Friday, 8 August 2008
The Rescue Cat Of The Year Awards
When a person thinks of the term "cat show", they might be forgiven for thinking of musty smells, displaced mothering instincts and simmering caged fury anthropomorphised as competitive pride. You will not, however, find any of these things at The Rescue Cat Of The Year Awards. In fact, there’s another notable absence from Cats Protection’s alternative cat ceremony: the competitors. This might seem to defeat the object of a celebration of the feline spirit, but probably only if you’re the kind of person who’d claim that your Brown Tabby Maine Coon genuinely appreciates the Breakfast At Tiffany’s theme you’ve given his diamante-studded carry case. While not altogether averse to the idea of the day trip, cats traditionally tend not to be huge fans of the package version. This probably goes double for the kind of moggies that vie for the Rescue Cat Of The Year Awards, many of whom not only have numerous missing body parts but probably have minimal interest in receiving a personalised food bowl from Sally Gunnell OBE.
Gunnell, who recently adopted three kittens found in a box in the car park of her local Tescos, was one of five ailurophile celebrities presenting the prizes last week at the fourth annual staging of what Cats Protection have dubbed “The Feline Oscars”. The term is not strictly accurate, since you won’t find any moggy Clooneys or Paltrows here (although the inclusion of a feline Daniel Day-Lewis is not completely out of the question). The only nips and tucks are medically necessary ones: those, for example, performed on Felix, who lost his tail and one of his back legs when he got caught in the blades of a combine harvester, or Oliver, who had to have his right eye removed after being shot repeatedly at point-blank range with an air gun.
The awards are divided into four categories: Ultimate Survivor, Best Friends, Hero Cat, and Most Incredible Story. A couple of years ago, I entered my own “troubled and artistic” moggy The Bear into the fourth category, but he didn’t make the shortlist. Watching videos of Noah from Leeds and Lucky from Amersham, I began to understand why. Being found in a plastic bag on the hard shoulder of a motorway then becoming allergic to both fleas and your flea treatment is fairly remarkable, but it’s arguably not as remarkable as escaping from the 2007 floods on a raft or surviving a 280-mile journey from France to England whilst trapped under a car bonnet. As Mandy, the owner of Ultimate Survivor winner Felix, told me: “the problem is that when you enter, you have to tell your cat’s story in only 200 words, and that’s not much, when you consider what these cats have been through.” By the time she’d described Felix’s combine harvester horror, Mandy was already up to 198, so how would she find space to explain that he subsequently suffered from (and, unbelievably, conquered) near-total paralysis from tetanus – a disease that cats aren’t supposed to be able to even contract?
In a week when the RSPCA announced a 24% increase in cases of animal cruelty in the UK, stories such as Felix’s and that of overall winner Speedy – a remarkably intelligent-faced tabby who provides endless comfort to his severely disabled owner and is able to alert her parents when she is about to suffer an epileptic seizure – seemed all the more poignant. Presumably both of them were curled up on a duvet somewhere at home as their victories were announced, but the roaring, lionish presence of Hero Cat category presenter Brian Blessed endowed proceedings with a certain amount of feline authenticity. After an anecdote about having his kitchen invaded by a Shetland pony, Blessed also very publicly offered a saucy, purring come-on to Ultimate Survivor category presenter Prunella Scales. The Supreme Cat Show might have the 3D fluff, the extra-strong imported catnip cigars and the spangly cages, but as far as winningly unrefined feral behaviour is concerned, The Rescue Cat Of The Year Awards would seem to have the market well and truly cornered.