In the 1920’s and 1930’s the original Houston Cat Club came into being; Mrs. C. Carroll and her mother Mrs. B. Walton were members of this early group.
Houston Cat Club restarted in 1949, and was incorporated in 1959. The original incorporators were Jeanie McPhee, Virginia Coughlin, and Lessie Garrison (first President). Some of the early members Mrs. C Carroll, Mrs. B. Walton, Mr. and Mrs. Author Platt, Mr. and Mrs. R. Green, and Mrs. C Streetman. Houston’s first show was in 1951 at the famous Shamrock Hotel. The first HCC show judges in 1951 were Mrs. A. Revington and Mrs. M. Rotter. Houston had only 2 or 3 ring shows until 1965. Shows were held at the Shamrock Hotel until 1969 when the show was moved to the Albert Thomas Convention Center and then on to the George R. Brown Convention Center in 1985. Members of the HCC ran the 1963 Annual at which the GSR came into being with Mrs. L. Garrison as the first regional director.
Houston shows were the largest in the country for many years. Shows in the 1950’s typically had about 250 pedigreed cats entered. Beginning in 1965, entries increased rapidly until 1977 where a record 608 pedigreed cats were entered in competition. David Mare judged Best of the Best at the only Congress of Specialties show in 1977. The 1980’s often had more than 500 pedigreed cats competing and in the 1990’s 350-450 entries were typical.
There was a brief hiatus in 2001 and 2002 while the club regrouped. Shows resumed at Greenspoint Mall in 2003 and 2004, then, beginning in 2005, we returned to the George R. Brown Convention Center. 2007 marked our 55th show. The distinctive Houston Cat Club logo first appeared in the 1975 show catalog for the 25th Anniversary show.
For many years every cat that made a final also received a prize. Sometimes they were very elaborate, like silver ice bucket, bowl, or tray, sometimes cash, as much as $50 for Best Cat, and sometimes very simple, a few dollars or a Houston Cat Club logo mug. In 1964, the Best Cat received a $25 War Bond.
The Household Pet class was included from the beginning. HHP classes were very large in 1973 show where the entry was 313 and the judges were Jeanie McPhee, Don Williams, David Bandy, and Adam Frecowski (Best of the Best). One of the highlights of the HHP Trick Contest for many years was Kim and Barney, a white Persian who rode on a tray that Kim carried as though she were serving drinks in a restaurant... often she was on roller skates, too.
HCC shows have had huge numbers of spectators. At times, the ticket line has been down to the end of the block and the Fire Marshall guarded the door, letting people enter as an equivalent number exited. The show in 1973 and another in the mid 1980’s had snowfall and ice to deal with in downtown Houston. Needless to say there was practically no gate at those shows.
As a Friskies lead show, the entertainment and spectacle of a Houston Charity Cat Show was truly something to behold. We also had education rings where many vets volunteered their time over the years to give short lectures on health, nutrition, neutering, spaying, cleanliness, presentation, and condition. We also had various breeds showcased, including the ever-popular Maine Coon. Karen Crooke assembled a variety of colors and gave a wonderful presentation on the breed.
The Albert Thomas Convention Center had an escalator that came up in the middle of the second floor. It instilled a whole new level of fear when “cat out” was called. There was no way to block the escalator to keep cats from escaping, if they got that far. One year at the Albert Thomas a radio station actually broadcast from the plaza outside. The DJs visited the show.
The year we had to reschedule and were opposite the Rodeo in February as publicity person, Karen Crooke, wrote Marvin Zindler and pleaded our plight... We were very afraid the cat show would get lost in all the hoopla and publicity about the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
So, Marvin (Marvin Zindler, Eeeeyyyyeee Witness News.....famous for SLIME IN THE ICE MACHINE reports when he made his restaurant health inspections) and his whole crew came to Scotty Griffey's home in Memorial and filmed a segment with Scotty and her Burmese and Karen Crooke and Lisa Jones Zalesky and their Maine Coon Cats. It was broadcast the next evening on Channel 13 and had a great impact on the spectator attendance. Marvin himself had several Shaded Silver Persians over the years and was a confirmed cat lover. He was quite a persona in Houston television and was happy to help out the Houston Cat Club!
