Some people might call Ahwatukee newcomer Barbara Jaeger a purr-fect addition to the community.
As she settles into her new home in the new year, Jaegar brings with her an impressive resume in the field of 911 operations, where she has held various positions for 40 years – more than half as a state employee. She also is a past president and eight-year board director of the 6,000-member National Emergency Number Association.
But it’s her part-time job – she calls it a hobby – that may be especially appealing to pet owners in Ahwatukee.
Well, at least close to half of them.
Jaegar judges cats.
For 14 years, the New York native and longtime Arizona resident has been an all-breed judge for the 112-year-old Cat Fanciers Association, an international network of cat owners whose animals are not just treasured household members but also points of pride in competitions that span the globe.
At a Phoenix Cat Fanciers show in Mesa last month, dozens of owners throughout the day zeroed in on her and other judges as they worked individually in small booths, called rings, and carefully examined cats competing for honors in scores of categories.
There were scores of categories and sub-classes that required the services of people like Jaegar last month.
They included categories such as Blue Point Female Birman, Balinese-Javanese and seven varieties of Persian cats. Recently, some of the shows even added a category for household pets.
For the most part, though, members largely own purebred felines.
“I am knowledgeable in more than 40 breeds recognized by CFA,” said Jaegar, who owns a 16-year-old Abyssinian cat named Red Hot Lover as well as a dog.
“I have been in the cat fancy since 1979, and found it to be an enjoyable hobby,” she said, adding she was lured by the ability to show and breed cats as well as enjoy her friends.
People like Jaegar are in such a high demand that “if I wanted to be gone every weekend I could, but I limit my judging to a couple times a month.”
The Cat Fanciers Associations pays all expenses for the judges when they do work at shows, said another Ahwatukee member, Teri Kennedy, who also serves as the public relations expert for the Phoenix Cat Fanciers and is an avid member who has raised more than 30 litters of kittens since the mid-90s.
If they have the time and inclination, the judges can work 52 weeks a year. One of the judges at the Mesa show flew in from Japan to be part of the event.
Jaegar has been something of a globetrotter herself.
“I am not limited to accepting invitations to judge only within the U.S.,” she said. “I have judged all over the world, including several countries in Europe, China, Russia, Japan, Hong Kong and Indonesia. I have had been fortunately to see many exciting historical locations around the world.”
If you’re thinking that’s not a bad way to see the world, however, consider this: “Judges spend years and years in training,” said Kennedy, noting that aspiring judges go through several different stages of training, including serving as assistants to certified judges for at least a few years.
And even after they become a judge, Jaeger added, “The demands include the continuing education and knowledge of each of the breeds I am responsible to know.”
It’s no easy task becoming a judge either.
For one thing, a judicial hopeful must have been breeding a specific breed for 10 years and produce a minimum of 10 Grand Champions.
“I was also required to be a licensed ring clerk – which did include going to school – a licensed master clerk (the head clerk that compiles all the results and statistics at shows), attend at least one judging school for each of the disciplines,” Jaegar said, adding:
“After meeting the minimum criteria, I had to train at a minimum of eight assignments with a training judge. Once completing that, move to apprentice, where you judge a minimum eight shows then advance to Approval Pending and then Approved in One Specialty (longhair or shorthair). Then move through the same process for the second specialty. It could take upwards to five years to get through the process, eventually being eligible for Approved All-breed Judge.”
One of her first assignments involved judge a group of 25 Maine Coons that already had achieved Grand Champion status.
“Having to examine and compare each of the cats to the written Maine Coon standard was very challenging,” she said.
“Since it was my first training assignment, I had to remember to make sure my table was clean, make sure I had written the awards in my judge’s book and just work at learn the timing necessary for getting through a large class like that.”
Then again, she was no raw rookie to this rarefied group of pet owners.
“One of the requirements of getting into the judging program is your commitment and knowledge of a minimum of one breed,” she explained. “I have bred Exotics (Shorthair Persians), Persians, Abyssinians, Manx and Norwegian Forest cats. My cats have achieved Grand Champion and Grand Premier titles as well as national and regional wins.”
Jaegar said most breeds “are unique because of their specific things attributed” to standards set by a council of breeders “who work to define and improve their breeds.”
“For example, the American Curl has ears that curl toward the back of their head,” she said. “The degree and amount of curl is defined as to what is desirable in that. Other attributes for the American Curl are the profile and the length of body.”
It’s not all serious work.
Last month, Jaegar was judged the Best Christmas Costume entrants, an event that drew about 40 onlookers as she carried each entrant individually from its cage to a small lab table, where she held it, petted it, eyeballed it carefully.
Some contestants weren’t all that thrilled to be wearing elf caps, red coats with bells and, in one case, a Nutcracker tutu.
Jaegar expertly took each cat through a small set of paces that included waving a wand in front of them to see if they’d get playful. Most did not appear in the mood to bat the wand.
Jaegar said the biggest change she has seen is in efforts by breeders to create cats of different colors. Because a council writes the standards for any breed, the breeders “want to see those colors in the championship ring.”
The Cat Fanciers Association takes the work of judges seriously, producing annual yearbooks that are an inch thick or bigger that are filled with portraits of cats that won a championship medal.
Achieving that status usually involves attending a number of shows – often around the country – and accumulating points that entitle their cats to an increasingly higher status in each subsequent competition.
Racks of medals in different colors and designs could be seen throughout the Mesa Convention Center, where last month’s show was held.
Jaegar sees a universal human element in the cat owners who compete for those medals.
“I think people enjoy working toward a goal and in the Cat Fancy, that goal is to produce and show exceptional cats that meet or exceed the standards,” she said. ”I also think people enjoy the spending time with their friends and producing quality examples of their breeds.”
There are only three Cat Fanciers Association affiliates in Arizona, all based in the Valley.
Besides showing off their cats, competing for medals and sometimes working to create new breeds, members also give back to the community by providing support to a broad array of animal rescue organizations.
To learn more: phxfeline.com.