What It Means to be a Cat Breeder
The phone rang the other day and a voice cheerfully informed me that they
wanted to be a cat breeder and they wanted one of my cats to get started.
I asked them why -- why they wanted to be a cat breeder and why they wanted
one of my cats. There was a moment of silence on the other end and
then the answer came: "Well, I like cats so I thought I'd breed
them and you live close by and have a breed I like." Nowhere
in the discussion was there any indication that the caller understood what
was involved with breeding cats nor had they done any research to understand
what it was they wanted to accomplish with their breeding program and how
a cat from me would help them achieve their goal. After the call,
I started thinking about some of the discussion we had had and what it
actually means to be a breeder.
That call started me thinking about what it means to be a cat breeder
and what it has meant to me personally over the last thirty years.
And I'd like to share some of those thoughts with you. We had bred
dogs all my life and when we moved to Canada and went to our first cat
show it really wasn't surprising that we bought the cat we fell in love
with for breeding. A lovely seal point Himalayan called Sar-An Chanty.
Pretty soon we were very involved in the cat fancy, breeding and showing
our Himalayans and striving to produce better Himalayans. But let's step
back for a moment and think about what it actually means to be a breeder.
Breeder: I looked the term up in the dictionary as a starting
point for this article. It means someone
who takes two animals and puts them together for the purpose of creating
off-spring. Well, yes we all
do that but that's not what we actually mean by being a breeder -- after
all, where is the attribute of breeding pedigree animals
together? Its missing altogether! That means that Susie down
the street who takes any two whole cats and puts them together in order
to have kittens is actually a breeder. So obviously I use the term
"breeder" to mean a lot more than the dictionary definition. But
what? I decided to try to create a job description for a breeder
and here's what I came up:
Wanted: 1 Cat Breeder
A person who is passionate about cats to help maintain and promote their
reputation and mystery throughout society. Must be willing to work
long hours and be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365/366 days
a year in addition to maintaining a household and a full-time position
elsewhere as venture capital for this non-profit activity. Expensive
but highly rewarding opportunity with low pay. Some heartbreak involved.
Many skills required however on-the-job training provided. Successful
applicants may choose the specific breed or breeds with which they wish
The successful candidate will also consider themselves
an ambassador for the cat fancy and will provide assistance to people who
find themselves in trouble. Ideally you will also act as a liaison
with other animal welfare groups to ensure the best possible homes for
all cats. In addition you will consider yourself personally responsible
for other breeders who fail to live up to the criteria for being a member
of the cat fancy and as such will help to solve critical situations while
attempting to repair the damage the individual has done to the image of
all breeders. Finally, the candidate we are looking for will be able
to provide many tips to Martha Stewart in the area of sewing (especially
making cage drapes), crafts (as you create toys for your charges), cooking
(as you whip together gourmet meals at the last minute to satisfy family
and friends who aren't as involved in the cat fancy, and general home arts
as you maintain a convivial family life.
You are the conservator of the breed or breeds with which you choose to
work. You do not own the breed but contribute for a period of time
to ensure the health and vigor of the breed so it will be preserved for
all to enjoy in the future. You will work toward a written ideal
and strive to achieve perfection. Those of us who choose to breed
pedigree cats are really serving as Conservators of the various breeds.
We do not "own" a breed. Our legacy to our breeds is to spend time
ensuring the continuity of heritage, maintaining the health and viability,
while striving to ensure that the examples we produce are coming closer
and closer to the ideal standard. And we measure our success by showing
our cats and sharing our knowledge with others.
You do not require a veterinary degree however you are expected to learn
some basic skills and your skills improvement plan should always include
a component to continue building those skills while you are breeding.
You are required to assess medical situations and determine the appropriate
action to take. Particularly when starting you should be consulting
your veterinarian regularly and you are encouraged to continue consultation
with your chosen veterinary professional and to build a professional, collaborative
relationship with your veterinary professional. You will need to
build skills that allow you to assess the medical situation and at times
you may be called on to assist your veterinarian in medical emergencies.
You've heard the adage that cleanliness is next to Godliness -- and that
is true for all breeders. You will be required to keep your cattery
spotless and your cats in the peak of condition at all times. That
means scrubbing cages, litter pans and food dishes at least once a day.
You will need to clean litter and bathe cats on a constant basis.
Failure to provide adequate cleanliness is grounds for immediate dismissal
and may result in criminal charges. You are an ambassador for all
cat breeders and failure to provide this basic necessity brings disrepute
to all breeders.
You will need to keep records for all cats that you are safeguarding.
You will need to keep meticulous breeding records and health records.
You will also need to prepare and administer contracts for all cats you
purchase or sell to new homes. You will also need to register cats
with the appropriate registering body or bodies. In addition you
will need to prepare paperwork to enter shows. The ideal candidate
will also be willing to help out at shows assisting with show administration
in various capacities such as clerk, master clerk, show manager or judge.
