MOGGY BREEDERS - FRIEND OR FOE TO THE CAT?
Most cat workers encounter people who refuse to neuter their cats. Lately I came across someone who claimed 'controlled' breeding of moggies ensured the vigour of cats while pedigree cats were becoming increasingly unhealthy. Another moggy breeder churns out 'pedigree lookalikes' whose parents were probably sold with the proviso that they be neutered at 6 months. There is a limit to the number of family, friends and colleagues on whom kittens can be offloaded. What happens when this supply of homes runs out?
THE BLEAK STATISTICS
Those are the grim statistics. What other arguments do moggy breeders use to support their irresponsible hobby?
PEDIGREE BREEDERS ARE THE REAL PROBLEM
The 'pedigree lookalike' breeder insisted that there was a ready market for lookalike kittens. In October 1997 a cat shelter took in 36 cats from this pedigree lookalike breeding programme. Mother was a Chinchilla, father the local tom and over 6 years this person bred cats faster than she homed them (even when offered free), yet still refused to neuter any of them. Then she expected a cat shelter to step in and neuter and rehome 36 cats aged from 4 months up to 5 years old (including pregnant females). Since none of the cats had a recognised pedigree, the breed society had no obligation to help them though to their credit, specialist Longhair Rescue groups helped find homes for some of the cats.
A genuine pedigree breeder is accountable for each life s/he causes to happen. This does not just mean finding homes for kittens - it includes extensive health care for kittens before homing, guaranteeing their continuing health and freedom from genetic problems, a willingness to accept back a kitten if the homing is unsuccessful and, when a deformed kitten is born, making the decision to euthanize it. How many moggy breeders guarantee the same? How many moggy offspring go to new homes vaccinated and with the guarantee of continued health and further, if there is a problem, how many moggy breeders take the kitten back or, if it develops a hereditary problem, replace it with a kitten that is then healthy and strong? Even when money changes hands for a moggy kitten, few moggy breeders take their responsibilities this far. Contrary to popular belief pedigree breeders rarely make a profit, most barely cover their own costs.
More to the point, a responsible breeder insists on neuter contracts to ensure against proliferation of possibly unwanted, unplaceable offspring. This is not to prevent the buyer from "cutting in on the breeder's business" but is part of the accountability the breeder feels toward the animals s/he has produced and a responsibility to the cat population as a whole. Most pedigree breeders do not want the females they sell/home to end up worn out through continued breeding, nor do they want the males to sire countless litters, on any available female, regardless of the supply of homes for the offspring. They also retire (i.e. neuter) breeding queens well before continued reproduction poses a health risk to the cat and similarly studs are retired once they have ensured a healthy new generation. Cats which have passed on deleterious genes are also retired to ensure that the genes are spread no further - how many moggy breeders can claim the same? How many even know about conditions caused by carried recessive genes which may manifest several generations down the line? Or even care about the genetic health of their own cats and the offspring even in a 'controlled' moggy breeding program?
Shelters also do their utmost to check out prospective owners, before and after homing kittens, especially to check that the cat was neutered. Most insist that the cat be returned to them if the owner cannot keep it for any reason. How many moggy breeders follow-up so rigorously? How many free kittens are 'adopted' for training fighting dogs, resale via pet shops, even by someone hoping sell them to laboratories. When moggy-breeders exhaust the supply of friends and family, how carefully do they check prospective homes?
Reputable Pedigree breeders and their breed societies police their own. They resent being brought into disrepute by those who breed lookalikes or 'half-pedigrees' in a supposedly controlled fashion. There are unwanted pure-bred cats in shelters - no owner-vetting interview is 100% perfect - though breed-specific rescues (usually affiliated to breed societies) do their best. Many breeders insist that a cat be returned to them if the new owner no longer wants it or can no longer keep it. All cat breeding contributes to the population problem, but vilification of all breeders of pedigree cats is unjustified.
NEUTERING IS AIMED AT DENATURING THE CAT
One person claimed neutering was becoming an ideology for its own sake aimed at denaturing the true cat species. The pet cat is no longer subject to the process of natural selection which ensures survival of the fittest. The 'true cat species' is its wild ancestor, F. lybica, hence domestication in the Pharoanic times has already 'denatured' the true cat species. Other, anthropomorphic, owners believe that cats, like their owners, need and enjoy their sex lives. For cats, unlike humans, sex always equals offspring as they are induced ovulators.
Though nature intended cats to breed, nature also intends that 90% of cats in the natural state die of disease, starvation or predation in their first year. In the domestic state, cats are better nourished, produce many more offspring with a higher survival rate. Neutering of pet cats is a acceptance of one's responsibility to address the ongoing overpopulation problem, not an attempt to denature the cat.
Neutering has begun to be appreciated as a health measure by the responsible pet owner. Some studies have suggested that neutering can double a cat's life expectancy.
