Waffle and Tirzah are two cats that really know how to make a dramatic entrance into a crowded room. Heads turned. Jaws dropped. Conversations stopped, except for one woman who said, "Oh my God! Oh my God!"
Waffle, a black-and-white tuxedo cat, arrived at the Steel City Kitties cat show behind the wheel of a purple child-sized battery-operated car. His sister Tirzah, a tortoiseshell-and-white cat, lounged regally atop a fluffy white cushion in a two-wheeled cart pulled by the little car.
"These cats do what most cats don't," says Gregg McCandless of Butler.
"We never planned any of this, but Waffle loves his little car and they both love the attention they get," said Karen Sue McCandless, Gregg's wife.
"This was our first cat show," Mrs. McCandless said. While most of the feline competitors were purebreds, the short-haired McCandless kitties were entered in the household pets classes for cats of unknown pedigree. Waffle and Tirzah won multiple ribbons, and Tirzah won a big fancy rosette that said she was "best" in her class.
Although they enjoyed the experience, the couple and the cats learned they'd rather entertain than compete.
"It is such a good feeling when you are out there with the cat car and people are smiling," Mr. McCandless said. "Anything is possible with God."
I was at that Feb. 11 show, but not when Waffle and Tirzah were riding up and down the aisles at the former Old Navy store in the Shoppes at Northway in Ross.
The couple shot video at the cat show and posted it at www.basic9.com, which is their website. There's also video of the cats driving at other locales, including a pet supply store and, appropriately enough, a car cruise. Waffle and Tirzah look very content in their car and cart and never try to jump out.
Waffle can do many amazing things, but he doesn't know how to drive. Mr. McCandless operates the cat car with a remote-control device. A mechanic who restores bikes and cars, he took a pedal-powered child's toy and converted it to run on batteries.
Mr. McCandless has developed a prototype "critter car" that he would like to take to a manufacturer, if he can find customers who want to buy cars for their own pets. He says he can make them in all sizes, including really little ones for hamsters and guinea pigs.
So how did Gregg and Karen Sue get their cats into the cute car, which Mr. McCandless says is a replica of a Model A?
They had always been dog people until four years ago when a friend's cat had 12 kittens and they agreed to adopt two. They say they are "outdoors people" and wanted to take their new pets "everywhere with us."
"The first thing we did was teach them to walk on leashes so they could go hiking with us," Mrs. McCandless said. "Then we tried taking them sled-riding" and they liked that. Other activities evolved -- all chronicled on the website.
They've never made any money from the cats, although they wouldn't be adverse to accepting payment for public appearances. The cats and their car seem like a sure-shot for Stupid Pet Tricks on "The Late Show With David Letterman," but the staff at CBS has ignored their emails.
The Basic 9 website is a "passion," Mrs. McCandless said. She and her husband use their cats to fulfill their mission of teaching about "the nine fruits of the spirit" -- including love, peace, joy and patience -- from Galatians 5:22.23.
The name Tirzah is Hebrew, and the couple got the name Tirzah in the Scriptures -- she was the daughter of Zelophehad, and he was from the line of Joseph.
A Pittsburgh bird actually DID make it onto Mr. Letterman's show Monday night.
I stayed up later than I should have because promos indicated animals would be on with Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo.
A big black vulture flew out of the audience and landed on Mr. Letterman's leather-gloved hand.
"What's the bird's name" he asked.
"Sirabi," said the smiling woman who rewarded the bird with the foot of a dead chicken. I thought she looked familiar.
Sirabi did such a good job, he got to make a second successful flight.
"The bird's from the National Aviary," said Mr. Hanna. That's when I realized the woman was Cathy Schlott, head trainer at the North Side facility.
Mr. Hanna asked the aviary to supply birds for television shows in New York City, said Mike Marcus, director of marketing at the National Aviary. Ms. Schlott appeared on "Good Morning America" on Tuesday with a green aracari -- a bird that resembles a small toucan. Aviary birds will also be taped for upcoming daytime shows with Martha Stewart and Anderson Cooper, although we don't know when those shows will air.
You can see the "Late Night" and "GMA" segments on the National Aviary Facebook page. Mr. Hanna appears about 19 minutes into the Letterman show, and the Pittsburgh vulture flies at the 26-minute mark.
Linda Wilson Fuoco: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3064. First Published February 25, 2012 5:00 AM