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4-H, 104 years old, thriving

Neylx the cat was sporting a blue and white cheerleading outfit when he won Best Costume.

He wasn’t even supposed to be at the 4-H cat show in February, Brianne Hanley, 10, a fourth-grader at Farragut Intermediate School and a member of the FIS 4-H club said.

“Bubblegum was hiding under the couch, so we had to take our older cat,” Brianne said.

“What happened,” said her mother, Laurie Hanley, “was the night before they tried the outfit on Bubblegum and he started slinking down on the ground.

“He must have known what we wanted [the next morning], and was not participating.”

Brianne said Neylx “was acting very fine” at the cat show until the costume was put on.

“He started meowing because we put pom-poms on his feet. He wanted to go in his cage. I took him out to brush him … and let him run around a little while.”

Eventually, 11-year-old Neylx came through, and Brianne went home from her first cat show with a trophy featuring a cat and a four-leaf clover.

Neylx, named after a Star Trek character is “just a regular cat,” she said. “He was rescued from an animal shelter in New York.”

“Cats in the Spotlight,” presented by Knox County 4-H, was open to fourth- through twelfth-graders, and had about 35 entries and 150 people in attendance, said Carlene Welch, a Knox County extension agent.

Categories included a live cat show, cat costumes, cage decorations, cat-themed owner’s clothing, cat photos, cat art, posters, and a cat quiz bowl.

“We had high-school people, middle school, down to fourth grade,” she said.

The cats had to be brought to the show in the University of Tennessee animal science building in a cage or carrier, had to be spayed or neutered, six months or older, vaccinated and healthy.

Unlike a professional cat show, where only officials handle the animals, 4-H members were required to remove the cats from their cages and show them to the judges.

“We get veterinarians from the local community to come in to do the judging,” Welch said. “It’s not just on the beauty of the cat, but also its health,” Welch said.

The vet asks the child about cat care as he looks for tartar on teeth, ear mites, fur matting and check the eyes, she explained.

Although 4-H has typically been associated with farm animals and agriculture, Welch said that a very small percentage of the participants are involved with large animals. She said the emphasis of 4-H is on leadership and citizenship.

“We have expanded to small animals — dog and cat shows, and rabbit groups,” she said. There is no cost to join 4-H, Welch said. She estimated enrollment in Knox County at 4,000 fourth- through twelfth-graders.

4-H is nationwide organization that celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2002, said Rosalind Woodard, also a Knox County extension agent.

It was started in northern states as an outreach for youth whose parents were involved in farming, she said.

“They thought that one way to rach the parents was through the youth, and it did,” Woodard added.

The first clubs were the girls’ canning club and the boys’ corn-growing club, and those eventually evolved into 3-H, she said. The “H’s” stood for “head,” “heart,” and “hand.” A fourth “H,” “hustle,” was added later, then in the 1960s, it was changed to “health.”

Students are involved in 25 different areas, Woodard said, including companion animals, computers, line and design, photography, livestock, food, health, fitness and engineering.

Other upcoming 4-H events include auditions for a performing arts troupe, a rabbit show, the Fashion and Design Camp and 4-H Electric Camp, both in June. A major event is the April State 4-H Congress in Nashville where 500 high school students from all over the state will take over the state chamber and debate bills, Welch said.


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