CatChannel Exclusive: Join the Judges Circle
The road to becoming a cat show judge isn't for everyone. Its a long, but rewarding one. Find out if its right for you in CatChannel's in-depth look into the profession.
Mary Lou Simms
If you're obsessed with purebred cats, can stand for long stretches and want to be a celebrity, becoming a cat show judge might be just what the veterinarian ordered. Most judges have other jobs, but as a part-time profession (weekends only), they rave about the cat camaraderie as well as all the people fun.
Being a cat show judge requires extensive travel, such as being asked to judge at shows in Tokyo or London. Hotels, air fare and meals are paid, which is certainly something to purr about.
However, the job is not for everyone. You must conquer a long, arduous, step-by-step process before you are in complete control of any all-breed ring.
Kim Tomlin of Luzerne, Ala., a judge-in-training for The International Cat Association (TICA), the second largest purebred cat registry in North America, has been on that road since February when she began studying to become a specialty judge, a process she estimates that will take about 15 months.
"You have a life, and then you have a cat life," says Tomlin, who will have to judge a minimum of 12 months and 20 shows to advance to the next level. During the week, she runs a nail salon and cares for her own cattery of Maine Coons.
Eventually she will begin provisional all-breed training, another lengthy commitment. The entire journey, she estimates, will take at least five years.
But the decision to go into judging begins long before any scheduled training program. These are some of the major considerations for The Cat Fanciers' Association, the world's largest pedigreed cat registry.
- You must "show" or exhibit pedigreed cats preferably in a breed you adore. A love of showing, and the many ribbons and rosettes your cats accumulate is where the idea to consider becoming a judge usually takes hold. By then, you may have been showing for some time, a hobby that can begin in childhood or when you're a teenager. CFA, for example, has a junior showmanship program to interest youngsters 8 to 15. However, some people don't go into training until middle age when they accidentally enter a cat in a show and find themselves addicted to the ring.
- You must be at least 21 to apply. If you're accepted, you become a trainee. Trainees study under fully accredited judges. You study to become a specialty judge (longhairs and shorthairs) before applying for all-breed certification, a process that takes a minimum of 7 years after application. In between, exams and other tests determine licensing and skill.
- You must breed a grand champion. Make that 10 in CFA, where you must have exhibited at least 10 cats of your own breeding to grand champion or grand premier (neutered or spayed) status. You also need at least seven consecutive years of breeding experience and a registered cattery to fulfill this requirement.
- You must serve as a ring clerk, assisting judges and exhibitors in the show ring. Clerking is considered an excellent way to study the standards for the other 40-or-so breeds whose qualities you'll be expected to master because you get a close-up view of all the cats. You can also observe judges' skills up close. During shows, cats are brought to each ring as their numbers are called. Judges remove a cat from its cage, spending several minutes with each to see how well it meets breed standards, then gives ribbons for best and second best of breed, champions and other awards.
Although travel expenses are covered (except while you're training), the pay isn't high considering the expertise required. Judges earn from 50 cents to $ 1.10 per cat, depending on skill and experience.
"It's a hobby, not a way to make a living," says long-time CFA judge Donna Jean Thompson of Manassas, Va., who began her breeding/showing program with Persians. But there are fringe benefits for which money can't compensate. You get to be around cats, for one thing. You're highly looked up to, for another. And there is a support system that continues to grow through the years.
"Cat shows and cat people become your family," she says, recalling the widespread support upon recovering from hip surgery.
There is also a need for more judges.
"We never have enough," says Carol Krzanowski, CFA associate director. CFA currently has about 170 fully accredited judges and 25 trainees. "The requirements might seem rigorous," she adds, "but our judges are respected around the world.
"Still, the next time you ask trainees how long it takes to become a judge and the answer is "years," you'll know what they mean.
Mary Lou Simms is an award-winning freelance writer from Helena, Al., who owns a rescued Oriental Shorthair named Ziggy.
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CatChannel Exclusive: Join the Judges Circle