You will also need to learn or know how to obtain and interpret rules pertaining
to the travel of animals and you will need to know how to make a journey
comfortable and safe for your charges.
This position lets you work in your home and so requires you to manage
your total cattery in a professional manner. You may require assistance
and will need to manage any assistants to ensure their work is up to the
high standards required to maintain your cattery at its maximum level of
cleanliness. You will work on your own but owe responsible behavior
to the managing organization. The ideal candidate will also be willing
to assist with club and show activities which require project management
for all events that promote the cat fancy to the general public.
As new people join the organization, they need help and guidance to gain
on-the-job training. You may encourage people to become involved
as additional conservators and in turn you will need to help them learn
how to become better conservators. This is not about telling them
what to do but about teaching them how to make better decisions for themselves
as they strive for their ideal of perfection.
Competition measures your success as a conservator of the breed and provides
everyone with opportunities to see how they may want to modify their breeding
programs. As in all sports, someone comes in first and someone comes
in last. This should be considered an opportunity to learn.
Good sportsmanship is expected at all times. All candidates must
be gracious whether they come in first, last or somewhere in the middle.
Be happy for your fellow breeders when they have their moment in the sun
and when it is your turn never forget how it feels when you are not at
the top -- be gracious to all. Lack of good sportsmanship is considered
a major flaw because it means you may not have the ability to be objective
about your program which in turn means that you may not be acting in the
best interests of the breed or breeds with which you have chosen to work.
Remember that when you are competing you are not the judge and therefore
you are not handling the cats -- what you see and what the judge sees or
feels may be completely different. In addition, you will need to
remember that we are all human and therefore we can all simply make a mistake.
All candidates are allowed to make mistakes -- the best candidates will
learn from those mistakes and use them to make a positive contribution
to the breed and organization.
As you prepare to measure your success at conserving your chosen breed(s),
you will need to travel to cat shows. These may be local or they
may be far afield. Regardless you will need to navigate from your
location to the show location following a written set of instructions.
You may choose to chart your own route however you still need to arrive
at the given destination at the appointed time. Failure to do so
may mean that you are penalized by missing competition rings. The
ideal candidate will have rally car team skills. Use of seat belts
is highly recommended to protect both yourself and your cats. It
is also recommended that you stay within posted speed limits to ensure
that you do not acquire financial penalties and demerit points from civilian
authorities. Often the written directions you receive may not be
entirely accurate or clear. You may use other tools to assist your
directions such as online direction providers. In severe situations
you may need to request assistance from the police -- occasionally the
officers may elect to give you a police escort to the destination although
this usually results in some embarrassment as you arrive at the show location!
However as long as you arrive on time, its a perfectly acceptable method.
(Desirable) If you decide to get involved in organizing events you will
use your strong negotiation skills to hire halls, tables, chairs, etc.
These skills will also play a strong role as you try to attract sponsors
for your event.
As your passion for this position carries you to new places, you will run
into many adventures which will give you stories to share for many years
to come. These challenges will become some of your fondest memories.
You will need to remain undeterred by adversity -- the snowstorm that closes
the highway, the directions that send you miles out of your way but show
you little known areas of the country, the airline that decides your charge
doesn't belong in the cabin, the cat that goes missing from your hotel
room only to reappear at the banquet you are attending. A sense of
humor will help you deal with everything you encounter and your outgoing
attitude will make many new friends for you.
Grief Counselor: At
some point in this position you will need to talk to people who have lost
a beloved companion of many years. Many of these people are still
grieving for their lost pet and you will need to provide sympathetic support
to them as they work through the grieving process. Helping them through
this period and providing them with a new loving companion is one of the
most rewarding aspects of this position. Many people will want to
share the stories of their beloved companions and you will make new friends
by listening and enjoying the story of those cats. This may happen
on the phone or in your home but remember that it may also occur in the
competitive arena. Rather than turning away, consider helping them
by letting them hold one of your cats and warm your heart in the joy that
lights up their faces.
Sales & Marketing:
Essential core skills. You will need to ensure that the offspring from
your breeding program acquire appropriate homes. Since you are probably
not a philanthropist, you will be trying to recover your costs which means
you will need to set a price and sell your kittens. Marketing is
also a key skill as you need to promote awareness of your breed and the
organizations to which you belong. As you become involved in promoting
events, you marketing skills will also come into play as you try to ensure
a successful event that recovers your costs. The ideal candidate
will also possess strong budgeting and accounting skills to support these
The ideal candidate will be passionate about the history of their breed
and about its development. Requires the devotion of many hours to
tracing and evaluating pedigrees to determine the best way to advance the
breed in accordance with the written standard. The most successful
candidates will also devote time to obtaining pictorial records in order
to use them in their evaluation. Candidates for senior positions
will also be avid about the history of the cat in our society in general
and devote many hours to the pursuit of that knowledge.
