From the loudest purr to the longest whiskers... meet the woman behind the show where every cat could win a prize
June Ferguson of the Ulster Siamese & All Breed Cat Show tells Linda Stewart how an encounter with a stray kitten cured her lifelong fear of cats.
It’s ironic but true — June Ferguson, the driving force behind the Ulster Siamese & All Breed Cat Show, was scared of cats as a child. “I inherited it from my mum, who had a horrendous fear of cats and passed it on to me,” the former teacher says.
But everything changed when she was on a caravanning holiday in Portballintrae and her daughters turned up with a tiny scrap of a kitten.
“They appeared with this tiny black thing with its eyes still closed and it was crying its heart out. It had obviously lost its mummy. I looked out and said ‘Okay, it’s a kitten’ and the hairs on my neck stood up on end,” she says.
“But we took one of my husband’s cotton hankies and dipped it in milk and put it in the kitten’s mouth and we ended up bringing it home with us.”
The family returned to Portballintrae for four weekends in a row but were never able to track down the kitten’s mum — and that’s how Pepsi became the first cat member of the family.
The next was Max, rescued by a veterinary nurse who was driving along the Westlink in Belfast when a bag was thrown onto her car bonnet from a passing car and turned out to contain a litter of newborn kittens.
Then, thanks to a friend, June got into cat breeding and acquired a Burmese cat.
“We always had a mixture of household cats and pedigree cats,” she says. “I joined the Ulster Cat Club with my friend and it went from there.”
About 15 years ago and now an old hand at cat showing, she was asked to take over organising the show by the former show organiser, who had fallen gravely ill.
Now, as it moves location to become part of the Belfast Telegraph Pet Expo sponsored by We Are Vertigo this November, she will be taking more of a back seat for medical reasons.
But it’s clearly very close to her heart. One of the key aspects is that even if you don’t have a pedigree breed like a Siamese or Burmese cat, you can still enter your household moggy in the show.
“The club has developed a lot over the years. We exist for the benefit of cats and cat lovers and we try to promote and maintain an active interest in protecting the welfare of all breeds, including household pets,” June says.
“We run an educational programme where people who have experience can help and advise pet owners, and we work with local vets to try to promote proper welfare and breeding. We try to encourage the neutering of all cats that aren’t required for breeding.”
The club also runs the Yes scheme that trains young people aged nine to 18 to look after cats and gradually learn all the aspects of running a cat show.
“There are quite a few children involved who are on the autism spectrum and it’s amazing how they develop and come on through looking after cats and working with animals,” June says. “By the time the children have reached senior level, they have learned all they need to know to become an adult steward who works with a judge. They will go on to eventually become judges themselves.”
The club itself was founded in 1968, starting life as the Ulster Siamese Cat Club, and its annual show won championship status in 1981, running under the rules of the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF).
“A cat show is like a beauty competition. What happens is we have a mix of pedigree and non-pedigree pets. It used to only be the pedigree cats that got titles but over the last number of years, non-pedigree pets also got titles,” June says.
The pedigree cats have to meet a series of physical standards, such as shape of head, length of tail, shape of body, with the winners of each breed class pitted against each other at higher and higher levels until the best of each breed competes for Best in Show — the highlight of the day.
Meanwhile, the household pet competitions are based more on personality, with classes such as the cat that purrs loudest, longest whiskers or the one you’d like to take home. But even an ordinary moggy can potentially rise through the ranks to become an Olympic Master Cat, June says.
All the cats undergo an intensive regime of grooming, bathing and coat polishing ahead of the show and their eyes and ears must be clean.
“Every cat coming into the hall has to have been vaccinated against flu and enteritis so they don’t pass anything on to another cat. They’re inspected for fleas and runny eyes etc,” June says.
“It’s funny because you can feel the tension when you go through the vetting-in and you feel everyone starting to relax when they get in.”
This year, visitors can expect to encounter a host of pedigree cats that you wouldn’t normally see elsewhere, June says. “These are the creme de la creme and most of them are kept inside and don’t get let out at night,” she says.
“There will be Persians, exotics, ragdolls, Maine Coons which can be four feet long, Russian blues and even a Sphynx. Its skin is like holding a warm peach.”
The show is non-profit-making and the door proceeds will be split between a human charity and an animal charity.
“For me, it’s a case of meeting people who are so passionate about their cats that there is a great sense of fellowship and of trying to do the best they can for the animals,” June says.
And if you’re a cat show novice who wants to bring your own cat along and enter it in the competition, you will be more than welcome, she says.
“As long as they’re vaccinated, they will be very welcome and we can tell the owners everything they need to know and help them to fill in the entry forms. On the day of the show, we will have a buddy system, so somebody who is new and doesn’t know what to do will get help,” June says.
The Ulster Siamese and All Breeds Cat Show will run on Saturday, November 16, at the Pet Expo NI in the Titanic Exhibition Centre.
To get your tickets to the Belfast Telegraph Pet Expo, click here. Tickets will also be available to purchase at the door.
To exhibit and for more information on exhibiting at the Belfast Telegraph Pet Expo, click here.