2017-07-06 / News

Saco woman turns rescue cats into cat show competitors

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer

SACO – Holly Dustin, manager of Pet Life in Saco, has been a cat lover her whole life and over the past two years has taken a few lucky rescued felines on a rags-to-riches journey.

Dustin has three cats she takes to cat shows on the weekends: Plush, Musette and Matisse, although Plush’s full show name is Magic of Purrs, Purrcival Plush. Dustin shows her cats in the Household Pet category, which is comprised of cats that for whatever reason can’t show in the Purebred category. Plush, for example, appears to be a purebred Persian cat but because he is a rescue with no papers there is no way to prove it.

Unlike the Purebred category, which is judged almost exclusively on looks, the Household Pet takes into consideration overall appearance, how well the cat is groomed and the cat’s personality.

“Plush gets by on beauty,” Dustin said. “He won’t jump or stretch. He just stands there and looks good.”

Musette and Matisse are a mother and son pair Dustin adopted because she hoped she would be able to show Matisse as a kitten. She said kittens are fun to show because they are much more interactive and are popular among judges. Matisse ended up being scared and shy, Dustin suspects from a lack of early socialization, but his mother Musette made every final in her second show.

“I thought Matisse was going to do great but Musette is the star,” she said.

Dustin adopted her three show cats and two more she doesn’t show from Another Chance Animal Rescue, a nonprofit volunteer run foster-based rescue program in Sanford. The organization has cats for adoption at Pet Life in Sanford and Saco. Dustin said Pet Life in Saco has seen 23 cats adopted from Another Chance in the past year.

Marilyn Harley, the group’s treasurer, said it all started with two cats in her garage 13 years ago and has since grown to adopting 560 cats last year. She said finding funding is an endless battle and she is always looking for more volunteers. She retired last year at age 67 and hopes to continue working with the cats for the next 20 years.

“Every cat we get would have been euthanized,” Harley said. “We are giving them another chance, as they say. Anybody that can help out is very much appreciated.”

Harley said her garage is being remodeled to allow a new adoption center, office and an isolation center for sick cats. She said some of the cats are brought to them locally, but many come from the Carolinas or Louisiana where kill-shelters are more prevalent. Harley said there will be many new kittens at an open house and volunteer appreciation weekend starting Friday, July 21.

“A lot of animals have been saved,” Harley said. “They’re spayed and neutered with wonderful homes now. It’s not just me, all our volunteers work just as hard as I do.”


Holly Dustin’s third cat, Plush, sits his numerous awards he has accumulated throughout the past few years. Plush’s full show name is Magic of Purrs, Purrcival Plush. Dustin hopes to receive a title of distinction in the Household Pet category within the next three years for Plush. (Grant McPherson photo) Holly Dustin’s third cat, Plush, sits his numerous awards he has accumulated throughout the past few years. Plush’s full show name is Magic of Purrs, Purrcival Plush. Dustin hopes to receive a title of distinction in the Household Pet category within the next three years for Plush. (Grant McPherson photo) Dustin said her interest in cat shows began as a spectator when she took her children to a show at the Saco Community Center. She said Cat Fanciers Federation holds shows mainly in New England and is the easiest to get started in. She encouraged anyone whose cat is healthy and comfortable being handled by strangers to try entering a show. Dustin said Cat Fanciers Federation will pair newcomers during the show with someone more experienced to help guide them.

“It’s a great way to spend time with your cat,” Dustin said. “Plus you’re hanging out with cat people all day long.”

Dustin said she has travelled all over New England for shows, as well as New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. She said one weekend when she was almost home her car engine started smoking as she crossed the New Hampshire-Massachusetts border. She was able to drive the car to her daughter’s house before the radiator burst and spilled anti-freeze all over her engine.

“That’s probably my most adventurous story,” She said.

Dustin said there are some rivalries within the cat show world. She said there was a fight for best Household Pet in the region last year and many owners felt their cat deserved to win. Dustin said there is usually more politics happening in the Purebred categories since breeders have their reputation on the line. In the Household Pet category, Dustin said she sees new people and offers help.

“There’s an ugly side of any competition,” Dustin said. “My daughter was a dancer and my son played sports – you see it everywhere.”

Dustin said she has 12 cats at home but not all of them are cut out for the show world. She has an 8-year-old Norwegian forest cat that was abandoned by a transient in a community near Dover, New Hampshire. It took the cat six months before it stopped trying to swat her every time she walked too quickly through her house.

“He would hate (the shows) so I won’t ever do it to him,” Dustin said. “For some cats it’s not their thing.”

Dustin, 55, said the cat show world is dying because as older members retire from showing there aren’t enough young people joining. She said the show world used to be much bigger and cats are still one of the most popular pets in the country. The best advice she can give to someone wanting to show is to have the cat groomed.

“It makes a world of difference,” Dustin said. “They present much better if they’re washed.”

Dustin is chasing a title of distinction for Plush over the next three years. Last year Plush received the title of Grand Household Pet for garnering 200 points over the course of many finals. Dustin said reaching her new goal will require a lot more work for her and a lot more travel for the both of them.

Dustin said Plush is normally placid but at a show in Vermont last year he was in a mood where he didn’t appreciate being handled. A judge from New Hampshire that had previously given Plush high marks ran her hands down him and he snapped at her. Plush bit the next judge that tried to touch him that day and Dustin pulled him from the competition.

“That whole show was a complete bust,” Dustin said. “I was hoping for big things but you never know. It’s not up to you; it’s up to the cat.”

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