Through all the years, donations from the Lincoln State Cat Club have served one purpose. Which is exactly the point.
"We don't party. We don't go out to dinner. We pay our own way and give it back to the cats," said Dayle Marsh, as the crowd began to fill the gym at Harper College in Palatine for the first day of the annual event.
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"The mission," says Marsh, who has been a member of the club since the 1970s and is working her 48th show, "is to promote the purebred cat and educate the public on proper cat health and welfare. The cat show is the means to this end." She estimated the group has raised more than $150,000 alone for research.
Sanctioned by the Cat Fanciers' Association Inc., the two-day event is a big draw, attracting as many as 1,000 visitors each day for a cornucopia of feline-related offerings. Besides clothing, jewelry, toys, treats and other items, the show offers talks on topics like picking a pet sitter or dealing with your cats's behavioral issues, as well as information on adoption, shelters and other organizations.
But a centerpiece is the more than two dozen breeds of cats -- more than 200 in all -- that compete for ribbons (no cash prizes) and bragging rights. Much different from a dog show, the cats aren't paraded along a runway, but taken from a crate and perched on a box to ranked by licensed judges,
Several of the breeders, some of whom participated in the competition, manned booths where visitors could handle some of their charges.
"It's the accessibility to come and learn about the different types of cats," said Jennifer Schaefer of Streamwood. "You're allowed to interact with the breeders and learn their personalities."
She and her husband, Ted, were interested in the Maine coon, the only naturally occurring breed of domestic cat native to North America. It can weigh 25 pounds and is known as the gentle giant.
That's not to slight the Cornish Rex, Siamese or Havana brown, which were among those at the booths.
"They're very doglike. They will play fetch with you," explained Larry Hotz, a breeder from Plainfield, as his Siamese named Remi pranced across the display table and nudged a visitor.
Vendor Cheryl Goaley of Macon, Ill., has attended the show for 17 years. She sells cat-themed cardigans, quilted jackets, sweatshirts, pillow cases, towels and other items.
"I got two jackets here last year," said Mary Jo Williamson, who made the trek from Justice near Midway Airport. "We go anywhere for cats."