by Xochitl Campos

Daily Lobo

More than 400 cats from all over the world gathered in Albuquerque this weekend to compete for ribbons, prestige and bragging rights.

Karen Crooke from Beaumont, Texas, showed her cat, Smokin' In The Back Room, a Maine coon. Smokin' was competing for the Best of Breed title.

The competition, held at the Convention Center, was fierce -- especially since the opposition included a breed that descended from a Bengal tiger.

Cat owners spent hours grooming and pampering their feline companions to ensure they looked their best.

Each cat had to look perfect, whether it was taking a five-minute run through the agility ring or a walk through aisles where cats and their owners prepped for the next event.

Cats are judged on a number of categories - from their temperament to the shine of their coat. The competition is narrowed down to Best of Breed.

The Best of Breed winners will then go on to compete for Best of Show, the highest honor.

"The more alert a cat is, the better it shows off its best features," Crooke said, waving a wand-like object to get Smokin's attention.

Smokin' was being groomed while passersby admired him and his numerous ribbons from previous competitions.

Smokin's father, Cräme Soda, was a pure-bred champion cat.

"It is not appropriate to breed cats if you're not trying to improve the breed, and you don't know if you're improving the breed unless you exhibit your cats," Crooke said. "There are a lot of homeless cats, and what I'm trying to do is breed cats that meet the standard held by cat buyers seeking a pedigree."

Crooke said the process of buying a pedigreed cat can be as complex as adopting a child. The process is difficult so that cat owners and breeders have the opportunity to protect the integrity of the breed, she said.

Crooke said she has competed in 26 shows worldwide since she began breeding cats in 1979.

For many Albuquerque cat lovers, the show was an opportunity to see the many cat breeds.

Lexi Prokopiof, 4, was there with her mother, Stefanie, to see the Savannah cat, a hybrid breed on exhibit.

"We love cats," Stefanie said. "We can see why cats win, but that's not important to us, just the wonderful personalities of cats and their owners."