Just a couple of short weeks ago, I thought I knew what a tough-looking feline was. It turns out I knew nothing. As a connoisseur of moggy brawn, I could have been likened to the too-big-for-his-boots intervillage croquet champion or the ten year-old who thinks he's ready to present an Open University show on BBC2 just because he's satisfactorily finished the complete Towards Mathematics series (is this still going, by the way?). I was cosseted, sheltered. In the last fortnight or so, I've had my eyes opened, seeing evidence of a kind of hard cat that you just don't get in my neighbourhood. Possibly because its owners keep it inside, for fear that normal cats would expire simply from catching the merest waft of its thuggish butt odour.
I started this competition because of the success of the mini, nascent Hardest-Looking Cat Competition at the Under The Paw launch party. I thought it would have been a little predictable to have held a Cutest Cat comp. I also think toughness in cats is generally under-celebrated. If it was up to cats themselves, I'm sure they would want to be exhibited in tribute to their scrapping skills rather than their picture postcard sweetness. There are thousands of impressively hard cats lurking in the most far-off runs of rescue centres around the globe as we speak, and it's about time we gave them a bit of respect.
It's been fascinating watching these 400-plus entries come in, and I've learned many new things. I have learned that a wet cat is invariably a cat with payback in its eyes. I have learned that a battle-ready cat is considerably more comic and interesting than a battle-ready dog (actually, I already knew this - everyone does, don't they?). I have learned there is a difference between "mental-looking" and "hard-looking" but sometimes the two can combine into a seamless whole. And I have learned that, with a good digital camera and a bit of expert timing, it's very easy to make a yawning cat look like a potential slayer.
Apologies to anyone whose photos were not featured on the blog. The pics flooded in over the last few days and, while I tried to put as many up as possible, I had to have a cut-off point somewhere between "Mildly Miffed" and "Fairly Darned Intimidating". Of the entrants, about 85% could be judged genuinely rock solid and about twenty percent of those exuded an extra, superfeline 'don't mess with me' something or other. In the end, it came down to just over a dozen closely-matched warlords, but when the winner popped into my inbox at the eleventh hour - well, actually it was the 329th hour, but let's not quibble - I knew immediately that, unless something astonishing happened, he was The One.
So, in first place, and receiving a copy of Under The Paw: Confessions Of A Cat Man and a box of Applaws gourmet cat food: Rufus Bug Cat, owned by Tina Warrier of Manchester, UK...
For those wondering if I've chosen Rufus partly because his owner's surname sounds like "warrior" - don't worry. I've tried to judge these photos on their own merits, enjoying but not being swayed by the text that has come with them. That said, when Tina wrote "we found rufus 3 years ago with a big hole in his head and dehydrated and hungry he spent 5 days in the vets has hip and neck issues has litterally no neck he is stubby and gets called ugly cat i think he is cute but my dogs are scared to death of him he beats dogs up and other male cats but is a sweety with people anyway hope you like him he was in a good mood this evening when i took the pics should see him when he is cross" I couldn't help warming to his toughness even more. But he'd already won, the moment I saw him. He is, as one friend put it earlier today, "just a stupidly hard cat. Another planet of hard." The same friend also said, "if I was in the same house, I don't think I'd go near him". I, on the other hand, have fallen head over heels in love with him.
In second place, and also receiving a copy of Under The Paw: the magnificent Cendrillon, owned by Daniel Sirguey of France...
Sure, much of Cendrillon's hardness is down to heft, but look at that stare. He means business. When Daniel puts him down, you can be sure his immediate plans include sneaking into his kitchen at night and soiling an heirloom.
In third place, and also receiving a copy of Under The Paw: Zorro from Andree (location be confirmed)...
Zorro might look as crazy he is hard, but you cannot fault his commitment. Many cats eat grass, but I can't think of many that are so tough they would eat a whole divot. This cat could bring an entirely new flavour to my next round of golf.
And the winner of the Most Menacing Kitten award - littlecatdiaries' attempt to nurture young talent - also receiving a copy of Under The Paw: the wonderfully batlike Titch, owned by Sammy Allen from the West Midlands, UK....
The cats below were so tantalizingly close and I think are worth a special mention. They divide into two categories: Effortlessly Hard (Bronco Billy, Milo, The Humpatron, Charlie, Emma, Tilly, Murphy, Sid Vicious), and Hard Because You Made Me (Boomer, Cappuccino, Lou, Conan, Cara) - all apart from Gregor, who somehow spans both. Milo sort of reminds me of Paul Newman's character from the HBO mini series Empire Falls: a proper old-school rapscallion dad. I love that one folded down ear and can imagine him picking bum fights with strangers out of nowhere in the classic semi-vagrant meth addict manner. In the end, though, I felt his toughness was probably slightly intermittent: as frustratingly unreliable as it was impressively unpredictable. Also, the people who sent him in aren't his actual owners, they're his neighbours (though they do suspect he fathered some of their kittens). Murphy also gave me particular pains to omit from the top three: that single fang is a classic touch. Spare a thought, too, for The Humpatron: a would-be Mogfather if ever I saw one...
A big thanks to everyone who has taken part. Watch this space for another cat competition in the coming weeks.