He is no ordinary cat. His name is longer than his tail, and he has packed nine lives' worth of accolades into three years of eating, napping, stretching, cuddling, playing, bathing, traveling, and being greatly admired.
The cat, formally known as Grand Champion National Winner Divine Design's Leviticus of Naumkeag — call him Levi — is a blue British shorthair. He is mellow, with the confidence and reserve one expects of a winner who also happens to be, in name at least, a Brit.
And another thing about one of the coolest cats ever to plant its paws in a show ring: “He's a gentleman,” says his owner, Marilyn Conde of Peabody.
Conde, a retired schoolteacher, knows, because she has spent a lot of time and money and logged a lot of miles entering Levi in shows held by the Cat Fanciers' Association, or CFA, the largest registry of pedigreed cats in the world. This past season, through a year of shows that ended April 30 and culminated in an awards ceremony in Quincy June 30, the cat world took notice.
Competing in the CFA Championship Class, for cats over 8 months old that have not yet been neutered or spayed, Levi placed eighth overall, across all breeds and around the world, the only New England cat to place among the top 25 of the association's rigorously competitive class. He thus achieved status as a National Winner, which is even more impressive than it sounds, given the global representation of the competitors.
There were 20,673 cats and 42 breeds competing in the Championship Class worldwide this past season, including 492 British shorthairs, 260 of them from the United States, according to Monte Phillips, the CFA’s show rules chairman and also its chief numbers cruncher. Competitors entered shows in the United States, Europe, Russia, Israel, Kuwait, Japan, China, Singapore, Indonesia, Brazil, and Mexico, among other places.
Levi, who stuck to US shows but traveled as far away as California, also placed first in the association's North Atlantic region, which includes parts of Canada.
‘Levi wasprobably oneof the gentlestcats that haveever beenshown. Youput him onthe table andhe'd just sitthere andsay here Iam.’
In other words, this guy’s got the goods. And that’s no bag of litter.
“To get a national win in the Championship Class is a very lofty achievement,” says the Cat Fanciers’ Association’s president, Jerold Hamza.
The shows comprise between six and a dozen judge’s rings, and each ring is a mini-show in itself. In each ring, all the cats are judged according to a written standard for the breed.
The judge in each ring selects 10 cats to award points to. “You get a point for every cat you defeat,” Hamza says.
Levi finished the season with 7,925 points; the winner, an exotic shorthair from Europe, got 9,696 points. There was one British shorthair ahead of Levi in the National Winner standings.
Taken into account are physical characteristics including the shape of the eyes, shape of ears, where the ears are placed on the head, what the muzzle looks like, how long or short the nose is, the condition of the body and coat, and sometimes the color. As in the dog world, each breed has a written standard of perfection.
Attitude also counts. “The cat has to enjoy it,” says Sharon Roy of Manchester, N.H., director of the CFA’s North Atlantic region and an all-breed judge for the association. “They have to be amenable to handling.”
Referring to the British shorthair breed, Roy says: “The males are good-sized cats. They have really broad chests and they’re very muscular. The whole body is rounded. They have a rounded face and a rounded eye. They should have deep eye color. For the most part they're that coppery-gold eye color. And when you look at a good British shorthair, it almost has like a smile on its face.”
No matter where they went this past season, or what they went through to get there, Levi kept his game face on. “Levi was always ready to go,” Conde says of her 12-pound cat, whose big round face makes him look larger. “He was just having a great time. He never had a bad day, and he never had a bad hair day, either. He always looked good.”
Conde, a Peabody native who taught English at Essex Agricultural High School in Danvers for 26 years, made sure of that. Levi’s routine during the season included a bath every Wednesday that included a couple of shampoo scrubbings.
Conde went to her first cat show at the Danversport Yacht Club with a brown tabby named Misha in 1985. He won in two of four rings in the Household Pet Class, and Conde has been at it ever since. “I liked the whole atmosphere, seeing the different breeds and meeting people with the same interest,” she says.
She started out breeding Scottish folds, then switched to British shorthairs in the mid-1990s.
Another of her Brits, Barry, placed 24th among National Winners in 2010 competing in the Premiership Class for neutered and spayed cats.
She acquired Levi from a breeder, Divine Design in Texas, about a year and a half ago. He had been to shows and done extremely well. She took him to an event in New Jersey last summer. “He just took off,” says Conde, who entered him in 41 shows during the season.
It was hard to find anything wrong. “Levi was probably one of the gentlest cats that have ever been shown,” says Roy, the CFA judge. “You put him on the table and he'd just sit there and say here I am. His coat was absolutely phenomenal. He had beautiful eye color. And Marilyn always showed him in top condition.”
Levi was the perfect traveling companion for Conde, whose suitcase would be three-quarters filled with cat stuff and who flew to shows half a dozen times, always with him tucked in his carrier under her seat; she paid as much as $125 for a one-way kitty ticket.
No breaking away and running loose in the hotel. No drama, no fuss. Hardly so much as a meow from him. A gentleman, sure enough.
Sitting on a table during a Globe interview, a photographer having taken up time Levi might have spent sitting on the upper level of a cat tree upstairs, cackling at squirrels from the window, Levi sits patiently and even endures having the pages of a reporter's notepad flop against him, without even a snap of the tail.
Told that he is a good boy and quite handsome, he casts a look that seems to say: “Yes, I know. But thank you.”