Vegas People & Jobs: Judging the World’s Best Cats

David Mare is seen in this professional series of photos by Shutter Kitten photographer Bianca Kennedy. The photos were taken at the January 2009 Houston CFA Show. The cat in question: a platinum mink Tonkenese.

He’s 67 years old and still in demand. The reason: he knows cats.

He’s Las Vegan David Mare (pronounced Mare-ay), an all-breed cat judge who this weekend is in Dallas, TX judging a cat show. Next year, he will be judging two cat shows in Russia “because I’ve never been to Russia”.

Mare is so well-known in the world of cat fanciers that he now must pick and choose among the numerous invitations he gets to judge shows. “I do about 40 shows a year,” he explains. “That typically includes one in Australia, three in Japan, three in Europe, one in China or Southeast Asia and the rest domestically.”

Why the busy schedule? Mare loves everything about judging: seeing beautiful animals (purebred and mixed breed), being part of the cat fanciers world AND getting paid for judging, usually all expenses plus a set amount per cat entered in a show. “The reputation of a judge can have an influence on the number of entries in a show,” Mare explains. “I think I have a good reputation, both for fairness and for having a good eye for the best animals.”

Cats have meant a good deal to Mare over his lifetime. The Albany, NY native and his high-school sweetheart, Sue, were teenage parents with little money. After having seen the movie “Bell, Book and Candle” featuring a Siamese cat, they purchased their first Siamese as a mutual Christmas present. Thinking they had a show-quality animal, they spent a precious $6 to enter a cat show. Sadly, their cat had several “faults”, but the young couple didn’t know that. They went on to enter a second show. A Siamese breeder, seeing the enthusiastic kids with the non-show-quality cat “felt sorry for us and gave us two cats to care for, one of which had been bred. For our work, we were to get one of the kittens. I chose the kitten,” said Mare, “and that kitten went on to be Best in Show at Madison Square Garden and won numerous other honors.”

Mare says a good judge looks only at the animal, not at the owner, even a friend, who brought the cat to the show.

Mare jumped into the world of cat shows with (excuse the expression) all fours. He was still a teenager, but he learned fast, became a breeder, show manager, advisor to others in selecting kittens and was accepted by the Cat Fanciers Association (CFA) as a candidate for judge. It took him just two years to become certified as an all-breed judge, the youngest in CFA history. At the time, Mare worked for the State of New York Department of Conservation, but his weekends were spent judging cat shows. The money earned helped him with his family obligations and his continuing education at night school. He earned a business degree from Union College’s Albany Campus after 11 years “off and on” of night school.

Cat shows throughout the world may attract up to tens of thousands of spectators.

Mare and his late wife and their children moved to California after Mare had made a trip West and thought “This is where the action is.” He had a successful corporate career with Burroughs Corporation then took 10 years off from cat judging to open his own business in San Francisco. Mare owned the largest antique gallery in the Jackson Square area of San Francisco. He sold the business and retired at age 50. “I was fortunate,” Mare said. “I was able to go back into judging.”

Because he owned a motorcycle and wanted to ride the open spaces, Mare borrowed a Las Vegas condominium owned by friend Richard Underwood and came to Las Vegas. He stayed and stayed and eventually Underwood also came to Las Vegas. Together, they bought a house with two wings, one for each. “I love Las Vegas,” said Mare. “The weather is great. My three children and seven grandchildren are nearby in California. We enjoy the local entertainment, in particular the productions of the Las Vegas Little Theater. I have the perfect gig, going to cat shows and seeing the most beautiful animals on the face of the earth, but also enjoying family and retirement.”

Though today, Mare now has no animals of his own “because I travel so much,” he adds, “I’ve always loved all animals and still do. In my past, I introduced several breeds of cats to the U.S.” (He pulls out a two-page spread in an old Life Magazine of the hairless Sphinx cat owned by Mare. He says he is often called “the father of the Sphinx” in the U.S.)

Being a cat judge means loving to work with beautiful animals.

Mare has also owned dogs, namely greyhounds and great danes. He says he is not fond of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) or HSUS (the Humane Society of the US.) “These organizations, in my opinion, do not serve to benefit domestic animals,” he says. Mare is on the CFA Board and is a Board member and President of the CFA Foundation. He’s also involved with a number of groups that provide low-cost spaying and neutering of domestic animals.

Why does Mare care about animals? His answer: “Animals are uniquely honest. They accept you regardless of who you are and what you are. If you’re good to the animal, the animal will be good to you. That’s the golden rule, isn’t it? And who lives it better than animals? ”


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