I quote here an article from The New Yorker wherein I learn that people are now breeding wild cats with domestic cats. At first this seems like a rather neat idea to me, a major cat-lover, until I read on and find I am completely appalled and distressed by this news. It seems that cat breeders have become extremely greedy and irresponsible. And people are increasingly revealing just how short-sighted and ignorant about consequences we can be. Read on…
A new group of breeders want to undomesticate the cat.
by Ariel Levy May 6, 2013
When Anthony Hutcherson was a little boy, what he wanted most was something wild. But he was growing up in a very tame place: Helen, Maryland, a small farming community named after the postmaster’s daughter. “I wanted a kinkajou and a monkey and a skunk, a pet leopard,” he recalled—something unlike the cows and sheep out in the meadow. One day, when he was ten years old, waiting with his mother to check out at the grocery store, he saw something that thrilled him. It was a picture in Cat Fancy of a pretty woman in California, holding an exotic golden cat that she’d bred by crossing a domestic shorthair with an Asian leopard cat—a foul-tempered little beast with a gorgeous spotted coat. She called the result the Bengal, and touted it as “a living room leopard.”
His family didn’t understand his passion, he told me one recent afternoon. Hutcherson, who is African-American, offered a cultural explanation: “Generally, black people don’t like cats.” So he wrote to the woman in California, Jean Mill, and, to his delight, she wrote back. They have been friends and collaborators ever since. Hutcherson, now thirty-eight, is the chairman of the International Cat Association’s Bengal Breed Committee and a past president of the International Bengal Cat Society. He and Mill, like many of their colleagues, share a dream: to breed a cat that “looks like it just walked out of the jungle.”
We were sitting in Hutcherson’s living room, in Aquasco, Maryland, across from a glass cage where his kinkajou, a ferret-like nocturnal creature, was sleeping under a blanket. Hutcherson works as an event producer, and also runs a cattery, called JungleTrax, out of his house. When I visited, he had half a dozen sleek Bengal kittens, coppery creatures with well-defined dark spots—“rosettes,” in cat-fancier parlance. As we talked, he flung a cat toy in the air, and they leaped after it with astounding speed. Several times, they scratched us as they went by, so Hutcherson decided to trim their nails, holding the scruff of their neck in his mouth while he clipped. “When I’m gardening or mowing the grass, they all come outside with me,” he said. “And they really do look like little leopards. It’s really rewarding and humbling when you forget the bead of time, and you are watching a cat chase a bug up a tree—two thousand years ago, somebody probably watched a cat that looked like a leopard chase a bug. It is beautiful and transcendent.”
. . . continued at www.newyorker.com
As a kid, you probably imagined what it would be like to have a pet lion or tiger … Then, ideally, you grew up and learned that having a pet wild cat, while totally glamourous seeming, is not at all practical.
Not only are big cats likely to click into their natural instincts at any moment and turn you into lunch (or at least a rather bloodied hacky sack), but being removed from the wild and forced to be a domestic animal is no fun for them either. Again, you‘ve probably realized that…unless you’re one of the purrfectly delusional people who hasn’t.
In the past decade, exotic crossbreed cats such as the Bengal, the Savannah and the Toyger have experienced an increasing demand in homes across the world, with some being sold at as high a price as $15 thousand. A huge part of these cats value comes from their genetic makeup (Bengals are domestic felines crossed with Asian leopard cats, Savannahs are domestic cats bred with servals and toygers are just a lucky mix of various tabby cats). It makes sense to want one — not only are they gorgeous, but they’re also huge status symbols. Oh, and they’re often inbred, dangerous and terribly abused by their obsessive breeders.
In Living-Room Leopards, a piece written by Ariel Levy for the New Yorker, Levy visited several of the catteries where these wild crossbreeds are bred and spent time with the people designed them.
While we all have hobbies or pastimes that might be a little weird, these people’s devotion to cross-breeding and bringing wild animals into the home easily goes from quirky to upsetting. Furthermore, their defense of their breeding practices and their products (the cats themselves) is contradictory and, quite frankly, often idiotic.
Let’s start with the moral issues and severe mistreatment of animals that occurs in these catteries.
Meet toyger breeder Judy Sugden:
“I’m an artist!” Judy Sugden declared one evening in her kitchen in Covina, California, as she prepared supper for a couple of hundred cats.