At the January, 1992, show Ann Caell recalls helping with set up - at the show her big responsibility was to pass out exhibitor buttons and assist at the information desk. She also remembers every club member was wearing hunter green and navy blue plaid outfits...except her!! Didn't get that memo! These days Houston Cat Club members can be found wearing their team polo shirts in Houston colors with the logo embroidered on the front. Many tales abound of club members mentoring new exhibitors in addition to volunteering hours of their time to help put on one of the largest shows in the country. The club depends on its wonderful volunteers to keep the show going.
The Houston Cat Club has made many generous donations over the years from proceeds from the shows. The total exceeds $850,000. Houston Cat Club has donated to the Winn Foundation since 1976 and achieved a cumulative donation of $100,000 in 2007 making it the first club to achieve Boulder recognition under the Winn Donor Tree. The Houston Cat Club sponsored the First Free Spay/Neuter clinic in the U.S. in 1993. Scotty Griffey served on the Houston/Harris County Overpopulation Task Force in 1993.
Presidents for Show Years:
Mrs. H. H. Carroll 1952
Mrs. J. H. Rick 1953
Mrs. H. C. (Lessie) Garrison 1955
Mrs. Louis M. Stivers 1957
Mr. L. E. Livingston, Jr. 1958
Mrs. C. A. (Virginia) Coughlin 1959
Mrs. Mary Alice Wheeler 1964
Mrs. Frank Fizzell 1965
Mary Alice Wheeler 1968
Mrs. Frank M. (Jeanie) McPhee1969, 1976, 2000
Mrs. Warren Thompson 1973
Mrs. T. H. Griffey 1975
Mrs. Robert Sebesta 1977
Mrs. A. F. (Connie) Franco 1979, 1982, 1984
Mrs. Carol J. Crook 1980, 1981
Susan Randlett 1983
Irene Leggett 1985
Anne Kieschnik 1986, 1987, 1989- 1991
Morna Trowbridge 1988, 1993
Mary Lou Harrison 1992
Ann Pevey 1994-1999
Becky Carazzone 2001-2013
The Houston Cat Club Celebrates 50 Years
By Jeanie McPhee
It was 1949 and there were no registered cats in the entire city of Houston. But, a group of strangers that knew nothing about the cat fancy set out to change that fact. In a hot, empty grocery store the Houston Cat club began. Undaunted by lack of experience and funds, the Houston cat Club’s first action was to become affiliated with the Cat Fanciers’ Association. Then came the monumental task of putting on that first show.
The first Houston Cat Show took place in February 1951 at the Shamrock Hotel. It was a one-ring show, judged by Annie B. Revington, and had more than 200 cats competing. Little did the club know it was the beginning of a history in the making.
An innovative idea the club had for its first show was mailing a booklet to exhibitors listing the premiums that could be won. We’re not talking coffee mugs here, these were elaborate prizes such as silver tea services, silver trays, trophies and money. The Shamrock Hotel lent a large, impressive glass case where the prizes were displayed. Exhibitors had never seen such a lavish array and gathered in awe around the locked case. Most of the prizes were won by Maureen Hoag from the East Coast, who convinced the club to ship the two barrels of silver to her home. Of course, the club complied, making a lifelong club friend and faithful exhibitor.
The first show also had a little bit of controversy. The club decided it wanted to make the competition as fair as possible, and established a system for exhibitors to take their cats to the judging ring. Those wanting to handle their own cats were made to wear green sailcloth smocks emblazoned with the Houston Cat Club logo. For a time, it did stop many of the theatrics of trying to catch the judge’s attention as to who put what cat in the ring. But, needless to say, it was not very popular with long-time exhibitors.
