4-H’ers show off cats, pet menagerie to open county fair

photo by: Elvyn Jones

Pearl Hoover, 11, shows her hairless guinea pig, Raisin, to judge Sue Cranston at the Douglas County Fair 4-H Hand Pet Show on Saturday, July 17, 2021.

While waiting his turn to show his cat, Opie, at the Douglas County 4-H Fair pet show on Saturday, 15-year-old Blake Wohler scoffed when asked if he had trained his cat for the event.

“You really can’t train a cat,” the Meadowlark 4-H Club member said. “I guess you can, but it would take a long time.”

His sister Brenna Wohler, 8, made it clear how indifferent Opie can be at the show: “Opie jumped off the (judging) table to the floor last year,” she said.

It doesn’t matter much if Opie is feeling rebellious. Blake said the judges at the show knew better than to expect obedience from cats. Instead, Blake said they’d be looking for how well a cat was groomed and taken care of and what its owner knew about caring for it.

The Wohler family lives in Lawrence and doesn’t have room to keep livestock, so Blake said this was the only event at the Douglas County Fair that he would be participating in. In a way, that’s the point of the pet shows, said Margaret Kalb, the Douglas County Fair Board’s executive secretary. Saturday’s shows — for cats, dogs and smaller “hand pets” — ensured that the fair experience was accessible to all kids in Douglas County, not just those from rural areas.

Just like in years past, the pet shows were the first events of the Douglas County Fair. Twenty-five 4-H’ers took part in the cat and hand pet shows, and 30 animals went before the judges. The hand pet category included a wide variety of animals, from turtles found in a Douglas County pond to furry animals like a pet rabbit that happened to show up at a 4-H’er’s yard.

For some of the contestants, such as 10-year-old Hunter Harding, the cat show was just the first of a full slate of 4-H shows. Among other events, the Palmyra 4-H Club member will show his brown Jersey heifer in the dairy show, an event he prefers to the cat show because he has more control over his animal.

“I have a halter on her,” he said of the heifer.

Hunter’s cat, Sunny, is not a pampered house cat.

“He stays outside,” he said. “He’ll come up and eat cat food sometimes, but I think he mostly lives on mice. He’s friendly — will come up and jump on you.”

Among the menagerie of hand pets entered in Saturday’s show was Raisin, a hairless guinea pig belonging to 11-year-old 4-Leaf Clover 4-H Club member Pearl Hoover.

“He couldn’t survive with no hair in the wild,” Pearl said of her brown-skinned pet. “They had to be genetically bred.”

Raisin’s breed is prone to skin infections, Pearl said. To address that, she gives him rubdowns with coconut oil even though he’s isolated from other animals.

“He has a cage, but I take him out to cuddle a lot,” she said. “He also has special places in the house he can run free.”

Other animals, like Birgitte Theroff’s albino Java dove, Noel, have fewer restrictions on where they can go.

“She has a dog cage, but she gets out to fly around the house,” the 14-year-old Clinton Eagles 4-H’er said. “Our dogs and cats don’t like when that happens. They’re scared of her.”

Birgitte said the dove didn’t like the small cage she was contained in for the show and was probably yearning to stretch her wings in the expansive exhibit hall.

“She’s letting me know she’s not very happy,” Birgitte said. “I’ve taught her to ring a bell when she wants out of the cage.”


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