Most Valuable Cat

 Bribery with dried food is permissible under the rules of the competition.
Jerome and cat food box

My Most Valuable Cat Competition for the summer of 2001 - 2002 has been a complete flop.

The prize tins of cat food (gourmet chicken hearts and diced liver, beef casserole with marinated giblets, fisherman's gourmet basket with shrimp) are still stacked on the pantry shelf. The score sheets are all filled in, but I haven't bothered to add up the points yet.

The cat participants (Jerome, Mugsy, Stumpy, Big Fat Sifter and Taj-dog) hardly noticed when the competition began, let alone that it is now officially over for another year.

A Summer Holiday Competition

Let me explain what should have happened. This traditional summer event has been running for the last six years. During summer I am on holiday, and I spend hours every day in the garden, ranging from the house patio borders to the distant developing gardens over the water race. I am a slow, leisurely gardener, and easily located by the crackling commentaries coming from my cricket radio (which is always on). When I am inside I am usually sitting on a chair, warm and immobile, watching the cricket.

 A disappointing contestant in the Most Valuable Cat Competition.
Sifter on the snoozing table

The rules of the Most Valuable Cat Competition, or M.V.C. as it is affectionately known, are really quite simple, even for a cat. I now quote from the official score sheets for the 2001 - 2002 season:

This summer's (2002 - 2002) Most Valuable Cat Competition has two separate categories. Cats will score points for being indoor and outdoor cat-company. 5 points will be awarded per day for first place and 3 for second place in each category. Taj-dog becomes an honorary cat for the duration of this competition.

The Judges' Decision is Final

Let me explain the judging. Seeing the trouble that multiple judges bring to the Winter Olympics, the Moosey's Most Valuable Cat Competition has only one judge (me). Another family member can nominate a cat for points, though the cat concerned must have offered valid cat-company to them (e.g. sleeping on a sick person's bed all day). It is tradition for the dog to gain points for going for long rides in the car - this balances the natural advantage that the cats have in being able to sit on people. Moosey has the last say as she is in charge of data entry.

 Two cats lured outside to look for dried cat food.
Mugsy and jerome in the grass

So what caused this summer's M.V.C. to be such a flop? I think the weather was the first problem. Cats do not freely give their company when it is raining or drizzling and the grass around a kneeling gardener is wet.

Too Much Rain?

Dogs are made of sterner stuff (and are larger in size), but get too muddy, thus they are discouraged. And it did rain a lot this summer, evidenced by the jungle green canopies in the perennial borders.

The next problem was the visitors. Cats who are ruled by their stomachs (as Big Fat Sifter certainly is) seem to know a soft touch when they see one. My visitors arrive at odd times, and usually proceed to make and eat toast. Sifter has a passion for toast. He starts in with the Leg-Rub, follows with the Sphinx (a motionless sitting pose which displays symmetric tabby stripes), and finishes with the Cat Porte-des Bras (a gentle outreaching paw). The visitor is hooked! 'Oooo - what a beautiful cat - and look - he wants a bit of toast ...'

 A poor performer who shows little interest.
Stumpy on the patio path

The Contestants

Jerome came out quite a lot in the sunny mornings. She was the only cat in the competition, really. As I'd set up to work in one of the borders over the water race she'd scoop herself into a ball and settle to sleep under a nearby tussock. Then I'd move on.

Two hours later I'd be gardens away from where I'd started. If I bothered to go back I'd find her sound asleep, and I could usually lure her out with some dried cat food (if I had any in my pockets). The rules of the competition allow bribery, but it goes against the true spirit of the event.

Hopeless and Housebound

Mugsy and Stumpy were hopeless - and housebound. They preferred the ambience of Cat Lounge, and made the occasional stroll to Fridge Door. I could sometimes get them out the door by rattling the food bowls on the decking. Carpet-crawling seemed to be the only preferred summer activity.

 Never in the running, Mugsy prefers to be inside the house.
Mugsy the cat

These two weren't interested in following me anywhere. Mugsy is slightly disabled and likes to stay close to the house, but Stumpy has absolutely no excuse. Late afternoons the patio with its table and warm green plastic chairs table became the perfect spot for a pre-dinner snooze.

 This competitor in the M.V.C. has been disappointing.

A Disappointing Dog

Taj-dog was a great disappointment this year. You'd think that he would realise the honour of being made an honorary cat, and the responsibilities that go with it. But no. When it was sunny all he wanted to do was to lie on the gravel driveway.

Taj-dog is an older dog, and he is quite deaf. Perhaps he just couldn't hear the cricket radio. Or perhaps, recognising his loss of hearing, his dog-plan was to intercept visiting cars by blocking their path. Either way, on sunny days I never saw him in the garden.

 A comfortable seat in the sun to wait for dinner.
Jerome relaxing

And The Winner Is...

The competition has now closed, but no-one's noticed. I'm back at work, and the prizes sit forlornly on the pantry shelf .... With a use-by date of December 2002 they could be used for next summer.

But hard questions have to be asked. Is The Most Valuable Cat Competition, like beauty contests, a social anachronism? Does it need revamping? - a logo, bigger prizes, better incentives? Is it just too boring? - Should the element of carnage (live rodents, for example) be introduced? Or should I just go into recess....