That first show was deemed a success, but the Houston Cat Club’s work was far from finished. Members collected bottle caps for five cents apiece, served spaghetti dinners and fish fries, held bake sales, ice cream socials and backyard watermelon parties, made cat toys, and solicited donations to the ribbon and trophy fund. No effort was considered too small. Early club projects found member constructing a building for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to house cats separately from dogs. The club also donated funds enabling the SPCA to provide cats with immunizations (originally only dogs received them). Club members even built cat runs for a recently widowed member.
In the early 1950’s Houston also had a lasting impact on its first Annual Meeting. The club noticed there was little for the delegates to do after the session. Since Texas was a “dry” state and most of the delegates were not, Houston hosted the first hospitality party. The hotel provided the reception room and club members brought liquor. The Houston hospitality extended into the morning when a club member convinced a national pet food chain to pay for coffee, soft drinks, and breakfast rolls for the delegates. It was a dog food company but the refreshments were delightfully devoured.
The 1960’s were another decade filled with lasting accomplishments. The Houston Cat lub, along with help from clubs in Dallas and Oklahoma City, was instrumental in starting the Gulf Shore Region. At the time only one judge resided in the new region. But, that fact was short-lived. Houston membership alone has contributed ten judges to the CFA panel: Jimmy Thompson, Tinker Wilson, Mary Alice Wheeler, Helen Weiss, Don and Barbara Yoder, Vernon Maddox, Melba Preston, Jeanie McPhee and Ann Pevey.
The largest feather in Houston’s cap may be what occurred in the mid to late 60’s. The Breed Council concept was presented at five consecutive annuals. For four years it was passed overwhelmingly by the delegates but never accepted by the CFA board. Then, in 1969 Houston presented the concept as an amendment to the CFA constitution and the Breed Council was born. For the first time, experienced cat breeders had an opportunity to influence changes in breed standards. Some ten years later, Houston struck the breed chord again. This time with the idea that cats should be recognized for their titled offspring. This led to the birth of the Distinguished Merit.
Some of the most memorable Houston happenings occurred in the 1970’s. In the early part of the decade, Houston held the larges cat show in the country with over 800 entries, including more that 450 championship cats and some 350 household pets. The club used this opportunity to teach responsible pet ownership from the ring; neutering, spaying, cleanliness, presentation, health and condition. It was Houston’s diligent belief in altering cats that eventually led to the passing of the show rule requiring household pets to be neutered and spayed. Unfortunately, the addition of this rule also led to a decrease in the number of household pets entered in Houston’s future shows. To this day the majority of money Houston donates is used specifically for neutering and spaying.
The secrets of Houston’s show success were made known in the early 70’s. In 1971, the CFA Show Manual was developed from Houston’s step-by-step show guidelines. It began as a grimy dog-eared checklist passed from one show manager to the next. Houston Cat Club members wrote a “how-to” for each show job. These were compiled and presented to CFA as a complete show production guide. This sharing of ideas did much to raise the consistency of “first” shows providing expert guidance to new clubs.
Houston Cat Club members also proved to be entrepreneurs when it came to working with the business community. In 1977, Houston was the first club to develop a joint venture of show production with a national pet food chain. This early relationship helped pave the way for sponsored cat shows and opened new vistas for CFA.
What many exhibitors and spectators remember about the Houston Cat Show are some of the wild publicity stunts. The musical “Showboat” was a theme at one of the early shows. Spectators actually had to walk down a gangplank to enter the show hall. The year psychic Jeanne Dixon was invited and brought her pet “Mike the Magical” for exhibition, the fire marshal had to limit the number of spectators entering the show hall. Renowned actress and animal lover Betty White also made a personal appearance at one of the shows. Another memorable show had the hall decorated with space modules, thanks to NASA, and several astronauts even brought their pet cats for exhibition. Plus, who can forget the Houston Cat Show where the club raffled off a new car. That proved to be the most attended show in Houston Cat Cub history with more than 14,000 spectators!
Thanks to many willing hands and hearts, the Houston Cat Club has given more than $875,000 to animal charities. Yet membership alone is not totally responsible for the club’s success. Every exhibitor, judge, spectator, pet food distributor, vendor, newspaper, television station, radio station, and CFA is due a sincere thank you. Without your help there would never have been a “big” Houston.