Maintaining cats in the peak of condition takes a great deal of time and
effort. This aspect of the position means you will spend time evaluating
various products and their effects to presenting a cat in optimal condition.
General cleanliness is a first step however ideal presentation means much
more than this and requires effort on a daily basis.
To ensure the optimum health of your charges, you will need to determine
their diets and monitor them regularly. No cat should be fat and
no cat should be thin. You will need to monitor diet daily and to
adjust accordingly for each individual charge.
Hmmmm! Seems to me the dictionary definition of
a breeder is missing a lot of critical information! Maybe that's
why we seek to qualify what we mean by 'breeder' with adjectives like 'good',
'bad', 'ethical', 'responsible', 'backyard' and 'kitten mill'. These
terms are often used however maybe we don't always stop to think about
what we mean by them. They are all terms we use to try and differentiate
ourselves from other breeders who don't seem to live up to our criteria.
Good Breeder/Ethical Breeder:
Someone who breeds cats and shares the same set of values that we do.
Someone who breeds cats but does not share the same set of values that
we do. Often reflected by the sale of poor or indifferent examples
of the breed which may also be unhealthy. Generally does not care
about the home their cat goes to.
Backyard Breeder: Someone
who breeds cats often hoping to make a little extra income. Generally
does not attend cat shows but may do so in order to promote the sales of
the kittens they are producing. Often doesn't know enough to care about
the home their cat goes to.
Someone who produces cats with the sole goal of making money. Generally
produces a large number of kittens and does not care to all about the home
the kitten is going to. Often uses pet stores as a channel for selling
Sometimes it is important to remember that a backyard
breeder or a bad breeder may be so through ignorance. It is not necessarily
that they don't care but that they don't know that the things they should
care about. Sometimes talking with these people and bringing them
into the cat fancy can help change them into a good breeder who makes a
positive contribution to the cat fancy. Other times a bad breeder
might be so because they ran into trouble and didn't feel there was anyone
they could turn to for help. They may share the same passion and
not realized the amount of work involved. They may acquire too many
cats too quickly and become overwhelmed. These are not bad people
but people who let circumstances get beyond their control -- a helping
hand may be all they need. However if they persist in their actions
and turn a blind eye to their situation, action must be taken to ensure
that they don't endanger the preservation of the many wonderful breeds
So, why am I still breeding cats after 30 years?
The job description said you needed to have a passion for the breed or
breeds with which you choose to work. That passion has sustained
me in the cat fancy for thirty years and as I said it has proved to be
a very rewarding opportunity. It gave me a hobby which I shared with
my parents building a close and lasting relationship between us.
It gave me my first steps into an adult world -- I'll never forget the
day I got my driver's license and my parents agreed to let me go to an
away show on my own. Or the day when the cat club let me make the
crowns and capes for the King and Queen of Household Pets -- and later
entrusted me as entry clerk. A non-cat breeding friend went with me to that
first show alone but
her parents were very nervous about whether they trusted her in such a
venture. The trust my parents showed in me has provided me with a
confidence that has lasted a lifetime. Researching breeds, history,
nutrition and health care information has opened my mind to areas I would
have known nothing about were it not for my cats -- it opened a world of
geography and history and science for me. It has provided me with
another passion -- finding and collecting antique books mainly on cats
but also other areas as my search provided new insights. I have learned
new skills like HTML formatting which can be used in my everyday job.
I have the joy of watching my cats and their interactions every day and
share that joy with my partner. No matter where I go in the world
I can find new friends who share my passion. I have traveled to new
places for cat shows and discovered things I may never have encountered
without my cats. Every show I fly to introduces me to new people
who are curious about the cat traveling with me so I have had some wonderful
conversations with some very interesting people. The
skills that help me be a breeder have also helped me in my job -- and I
am a better employee because of them. I'm passionate about my regular
job because it lets me indulge my hobby and because I want the flexibility
to enjoy traveling to cat shows. The newborn kitten, especially one
that I bring back from the brink of death, that I hold in my hands marvelling
at its perfection is all the reward I need. The brightly colored
ribbons that adorn my cage attest to my vision as a conservator -- and
the ones on the cages of friends I have advised attest to my success at
helping others achieve their visions and bring a glow of pride. And the
joy and excitement of people who take one of my kittens to their hearts
brings a warmth to mine. These are the things that matter in life
and are the reasons why I am still breeding cats thrity years later. Yes,
it is hard work but the rewards it has given me are immense and immeasurable
-- I can only hope that the next thirty yeears will give me as much as the
first 30 years!