If moggy breeders genuinely believe that they are preserving the cats' wild behavior then they are sadly mistaken. They are doing nothing more than breeding surplus stocks of a domesticated animal which lost the intolerable wild behaviors several thousand years ago. The idea that neutering denatures the cat is a romantic notion based on ignorance of the cat in its genuine wild state and on a refusal to acknowledge an overpopulation problem which leads to healthy, friendly cats being destroyed for no better reason than there aren't enough homes to go round.
MOGGY BREEDING PREVENTS THE EXTINCTION OF MOGGIES
How about the suggestion that continued neutering means that moggies face extinction, leaving only pedigree cats (moggy breeders sometimes go so far as suggesting that pure-breeding makes cats genetically unhealthy) Moggy cats still far outnumber pedigreed and pure-bred cats, perhaps by 200 to one. Pedigreed breeders select the healthiest cats and breed for health and vigour just as natural selection has done for free-breeding cats. Studies show that groups of moggies are inbred themselves, as cats are naturally very territorial. This is particularly evident in cats which live in colonies; not just feral colonies but also refuse-to-neuter households where several generations of indoor cats breed among themselves.
How many moggy breeders seek out breeding pairs on the grounds of their excellent genetic traits or because they genetically complement each other? Moggy breeders frequently keep a couple of females which are repeatedly mated to the same tomcat, thus reducing genetic diversity. Those who allow their cats to mate freely with whatever comes along, exercise no control of the genetic health of the offspring and, at the same time, expose the female to lethal cat viruses. Unlike pedigree breeders, they don't scrutinise a potential breeding cat's pedigree for potential genetic defects which may not show up until two or three generations down the line. In fact, what happens two or three generations down the line doesn't even concern them - it's somebody else's problem.
Then there is the suggestion that overzealous neutering encourages unscrupulous moggy owners to open up a market for their products. A product is something that generates profits. Since when have moggy kittens been in such high demand that they are profitable? If this was so, there would be no 'free kittens' signs in newsagents or on the roadside. Numerous kittens are produced by strays and ferals so moggy kittens are highly unlikely to be in such short supply that they will become profitable. Numerous higher cost pedigree 'products' are taken to shelters by owners who no longer want them; what of the more abundant lower cost moggy 'product'?
The bleak statistics demonstrate that neutering campaigns are no over-zealous; birth control is better than mass destruction. The mindset of moggy breeders is one which does not tolerate neutering or which seeks to exploit an imagined kitten shortage. In reality, there is no shortage of kittens; the 'kitten shortages' mentioned by backyard breeders is a reflection of natural feline breeding patterns and the fact that people have unrealistic expectations of finding kittens outside of the breeding season.
MOGGY BREEDERS PRESERVE THE TRUE CAT
Some moggy-breeders claim to breed moggies in order to preserve the true cat and counteract supposed the over-zealous neutering which, they believe, will lead to the imminent extinction of non-pedigree cats and thus leave us with genetically unhealthy, inbred pure-breds. One oft-used argument of such people is that the public at large won't ago to animal shelters, particularly if they don't live near one. They must, therefore, rely on moggy-breeders or pet shops (whose kittens are generally supplied from backyard-breeders or kitten-mills). Controlled natural breeding does not, therefore, add to the stray population or deprive strays of homes. In reality, cat shelters are full of "controlled natural breeding" progeny which no-one wanted or which were discarded when they grew out of the cute kitten stage and developed some of their less pleasant adult habits.
Some people do prefer to go to a pet shop for their pet. Most pet shops don't interview prospective owners or make them sign neutering agreements. Pedigree breeders and animal shelters work hard to interview buyers/adoptees to make sure the adopted animal will be cared for properly. People afraid to go to a good shelter or unwilling to travel a short distance (excluding those who cannot travel due to age or disability), may be the those most likely to let their pet breed randomly.
The market to which moggy breeders cater may be one of people who would not withstand a cat shelter's scrutiny. Unless, of course, they intend to supply cats. Researchers usually wants animals with certain uniform characteristics. Most breed their own or use cats supplied from sterile (in the hygiene sense) breeding premises.
PEDIGREE BREEDING RESULTS IN UNHEALTHY CATS
Does the genetic health of the species risk being damaged due to the growing number of 'breed' type cats? This has mostly been answered already. The domestic cat is not a species controlled by natural selection and moggy breeders themselves are not selecting for genes contributing to survival, but producing 'pretty' (saleable) kittens. Pedigree breeding is only one short step away from this.
The vast majority of pedigree breeders take meticulous care to eliminate defects and to breed from genetically healthy, disease free animals. Since they breed cats whose ancestors are known unto the seventh generation (and further) there is less likelihood of their cats carrying an unknown genetic defect than of randomly breeding cats carrying hereditary problems. When a genetic defect occurs in a litter, the stud and queen (and maybe a whole breed line) is scrutinised and may be neutered to prevent further passing on of hereditary problems. One is just as likely to have some serious health problems with a moggy as with a purebred. One big difference is that responsible pedigree breeders 'come clean' about problems (which is why we hear about them) while very few moggy breeders will say 'there is a problem with hereditary heart disease in Fluffy's offspring, will everyone please ensure that they do not breed from any of them'?
