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All Hail King Cheeto

Last weekend, I faced a dilemma. I was scheduled to be in two places at one time. Location #1 was the Northwest Christian Writer’s Association’s Conference in Redmond, WA where I planned to shop my next book idea. Location #2 was the 2012 PAWS Community Hero Pet Awards ceremony on Bainbridge Island where my cat, Cheeto, was to be honored for his work as a “target cat”. Cheeto has a “job” and is used to train cat detection dogs to find lost cats. Recently featured on three different TV shows, Cheeto won this award because he helped to train a search dog named Harley who found and saved the life a lost cat named Norm.

Award Winning Cat....WHO KNEW!

At first, I planned to send a volunteer in my place to accept Cheeto’s award. But as the day grew closer, I felt an ache in my heart. I wanted to be there, too. When I voiced my dilemma on Facebook and asked for advice, one friend piped up and said, “Writer’s Conferences come and go-when have you ever heard of a cat winning an award?”

So I compromised. I attended the writer’s conference in the morning and in the afternoon, I left Redmond, drove to Seattle, picked up a friend (who had Cheeto), and boarded the ferry heading to Bainbridge Island.

This was a red carpet event held at the beautiful Wing Point Golf & Country Club. There were six categories with six winners. Cheeto won in the Companion Animal category, but there was a seventh award up for grabs that had captured my attention. It was the People’s Choice Award where everyone who attended the event would be asked to vote for their favorite of the six nominees. All of the other nominees besides Cheeto were dogs. The event planners had created a poster for each of the nominees that described their work and why they had won their award. These posters were what the attendees looked at and used to help them decide who they wanted to vote for. As I stood in front of Cheeto’s poster taking a picture of it, I overheard a conversation taking place behind my back that went something like this:
Woman #1: “Who did you vote for?”
Woman #2: “I voted for Tucker.” (Tucker is a black Labrador trained as a whale poop detection dog. I am serious. I bet my dog Kody-the-poop-eater would gladly apply for that job.)
Woman #1: “I voted for the cat.”
Woman #2: “Yeah, but he doesn’t really do anything.”

People's Choice Poster (where I eavesdropped)

At that point, I realized we were in trouble. So I began to act like one of those sideline parent-turned-football coach, determined that my kid would win! I figured I’d probably bagged the votes of all of the cat lovers, so I devised a plan to capture as many dog lover votes as possible. I took Cheeto to the entrance of the event to greet all arriving guests. I handed out Cheeto’s trading card to anyone who stopped to pet him. I even pulled out freeze dried salmon treats and tried to get him to sit up and wave (like he did in this video here). I figured if dog people could see that a cat had a brain and could even be trained to do a trick, maybe they’d cross over to the dark side and vote for one. But Cheeto refused to wave. He just laid there like a fat cat, allowing votes to slip away. Ultimately, the time for the awards ceremony arrived and I was asked to bring Cheeto inside. I snapped a shot while he lay on the red carpet.

Cheeto Resting on the Red Carpet (waiting his turn)

When they called Cheeto’s name, I picked him up and he relaxed in my arms like a sack of potatoes. When he becomes limp like this, his back legs splay apart, his head hangs back, and he looks hysterical–similar to how he looks in this photo here:

I hammed it up on the red carpet by twirling (like a model) in a circle as I held limp-Cheeto. The audience laughed and I even stopped for a few people to take his photo. *** UPDATED FOOTAGE!! *** Click here to see YouTube footage of Cheeto’s presentation!  Before the presentation the event planner had asked all nominees, “If your pet were to come back as a famous person, who would he be?” and I answered “Because he is big and keeps me laughing all of the time, Cheeto would be Jackie Gleason.” At the podium, Cheeto received his plaque and an Olympic-style medal attached to a red, white, and blue ribbon that they draped around his neck (actually, its a cheap engraved pet tag, not a medal, but please don’t tell Cheeto). Afterwards, we waited another five minutes and they announced the overall winner of the People’s Choice Award. It wasn’t Cheeto. And it wasn’t even Tucker-the-poop-sniffer. No, it was a therapy dog named “Kitty Kitty,” given this name because she was born on April Fool’s Day.

We packed up and made the ferry just on time. Once on board, I had the brilliant idea to ask the ferry supervisor if I could brag about my cat who’d just won a Pet Hero Award. After showing him the award and letting him meet Cheeto, I was shocked that he actually handed me the microphone and said I could make the announcement myself. Seeing a YouTube moment, I asked my friend (she’d prefer to remain nameless, and you’ll see why when you watch the video) to videotape our next fun way to market Cheeto’s achievement. So I handed my cell phone to my friend to videotape me, grabbed that microphone, and told those passengers just how blessed they were to be traveling with a famous, award winning cat and how they could meet Cheeto (which some of them did). And here’s what my friend captured on film:

Nice. The only thing she captured was a 3 second clip of my back, my butt, and then her feet. And, yes, Cheeto didn’t get the People’s Choice Award. But at least I have a hero cat to sleep on my bed at night and a pretty new plaque for my wall. Life is too short to not brag about your famous cat!

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