat show on the West Coast. It was quite the test for my friendly little girl — a gigantic, noisy hall, with thousands in attendance both Saturday and Sunday. I only offered her as a Pet Me Cat for this show because I felt she would be up to the challenge, and I thought it would be great training for when she is evaluated as a therapy cat in a few months.

Summer did great for her first time as a public cat but there were a few things I learned about working with her in these situations that I’ll remember to apply the next time we do this.

1. Kitties get tired and you need to pace them.

On the morning that Summer and I showed up, I set everything up, then made a quick trip to the restroom – and when I returned, Summer already had a crowd! Her breeder, who was set up next to us, brought her out to visit until I could take over, and there was no let up for a couple of hours! Summer was exhausted after that, and spent as much time napping as much as she could get away with. Fortunately she loves belly rubs, so people could just reach in and pet her as she relaxed.

Anyone who has had to make a presentation in front of a crowd and then chatted one-on-one with the attendees afterwards knows how tiring it can be. It’s just the same for cats. Being social with a bunch of strangers can be draining. I could have paced Summer a lot better than I did so that she was up and about more later in the day – although she did look cute, lying on her back with her paws curled!

2. Although a breed booth isn’t required for a Pet Me Cat, it helps to have one.
I put together something simple that included photos, a list of words describing Somali cats, and a page from the CFA breed description. It helped answer a lot of people’s questions, and we could get down to more important things, like hanging out with Summer.

Incidentally, there are many breed booths at a large show like the one Summer and I were at … and in case you were wondering, there is often a booth for Household Pet Cats too, since they can compete.

3. I was able to use Summer’s weird quirks to keep her — and her visitors – engaged.

Two things that Summer does that most cats won’t are wear clothes and do tricks. I was able to use these to her advantage as a Pet Me Cat. Sunday morning, when I brought her in, she was hyper and had a hard time staying centered – she pawed at her enclosure and I could tell she was itching to jump off the table. So I put a dress on her. She gets so much praise for wearing clothes that she is happy to be a “good girl” and sit politely. I also had her do High Fives and handshakes, and that entertained her visitors – plus she was always ready to come out and perform for a treat, even if she was tired!

4. It’s boring being in one place, so she needs to get out.

On the afternoon of the last day, I could tell Summer was about petted out. I had noticed that one of the other Pet Me Cats was taking a walk on a leash around the vending area, so I decided to do the same with Summer a few minutes later. It totally gave her a second wind! After wandering around and visiting people who were shopping, she came back to our benching area and hung out on the table for a long time, greeting people. She must have been getting bored, hanging out on her table or in her enclosure all day for two days — I should have taken her out sooner.

At cat shows, you have to be careful to keep your cat away from other cats because you never know how they are going to react to each other. In fact, you are not supposed to walk cats on leads around the benching areas at all – it’s just a bad idea. But taking Summer away from where the other cats were and letting her explore was just what she needed.

5. Pet Me Cats should be good with kids, disabled and elderly people – and Summer was.

These are the kind of people that Summer never gets to see … and if she passes her therapy cat evaluation, these are probably the very people she will be expected to visit. Even though she is “just” cat (ha!), Summer had opinions of people, and I could tell that there were a few people she didn’t like much – but she always had time for kids and elderly people. Wheelchairs and walkers didn’t faze her – she was still happy to visit. I could tell she made the day for some people, young and old, and I’m glad to know that she is comfortable around so many of them.

Being a Pet Me Cat was an adventure for Summer — and for me too. We’re both looking forward to doing it again.

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