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CFA Cats of the Year
by Ande DeGeer - 2006
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During the last forty years, the CFA Cat of the Year (COTY) has predominantly been a heavily boned, well-balanced cat with a sweet expression and soft, round lines, and LONG hair.  There have been 8 exceptions to that rule and 3 of those were American Shorthairs.  This is their story.

Nikki (Shuttleworth) Horner, Louisville, KY, was one of the preeminent breeders during the 1960s.  She bred and showed a Persian, GCNW Shawnee Moonflight, to COTY an unprecedented three times.  During the 1964 and 1965 show seasons, Nikki set her sites on Shorthair breeds.  GCNW Shawnee Trademark, a silver tabby male domestic Shorthair (later to be called American Shorthair) sired by GC Shawnee Marksman was out setting show records, including many best cat wins at the largest CFA shows throughout the country.  It seemed that the amazing cat was destined for glory.   However, when the season ended, it was announced that Trademark was Second Best Cat.  Why, then, is he included in this article?  Because, Nikki knew better!  She had been scoring the cats and was positive Trademark had earned the most points.  She boarded a plane and flew to the Central Office where she had them pull all the show records and rescore the cats, proving once again, the Shawnee name was on top.  GCNW Shawnee Trademark was a Shorthair Cat of the Year in 1965.

On March 1, 1982 a silver tabby American Shorthair male with a great body, heavy boning, beautiful head and eyes, and enormous ears was born into the Hedgewood Cattery owned by Gar and Ande DeGeer.  He looked like he could fly.  When it came to choosing a name, Dumbo seemed a bit unkind.  A commercial for a TV show named the cat – Greatest American Hero (Mr. H to his friends).   It was a weighty name for a little kitten, but he was to be put to the test.  Although he soon grew into his ears, he was still about to fly the DeGeers to each corner of the country and himself to a show career that spanned two show seasons.  GCNW Hedgewood’s Greatest American Hero, DM, 1984 Cat of the Year, went on to become the only American Shorthair COTY DM when his son GCNW Hedgewood’s Last Action Hero became a grand and CFA’s first tabby and white national winner.

Mr. H’s kitten career was accompanied by his first litter which arrived when he was seven months old.  He sired several litters during his show career and was always accompanied by one of his kittens during the 1983-1984 show season.  July 31st found Gar, Mr. H, and a Mr. H daughter in Seattle for Gar’s birthday.  Mr. H presented him with a memorable gift when he became the first cat in CFA to earn eight Best Cat wins in a single show.  Although Mr. H took it in stride, Gar could have flown back to Atlanta without the plane.

As a New Year’s gift, Gar was given a T-shirt that had ‘Who’s Behind You?’ printed across the front and ‘Everybody . . .’ printed on the back.  Gar was told he had to add ‘Except’ and a list of all the cats ahead of Mr. H to the shirt and wear it to the last show of the season.  It was unbelievable when on April 29th, Gar wore a T-shirt that just said Everybody!   In Mr. H’s last final, Don Williams presented the win by standing him on the table with a Best Cat rosette draped over his back and said, “I can now say, he will always be my Greatest American Hero.”  The Annual banquet held a room full of people waving American flags and was the first time music was played during the presentation.  Mark Hannon arranged to have the theme song from Greatest American Hero – “Believe it or not, Look at what’s happened to me.  I’m walking on air, Believe it or not, it’s me!” He really could fly!

In 1996 GCNW Sol-Mer Sharif was the third American Shorthair and seventh Shorthair to become COTY during the 40-year span.  Sharif, a brown tabby male, was bred by Mary Jo and Michael Mersol-Barg  and shown by Mary-Jo.  Sharif was the product of GCNW Sol-Mer Sharaqa and GCNW Sol-Mer Wild Flower of Briar-Mar DM.  Although it is quite common for two show quality cats to produce pet quality kittens, Sharif was a tribute to his parents.  He was a striking cat with beautiful color, a strong body, and a sweet face.  His personality was so wonderful that the Mersol-Barg family insisted that he must stay, despite the fact that the last thing they needed was another brown tabby male. 

Considering the fact that both of Sharif’s parents did poorly as kittens, it was unusual that Sharif had early success.  Starting out as a four month old, he gained confidence at each succeeding show, radiating delight whenever he was in the show ring.  During the 1994-95 show season, he was CFA’s Fifth Best Kitten.  He was 1994 CFA International Show Best Kitten and 1995 Best Cat.  He is the only brown tabby American to attain the title of Cat of the Year.   Beyond meeting the written standard, Sharif genuinely enjoyed being a show cat.  Show after show, he stood on the table wanting to please.  Patty Jacobberger so appreciated Sharif’s desire to please that she joked, “If this cat were a man, I’d leave Fred!”

Mary Jo said Cat of the Year is the product of generations of beautiful pedigreed cats, talking to other breeders, hundreds of thoughtful breeding plans, lots of trial and error, pedigree research and veterinary advice, and year after year flying to and from far-flung show halls.  Although officially retired from the show ring, Mary-Jo and Sharif were invited to be an attraction at the World Cat Exhibition in Tokyo, Japan during the summer of 1996.

In the upcoming 40 years in CFA, the next famous American Shorthair might be a cat of another color since the breed has more than eighty different colors and patterns. Ranging from handsome brown tabby to glistening blue-eyed white, shimmering shaded to flashy calico, striking tabby and white to subtle dilute, and numerous colors in between, there are many colors available to be awarded American Shorthair Cat of the Year.


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