|Sigh. I'm a Maine Coon breeder. We have posts like this every so often. I certainly don't disagree that most people are perfectly happy with a generic kitty, which usually means a rescue of some sort. It's said that 95% of all cats in the U.S. are "plain old cats"--not purebreds. But the issue is a lot more complicated than the standard "Why not get a cat from a shelter and save a life?" argument. There are as many opinions about this issue as there are cat owners, I think. For example, I don't really approve of breeds that have been genetically modified to the point where their quality of life may be compromised--Siamese, Persians, and Munchkins being the best-known examples. For most of history, there were only genetic cats, with some variations according to location--Egypt, Persia, Thailand, the Isle of Man (Manx cats), Norway (Norwegian Forest Cats), and America (the Maine Coon), and so on and so on. Later, these indigenous breeds attracted breeders who attempted to breed them to breed standards set by various cat registries, the CFA being the oldest and best-known. Some of these breed standards, such as those for Siamese and Persians, can be extreme and cause physical problems. Some breeds, such as the Maine Coon, have not yet been bred in ways that compromise their health. (Maine Coons are vulnerable to heart problems, but as far as I know, it's not clear whether this is due to breeding practices, or whether it's a problem that has been with Maine Coons from even before there was a purebred version. Breeders are doing their best to eliminate from their breeding programs cats with the genetic propensity for heart problems, and the CFA is a big sponsor of research on heart problems and other feline diseases.)
Take a moment to consider dogs. Distinct dog breeds have been around much longer than cat breeds. If you want to talk about breeding practices and breed standards that compromise quality of life, dogs provide a lot more examples than do cats. Some people defend the idea of dog breeds (which, obviously, require dog breeders) by saying that dogs were traditionally bred for certain tasks. Well, that may have been true at one point in history, but how many people living in your standard suburban home or urban apartment are using Fido as a hunting or herding dog? People choose dog breeds because they like the dog's looks, or personality, or size, or whatever.
It's the same thing with cat breeds. Most people are perfectly happy with generic cats. Even people with purebred cats often have moggies in their feline household (I have Spike). Although not every purebred cat's personality matches widely believed descriptions, you can probably bet that most Siamese are going to be chatty, most Persians are going to be pretty laid-back, etc. Sure, you can go to a shelter and find an adult cat with the personality you want (kittens are kind of a wild card)--in fact, in some ways, I think that's safer than getting a purebred cat because you're sure it's going to have the personality you want. (Some of my Maine Coons have very un-Maine Coon-like personalities).
But then there's the visual aspect. People are often attracted to animals because of their looks, just as they are attracted to other people's looks. Looks aren't everything, obviously. But some people like black cats, some people like red tabbies, some people like Siamese, some people like Maine Coons--and I don't see anything wrong with that. Mind you, this doesn't mean you have to get a purebred to be aesthetically satisfied. A generic cat will do just as well. It's just that some people prefer some looks over others, and, to repeat myself, I don't think there's anything wrong with that.
And then there are those people who enjoy cats via showing them in cat shows. Cat shows are heaven for people who love cats (I've never met anyone in the cat world for whom cats weren't the center of their life). Cat shows can be stressful for cats, but a consciencious exhibitor will only show cats who enjoy being shown--and some cats do. Cat shows and the registries that sponsor them serve as excellent venues for exchanging information on cat behavior, health, etc., and breakthroughs in research on cat health have been made through sponsorships by the CFA and other registries.
I'm running out of space here, so I'll make just a few more comments as briefly as I can.
(1) There are many ways to enjoy cats. Having a cat as a family member is the most basic and common, but showing cats (and you can show non-breed cats as well as purebreds) is another. Breeding cats is another way of enjoying cats. So-called hobby breeders breed because they love cats. They do not breed on a large scale, and their cats receive the best in health care and maintenance. Inbreeding is usually not practiced (exceptions would be when a new breed is being developed and there aren't enough breeding partners to go around). Cats are tested for genetic mutations before being bred. Breeders enjoy breeding (which is back-breaking work, by the way) because they love cats, are trying to improve the breed in question, want to show their cats in cat shows (an important source for mentoring and getting advice), and last but not least, want to make new owners happy. I cannot emphasize strongly enough that responsible breeding brings in very little money.
