The well-groomed, four-legged pedigree show pet deftly maneuvers through each portion of the agility course laid out before her, following the every command of her trainer as she darts through a tunnel, weaves expertly through a line of poles, bounds over a set of stairs and finally leaps through the center of a floating ring.
When she reaches the end of this physically and psychologically strenuous challenge, she licks her lustrous coat and lets out a victorious ... meow?
Surprise - this is no dog (or pony) show. It's the slightly more obscure world of cat competitions, which is on display this weekend at The Cotton States Cat Show at the Gwinnett Center in Duluth. The event, which began Saturday, continues today from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Now in its 69th year, the annual show boasts almost as impressive a pedigree as the animals who take part in it. It's held and run by America's second oldest cat club (called the Cotton States Cat Club, of course), which in turn belongs to the country's oldest registering body, The Cat Fanciers' Association, or CFA.
"It's basically a beauty contest based on very specific qualifications for each breed of cat," said Connie Wardlaw of Smyrna, show manager and owner of Lola, an exotic, short-haired Persian.
The competition is broken up into categories for all kinds of cats, Wardlaw said, from household pets to spayed and neutered animals to others who are literally born and bred for this sort of stuff.
Judges personally inspect each animal and select and rank the top 10 or 15, depending on the number of entries.
Cats be nimble, cats be quick
The saying goes that you can't teach an old dog new tricks, while traditional wisdom holds that you can't teach a cat, well, pretty much anything. But with the recent addition - and rising popularity - of agility courses to modern cat shows, that notion could change.
For proof, look no further than the Cotton States show, where, for the third year running, well-behaved felines can be found jumping through hoops just like their canine counterparts.
"It's really a lot of fun," Wardlaw said.
Sure, but ... obedience from a cat?
"Our cats probably aren't quite as cooperative as the dogs are yet," she conceded. "But some of them are quite good."
And fast. Wardlaw said she's seen one competitor, the record holder, complete a course in less than a minute without missing a single obstacle.
Wardlaw used to be involved with exhibiting a much larger kind of quadruped.
"I used to show horses," she said. "Cats are a lot easier to bathe."
She got her first feline in 1982, after she was introduced to the concept of cat fancy by her close friend, Cyndi Lewis of Acworth. Wardlaw found herself enamored by both the beauty and the independent nature of the creatures.
"They're affectionate," she said, "and yet they're kind of their own person, and I like that."
Not about to be pushed into something unwillingly, cats are also the first to make it known if they don't enjoy the world of competition, Wardlaw said.
"If the cat doesn't like a show, you basically don't show them," she said. "They're not out to please you. If they don't like it, they let you know."
Wardlaw and Lewis soon began to raise and manage show cats as a team, which they continue to do today after decades of collaboration. Wardlaw now keeps up with six animals, while Lewis, who is also the show's treasurer, has four.
The endeavor is an expensive one - "whatever Lola wants ..." Wardlaw joked, echoing the lyrics of the famous song - and having a like-minded comrade helps ease the financial burden.
Plus, she added, it's just more fun to share.
Not just fun but fruitful, apparently. Wardlaw said her partnership has produced an impressive six national champions.
As for Lola, she's currently sitting pretty at 14th in the country.
"We should have a national winner with her," Wardlaw said.
Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets.
SideBar: If You Go
What: Cotton States Cat Show
Where: The Convention Center at Gwinnett Center, 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway, Duluth
When: From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today
Cost: Admission is $7 for adults and $5 for children
Info: Visit www.cfa.org.