Psst—here's a little secret, planners: The organizer of New York's biggest cat show is a recovering dog person.
"I didn't even know anyone who had cats," confesses Allene Tartaglia, executive director of the Cat Fanciers' Association in Manasquan, NJ, referring to the day the CFA hired her 25 years ago. "Not that I disliked them," she adds quickly. "I just hadn't been exposed to them."
That's certainly changed. At this year's Cat Championship, co-sponsored by cat-food maker Iams, Tartaglia's most finicky attendees were some 400 pedigreed felines representing 40 different breeds, from Abyssinian to Turkish Van. These cats, along with thousands of their furless fans, dominated Madison Square Garden for one October weekend. It wasn't just a beauty contest: Athleticism was celebrated too, courtesy of a feline agility competition that was open to the non-pedigreed.
Hello, Kitty! In addition to the New York contest, Tartaglia coordinates CFA's annual international cat show, held just weeks later in a different locale. Why two shows so close together?
"We didn't plan it that way," Tartaglia admits. "We've been doing the international show for 15 years, but four years ago we wanted to add on a New York show to get more media exposure, and we ended up working around the Garden's schedule. Also, October is a good time for Persians." (Translation: The coats of longhaired breeds become thicker and more show-worthy in cooler weather.)
Tartaglia's challenges are myriad. October is peak hotel season, and she needs a feline-friendly property within walking distance that has enough rooms: "Somehow, we always manage." (This year it was the Affinia Hotel.)
Also, the contest is held in the Expo Center (the circular area around the Garden's main arena), meaning that Tartaglia and her attendees have to negotiate a maze-like space: "Sometimes you have to go through the bowels of the Garden to get to where you want to be."
That's not to mention the challenge of competing with whatever's happening each night in the main arena; this year, those acts included a Rangers hockey game as well as Barbra Streisand's bubbe-licious comeback concert. "During load-in, there were four 18-wheel tractor-trailers on the freight elevators while our people were trying to get their cats in there," says Tartaglia. "Also, our area is used for storage, so sometimes we have to move beer kegs out of the way before we can set up."
Out of the Bag The kitties aren't skittish, says Tartaglia, because they're used to traveling. (Like planners, they're on the road constantly, flying or driving to competitions.) But for the first time this year, one contestant made national news after fleeing during the Best in Show finale. "This was the third of 45 cats to be presented, so we had to keep going," says Tartaglia. (He was later found unharmed.)
Another of Tartaglia's secrets: She used to be allergic to cats. "I have no problems now. I think I built up an immunity," she says. "But we have breeders who are allergic—they just take pills."
Cat Show Stats
Best in show: Grand Champion, Grand Premier Fuzzy-Foot's Confetti of Deydream
Special supplies: 1,000 lbs. of Dr. Elsey's Precious Cat Litter, scoopable