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 to work.

Skills required:

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.

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.
Bad Breeder:  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.
Kitten Mill: 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 their cats.

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 we have.

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!