I expected that one of my remarks, in the course of my collaboration to the TV show Animo, aired on francophone TV on Radio-Canada, was going to stir controversy and even shock a few breeders. The director of the show had warned me and had even suggested not to air that particular segment. But I insisted on keeping it, for if we want things to change, we have to raise awareness concerning those practices.
What I said was that “It is one of my utmost desire that some breeders stop reproducing cats to obtain specific physical traits while disregarding the animal behavior, or even at his expense.”
LET’S BE CLEAR – Wanting to obtain specific traits and foremost wanting to preserve the traits of a specific breed is a good thing, even a necessary one. The majority of breeders keep in line with this practice. But when beauty gets the upper hand and we mate a male, or worse, a female with a behavioral problem (mothers having a far greater influence on the kittens’ behavior) simply to obtain or preserve a very specific physical trait—often in order to win awards in cat shows—that’s what bothers me. A beautiful cat with an anxiety or hyperactivity problem, who is unsociable, who is afraid of his own shadow or who is aggressive, as beautiful as he may be, ends up being unhappy and making his owners unhappy. In addition, he is at risk of being abandoned or euthanized.
LET’S NOT PUT ALL THE EGGS IN ONE BASKET – I know several breeders who are concerned by the behavior of their breeding males and females and who will favor practices opposed to what is described above, namely breeding an individual who displays traits that are not award-winning, but who is a pearl when it comes to behavior. If behavior were taken into account in feline shows (even if that would be hard to evaluate), more breeders would be concerned by such a selection. Judges in shows and breeders should all have training in behavior to learn how to handle and desensitize cats appropriately. Unfortunately, it very rarely is the case.
A DIFFICULT PROFESSION—Breeding professionally is not easy. On emotional grounds, breeders have to deal with the death of some kittens or even the mother during delivery or face various diseases. It may also be very hard to leave some kittens in the process of adoption. Time-consuming feline shows, that take place over the weekends, often at the other end of the world, are almost mandatory. Often, it is the only way to meet other breeders that will help one’s breeding population to thrive and will allow one to diversify their genetic profile. In addition, just as it is the case for cat educators, I do not know anyone who can financially rely only on a profession related to cats. In fact, in North America, it is impossible to get by solely on a profession related to cats. We do it out of passion and, often, breeders spend more money than they earn.
As for all lines of work, there are good and not so good breeders. Even if I said in capital letters that you should not put all the eggs in one basket, I am under the impression that people are no longer able to distinguish a good breeder from a bad one! In fact, as the field of breeding has never been regulated, a lot of bad breeders decided to start breeding, tarnished the reputation of the profession, and then vanished. It is a little like car mechanics. We heard so much about those who exploit our ignorance that we no longer trust any, when there actually are several honest mechanics out there.
If you are a good breeder, please consider this type of column as a chance to stand out and not as a negative criticism of your profession. If you are a good breeder and your practices correspond to what we advocate, namely keeping the kittens at least up to their 12th week, raising them in a family environment, never separating them from their mother and desensitizing them to various situations (see our article Choosing the right kitten at the right breeder), well, people will contact you and you will have the right answers to provide them. It is your chance to stand out.
PROMOTE TRAINING IN BEHAVIOR – In the same spirit, we must not attack breeders who haven’t had the opportunity to learn notions on feline behavior. Please remember that there are very little feline behavior consultants in Quebec, and that training on the matter is practically non-existing. Instead of condemning ignorance, let’s encourage breeders to take an interest in behavior and to attend seminars. I take this opportunity to answer the comment I hear most frequently from breeders, which is: “I have been a breeder for 15 years and my experience has probably taught me more than anyone who has undergone training in behavior”. If you feel that way, please know that it is true that your experience has probably provided you with good tools with which to work. However, training in behavior would teach you the “how” and “why”, allowing you to adjust your practices accordingly, if needed. I no longer keep count of the number of breeders who thought they knew a lot about cats, but who, after attending one of my training sessions, told me that they never thought they were so ignorant. And that is perfectly normal. Even I, who has undergone over 200 hours of continuous training, keep saying the same each time I undergo a new training session.
WHY ARE THERE PROFESSIONAL BREEDERS WHEN SHELTERS OPERATE OVER CAPACITY?
Please know that breeders do not cause the existing overpopulation problem. In fact, a large majority of breeders help to prevent this plague by imposing the sterilization of kittens. If there were no breeders, some magnificent feline breeds would disappear, which would be just as deplorable as the extinction of other animal species in nature. They preserve fabulous specimens! Some people prefer pedigree cats, whereas others prefer to save a cat’s life in a shelter. To each his own.
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