Here’s what Levy discovered upon being given a tour of Sugden’s in-home cattery:
Inside Sugden’s house, she showed me a group of cats she called “faans.” They were cross-eyed, cow-hocked, and splayfooted, and, though you couldn’t tell from looking, many of them had hydrocephalus, a condition in which “there’s nothing in the middle of the brain except liquid.” But faans also have a trait that Sugden considers crucial for the perfected toyger: small, rounded ears, very different from a typical domestic cat’s pointy triangles.
Then there’s fellow toyger breeder Nicholas Oberzire whose female cats have been so overbred that they can a.) barely carry their kittens to term and b.) no longer react defensively when you pull a nursing kitten away from them.
Of one cat, Oberzire boasts:
“We’ve gone through four miscarriages on this cat. The first was just blood. The second, two dead kittens were inside her. We took her to the emergency room — they charged me three thousand dollars for giving her two shots of oxytocin, and they told me she needed a C-section.”
Oberzire decided that he would find a way to flush the kittens himself. (If it isn’t already painfully clear, Oberzire is not a trained vet.)
While the female cats that he breeds no longer have any fight left in them, Oberzire insists that Big Kahuna, his prize male toygur, has jungle instincts.
“He goes to the dog parks, but I keep him on a leash,” Oberzire tells Levy. “If a dog thinks he’s going to attack him, it’ll be the last thing that dog ever does.”
And yet he allows his 8-year-old son to sleep next to the cats’ cages.
I asked Oberzire if he ever worried about his child getting hurt, but he was confident that his cats were perfectly trained. “No means no; gentle means gentle!” he said. “The claws retract at command.”
But Big Kahuna will rip an offending dog to shreds.
These breeders, with their questionable practices coupled with an industry where you have the potential to make a lot of money (although most of those interviewed were flat broke), are unsurprisingly defensive, both within the breeding community and to those who question it.
Judy Sugden hits below the belt when speaking of a fight over standard nose and leg dimensions with another breeder, saying, “She says bad things about me and she knows nothing! Her cats are ugly.” Buuuuurn.
Of Savannah breeder Martin Sticki, Levy writes:
Martin Sticki, the proprietor of A1 Savannahs, in Ponca City, Oklahoma, is prone to bluster, like a cat who makes his hair stand on end to exaggerate his size. “People either love me or they hate me,” he said, and, if it’s the latter, “it’s jealousy. Me, I don’t know jealousy. If you’re running the number one cattery in the world, you’re doing something right.”
Their reactions to those who object to cross-breeding practices are even more outlandish than the “S/he’s just jealous” defense. Anthony Hutcherson, chairman of the International Cat Association’s Bengal Breed Committee, compares crossbreed discrimination to the one-drop rule. (Hutcherson is black, by the way.)
From the New Yorker:
“There’s kind of this dividing line where we really have to emphasize domestic for policy and politics — versus the actual scientific truth,” he said. “It’s kind of like, What’s being black? People have these really philosophical and long-drawn-out conversations about what it is to be domestic, what it is to be wild. Can we call it a hybrid and be honest about what’s really in the past? And I’m, like, one drop: that’s all it takes. It’s how society views that one drop can make it O.K. or not O.K to be honest about what you are.”
No, you are not reading that paragraph wrong. It just doesn’t make sense.
No, it does not.
And there are good reasons why wild cats are… well, WILD. In Levy’s article, Anthony Hutchinson talks about his history with these wild cats:
“His next cat was a caracal, an African lynx. “It was beautiful, but it was challenging,” he said. “Once it’s not a kitten, sixty pounds of cat that doesn’t do what you want it to do ain’t so cool. You can’t really, like, brush it off the counter.” … “A friend of mine bought it who lived in downtown D.C. in an apartment, and she had three Siamese cats. By the time it was a year old, it weighed about forty pounds, and it ate her three other cats. Just left, like, half the head. She was just doing what a wildcat’s supposed to do.”
NO KIDDING. (And as most cat owners already know, even domestic cats have a touch of wildness in them, no special breeding required!)
As this video shows, from newyorker.com on May 8, these cats are darling, but…
In April, the videographer Tanner Herriot traveled to A1 Savannahs, a cattery in Ponca City, Oklahoma, that specializes in the crossbreeding of domestic cats with their more feral cousins. In the video above, the manager of A1 Savannahs, Laura Williamson, sheds some light on their process.
According to PETA, there is no such thing as a “responsible” breeder, and after reading the foregoing, I tend to agree. Like many things these days, it seems just another example of “capitalism gone wild.” I may not agree with everything PETA does, but I certainly believe in protecting the rights of animals. It appears there are many breeders who do not have the best interests of the animals in mind, and this is very sad, immoral, and WRONG. And that’s not just MY opinion.