Does controlled natural breeding of moggies really satisfy the domestic market and deter forced overbreeding by less reputable breeders? Firstly moggy breeding is not controlled i.e. studs and queens are rarely matched together in order to produce top-notch kittens. Secondly on what basis is the breeding 'controlled' - color, conformation, which tom gets to her first? A controlled breeding program is one where the ancestry and genetics of both parents are known and where those carrying hereditary defects, even if they don't exhibit the defect themselves, are not bred. The efforts of 'controlled natural breeders' ensures that moggies are a renewable resource, easy to obtain and disposable when a kitten loses its appeal. Many products of 'controlled moggy breeding' end up in animal shelters.
NEUTERING DEMONSTRATES INTOLERANCE OF NATURAL BEHAVIOR
Moggy breeders claim that neutering demonstrates a growing intolerance of natural feline behavior leading to a general intolerance of cat ownership. This statement defies logic and is contrary to the facts. Where there is growing intolerance of cat-ownership it is based on cat overpopulation caused by unwillingness to neuter, not on neutering being an intolerance of natural behavior. Anti-cat feeling is frequently rooted in the problem of huge numbers of strays; responsible owners have suffered the anti-cat feeling as a result of this problem not as a result of the neutering message itself. Indeed, if there had been wider scale neutering leading to a smaller overall cat population there would be less intolerance of cats as a whole.
In parts of America 'zero growth ordinances' (compulsory registration and neutering) are due to cat overpopulation caused by irresponsible ownership and not to the neutering message. Had more owners voluntarily taken responsibility for ensuring that their cats did not breed, there would be no need for legislation to control the population. To claim that it is the neutering message which leads logically to anti-cat feelings is contrary to all evidence.
And, let's be honest, there has always been an intolerance if the cat's natural behavior, that's why domestic cats exist and why we don't keep Scottish Wildcats as pets. A cat's natural behavior (as observed in ferals and in the ancestral species, F lybica)includes fearfulness of humans, fighting between males, spraying, caterwauling.
This supposed 'growing' intolerance has been happening for thousands of years, right from when humans first selected friendly cats over unfriendly cats. Very few people want to own a wild cat as a companion animal. Most want a friendly cat who will sit on their lap, sleep on their bed and eat supermarket cat-food. Generations of selecting for the friendliest offspring has long since denatured the cat and resulted in moggies and, with a bit of added selection for a particular appearance, in pure-breds.
Neutering doesn't demonstrate intolerance of natural habits. Domestication has already removed or modified wild habits. Plenty of natural habits remain after neutering - cats which hunter prior to neutering continue to hunt afterwards. A feral cat which is neutered doesn't automatically become docile. Of those habits which are modified, it's worth remembering that many cats are relinquished to shelters at exactly the time they develop those habits. It's far better for a cat to have a good home and its breeding options limited and its habits modified, than for it to be abandoned or destroyed.
BACKYARD BREEDERS, HUMP AND DUMP BREEDERS AND KITTEN FARMS (MILLS)
There are also "breeders" who churn out high numbers of pedigree/purebred kittens, but whose interests are in volume and profit rather than furthering their chosen breed(s) or maintaining records or selectively breeding for the best traits. The worst of these operate as kitten farms (US: kitten mills) and breed with no regard for health or welfare.
Another term for backyard breeders is "hump and dump" breeders. These usually have one or two breeding females and an unneutered male and breed 3 or 4 litters from each female per year. They don't see themselves as damaging a recognised breed although their kittens are not registered and may be "lookalikes" or bred from cats acquired as "pet quality". They don't see themselves as contributing to overpopulation even if they only breed moggies - in fact they consider this a virtue and claim pedigree/purebred breeders are weakening cats.
Hump and dump breeders consider breeding, rather than exhibiting their animals or improving the breed, to be a profitable hobby. They breed for "the pet market" and none of their "lines" meet the breed standard. Kittens are advertised in local newspapers and on noticeboards rather than in specialist cat fancier magazines (those who do advertise in cat fancier publications may advertise 5 of 6 unrelated breeds under their name). Rather than "petting out" retired breeding animals on an individual basis, they regularly offload large numbers in "cattery reduction sales" due to over-production. They always have kittens available.
MOGGY BREEDERS - FRIEND OR FOE OR JUST MISGUIDED?
The belief that neutering denatures the cat and ensures its docility and dependence on humans is a romantic notion, based on ignorance of the current welfare/overpopulation situation. It is a short step from this notion to the belief that merely keeping cats as pets denatures cats, rendering them docile and dependent. Are moggy breeders ensuring the continuing health of the cat as a species or are they simply supplying ammunition for anti-cat lobbyists? Are they working to help cats or are they reinforcing the attitude that cats are disposable and easily replaced if you no longer like its age/size/color/habits or its demands on your time and income. I'll let you decide.