(2) There are breeders and then there are breeders. There are consciencious hobby breeders, slightly shady hobby breeders, backyard breeders, kitten mills, and all sorts of variations in between. And don't forget that the consumer plays a role in all of this. A consumer who does not do research on the breed of cat they want, on how to find a good breeder (not simply for their breed of choice, but certain general rules), but instead buys an iffy animal from a pet shop or a sleazy breeder is as much a part of the problem as the breeders themselves.
(3) If you want a breed cat, there are breed-specific rescue services that can provide you with the breed you want, and you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you have given a homeless cat a place to call its own AND have the breed you prefer.
(4) Breeders cannot be singled out as being responsible for the cat overpopulation problem. As I wrote above, less than 5% of cats in the U.S. are any specific breed. Although shelters will often label a cat as being a certain breed or a mix, not infrequently these labels are rather random if not inaccurate (the chances of finding a Turkish Van in a shelter are virtually zilch). But a breed label can help a cat find a home, so what's wrong with that? In fact, while there ARE purebred cats in shelters, their numbers are very, very few. As for mixes, Siamese and Persians have contributed a lot to the American moggy genetic pool, but certain newer breeds are rare and/or sold with spay/neuter agreements that make random breeding unlikely. To repeat: breeders are not responsible for the cat overpopulation problem (except for kitten mill owners who may just dump their kittens somewhere randomly when they can't take care of them any longer). Nor are people who want breed cats responsible for the overbreeding problem. Most people are satisfied with a generic cat, and the percentage of people who want purebred cats and have the money to afford one is, as I have mentioned before, statistically low. Even though purebred cats do end up in shelters, common sense says that someone who is willing to pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars for a cat is probably less likely to abandon Kitty than someone with a loosely-owned semi-feral cat. I don't have figures to prove this, and of course there are always exceptions, but someone who spends $5000 for a cat probably really wanted that cat, and probably is in an income bracket where financial concerns will be unlikely to cause the owner to have to relinquish the cat.
(5) Breeders are not generally responsible for cat health problems. Yes, inbreeding and other questionable breeding practices exist, but are not practiced by consciencious breeders. If you are concerned about inbreeding, remember that many feral rescues or cat hoarding situation rescues have inbreeding in their backgrounds. A consciencious breeder limits breeding to cats who are not related and test negative for health and genetic issues. Cats with birth defects or illnesses are not sold, but are kept in the cattery. Cats who live in group situations, such as multi-cat households, catteries, and shelters, are more likely to pass on infectious diseases to each other. Cattery cats may have parasites and are almost guaranteed to have been exposed to Coronavirus--but then, so have most other cats. But, by definition cattery cats are indoor kitties, and it goes without saying that they are not apt to have feline AIDs or feline leukemia. As for whether purebreds have shorter lifespans than moggies--that's debatable. Purebred cats tend to live indoors, which is the single most important fact in prolonging a cat's life. It's probably true that a good percentage of people who are willing to fork out a lot of money for a purebred cat are also going to be willing and able to give it good vet care. A purebred cat may be less likely to be the result of inbreeding than a randomly-bred rescue. Purebred cat owners and breeders should be aware of health problems associated with their breed, which means more check-ups. In any event, I don't think you can make a blanket claim that purebreds are more prone to health issues than moggies are. It depends on the individual cat and the owner.
