Fire can’t stop these Cloverdale cat lovers

CLOVERDALE — It was a warm afternoon in the spring of 2010 when fire swept through the Cloverdale home of Shirley and Jeff Byington, causing massive property damage in the process and ending the lives of eight of their nine cats.

The road to recovery wasn’t easy. They lived several months in an RV while their house underwent repairs and dealt with the permanent loss of personal effects.

The couple also coped with the passing of eight treasured felines.

Today, the Byingtons have moved on as much as could be expected.

Eight tiny urns sit on a shelf of their living room hutch, but otherwise there’s a real sense of life in their rebuilt home.

There’s also a heck of a lot of newfound "meow." The Byingtons, you see, really love cats. They love playing with them, they love feeding them, they love walking them.

So after some time living with the sole survivor of the fire, Miloh, Jeff says life just wasn’t the same.

"We knew we wanted more cats," he explained.

"For example, we lost a Turkish Van (an athletic, semi-long-haired cat with markings only on its head and tail) in the fire, and I knew after a while that I definitely wanted another one."

Indeed, the couple once again owns a litter of cats – six in all.

And not just run-of-themill house cats, either.

Sure, there’s Miloh and a recently arrived "rescue" cat. But there’s also the Turkish Van, two Japanese Bobtails (notable for their truncated tails) and one Kurilian Bobtail (originally from the Kuril Islands and again with a barely-there tail).

So why all the exotics?

Turns out the Byingtons love one other thing about cats: the chance to show them off.

And that’s just what they’ll do this coming weekend when they take three of the newest members of their re-jigged family to South Surrey’s Pacific Inn Resort for one of this area’s most prestigious cat shows, the Northwest Regional Awards (a.k.a. "A Star Studded Affair").

Jeff unabashedly calls the event a "beauty contest for cats," and it’s easy to see why.

The animals do not do tricks or scurry about with their compatriots, nor, with the exception of the "House Cat" category, are they evaluated on personality.

Instead, entrants are judged by a strict set of standards such as length of tail, head/body proportions, a variety of breed-specific guidelines and much more.

It’s a dramatic and demanding environment that, claims Jeff, causes much stress among some of the owners.

Though no money is at stake, the benefits to a breeder of a championship cat are obvious.

The Byingtons, long-time members of the show’s governing body, the Cat Fanciers of British Columbia, will bring one of their Japanese Bobtails, the Kurilian Bobtail and the new household cat.

Fire survivor Miloh, with his friendly disposition and still-singed ears, is now happily retired.

"But," says Jeff,

"We’re also bringing two Ragdolls (so named for their penchant to go limp when picked up) for an absentee member."

Amongst the 150 cats (and 75 owners) expected to attend the show is one very special kitty: a Scottish Fold named "Chester" that made international headlines this year when it went missing for an entire month at Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport.

Owner Amanda Stewart, also of Cloverdale, will join and compete with entrants from throughout B.C. and Washington and as far away as Alberta, Idaho and Oregon.

For more event information, visit Cfofbc.org.

goble@shaw.ca

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