(6) People who are truly determined to get a breed cat are going to do so, whether it means going to a breed-specific rescue shelter, buying from a pet shop, buying from a sleazy breeder, or buying from a responsible breeder. You can't change that. I find it unreasonable when the claim is made that by buying a purebred cat, you are causing a shelter cat to die. First, because a person who really wants a purebred cat will get one. Second, because purebred cats are not involved in any significant way to the cat overpopulation problem. Whether someone buys a purebred cat or not, obscene numbers of moggies will be put down by shelters every day. Pointing one's fingers at breeders as responsible for this obscures the true causes--people who do not spay/neuter their cats, people who do not find good homes for kittens resulting from an "Oops!" litter, mismanagement of feral colonies (and what this entails is another complex subject that I won't go into here), and even the existence of kindly souls with "loosely owned" cats--cats they feed and occasionally give shelter to, but do not necessarily desex or provide with vet care.
(7) I've been on Catster for several years, and one of the most frequently asked questions is "What breed is my cat?" The answer is almost always generic moggy--domestic short hair, domestic medium hair, domestic long hair. Sometimes you see cats with identifiable breed features--usually Siamese, Persian, or Maine Coon. I find it paradoxical that while the majority of people on Catster have generic cats, and that many do not seem to really approve of purebred cats or their breeders, that everyone is so fascinated by cat breeds, and that so many people seem to want their cat to be some "breed." Maybe this is the influence of dogs--most dogs have some kind of identifiable breed(s) in them, even if they're mutts. However, to have breeds (except naturally occurring ones, like Maine Coons--there are naturally occurring Maine Coons and purebred Maine Coons, which is confusing), you need breeders. Anyone (not necessarily the OP) who enjoys the idea of cat breeds but decries ownership of purebred cats or of breeders is being both illogical and hypocritical.
(8) If it were not for breeders, certain indigenous, region-specific breeds of cats would have died out. Everyone's favorite, the Maine Coon, was in danger of dying out in the postwar years, when there was a big boom in Siamese and Persians. The Turkish Angora, which is an extremely rare cat, was saved from extinction by rigorous measures taken by the Ankara Zoo--measures so rigorous that very few true Turkish Angoras have been allowed to be exported. If you're told by a shelter that your cat is a Turkish Angora, the chances of that being true, or even partly true, are almost guaranteed to be zero. Ecologically-minded people deplore the decline in species diversity. Were it not for breeders, certain indigenous breeds would no longer exist. The majority of new breeds are based on foundation cats with an interesting mutation (folded or curled ears, wavy fur, etc.), or hybrids resulting from mixing domestic and wild cats. Whether the creation of new breeds is actually an instance of enhancing biodiversity is a question I have no answer for, but it is certainly true that these new breeds give many people pleasure, and, in general, I see no harm in their being allowed to exist. (Exceptions would be if the mutation causes health problems, or whether hybridization with wild cats poses dangers to people, other animals, or the environment.)
(9) I have nothing but the greatest respect for people who take on special needs kitties--blind cats, cats with brain damage, cats with missing legs, cats with health problems. These people adopt less than perfect cats because they love them and want to help them. However, I tend to get a bit defensive when people oversimplify the matter of adoption to make it simply a way to save a cat's life. Surely, if adopting a cat means that you have saved it from dying in a shelter, or if adopting a handicapped cat means that you have given a loving home to a cat who would otherwise be unlikely to find one, that's a wonderful thing. But this does not mean that people who buy purebreds should be made to feel guilty. People who prefer to adopt a cat without major health issues should not be made to feel guilty, either. Owning a cat should not be confused with saving cats. If you can do both, fine and good. If you can't, you shouldn't be criticized. I often wonder why people think nothing of arguing that a cat should be rescued from a shelter, rather than be bought from a breeder, while they think nothing of having their own babies, rather than saving lives of children facing certain death in developing countries, or adopting a special needs child. Owning a cat should be neither a political or a moral statement. (And besides, you don't own a cat anyway--the cat owns you.)
As you can see, the issue is very complicated. I know a lot more about pedigreed cats and breeding than I once did, but I'm still far from omniscient. However, before someone begins criticizing the existence of purebred cats and breeders, or links the existence of purebred cats with the feline overpopulation problem, I suggest that they do some basic research, which will reveal some of the points I have made here. I have repeatedly tried to get solid
Edited by author Wed Nov 24, '10 7:12pm PST