Insights From a Pet Buyer

A Pet Buyer Shares Her Pet Buying Experience.

Trying to find a reputable breeder can be a daunting effort.  I have dealt with both good and bad breeders throughout the past 8 years as a web designer, photographer, and even as just a buyer.  Throughout the years, looking from the outside in, I have come to find ways to help pick out the more reputable breeders.

My first experiences with a breeder were as a buyer.  I had no idea what I was getting into.  My parents had purchased all of our pets from local shelters and I was admittedly naïve when it came to looking for a breeder.  I remember not understanding the differences between show quality and pet and not understanding why I would be charged for a show quality animal that I was not going to show.  I didn’t care about the standards as far as what the kitten/puppy looked like as long as s/he was healthy and cute.  And even to that extent, I didn’t know all of the diseases that were common, what caused them, etc. 

My first dealings with a breeder were actually with a puppy breeder, but they ring true for kitten breeders as I have noticed as well.  We were looking for a particular dog and found a breeder in the Midwest (we lived in Florida at the time) that was cheap enough for our meager budget.  We called the breeder, filled out the application, paid the money and soon enough our new puppy was with us.  The first inkling I had that this breeder was a puppy mill (a term I had only happened across and didn’t fully understand yet) was when I tried contacting the breeder about some health concerns we had regarding our new addition and all of a sudden the breeder was not available.  We weren’t getting returned phone calls or emails and soon thereafter, the website was taken down off the internet. Unfortunately, that puppy didn’t live past a couple years.

The second time I dealt with a breeder was when I was looking for a Persian or Himalayan kitten.  I will admit I am an avid lover of those two breeds.  I grew up with them and knew I wanted one when I became an adult.  I did another search on the internet and found a breeder in the North East.  Once again, I was merely looking at cost and didn’t understand what a kitty mill was.  And, once again, I went looking for answers to questions and my kitten ended up only living 4 years.  It was extremely heartbreaking and from that point I made note to start researching breeding and the differences between kitten/puppy mills and reputable breeders, along with the ones in between.

That being said, the worst experience that I had with a breeder happened after doing a lot of my homework.  I did my research, checked references, and even met the breeder at her house and played with various kittens before choosing the one I wanted to bring home.  The breeder appeared to be very knowledgeable about the breed, the price was fairly decent, and I didn’t catch onto any ideas that she could be a kitten mill.  The only thing I did not like was not being able to see where the cats/kittens stayed.  She would bring them into the living room one by one for me to see.  A couple weeks later I drove back to her house to pick up my new kitten.  I brought the kitten home, introduced him to the bedroom where he would be staying for a couple weeks (to get acclimated to the new atmosphere).  The breeder had mentioned that all of the cats had been battling a cold from the huge change in temperature but he was doing much better and would be fine.  About a month after bringing him home, I found him dead in my bedroom one morning.  I took him to the vet immediately and found out that he had FIP.  I called the breeder who actually blamed me for him contracting it (he was strictly indoors and we did not have any other cats).  She did give me a partial refund on him.  She said that she didn’t guarantee her cats against FIP/FLP so she was doing it “out of the graciousness of her heart.”  I was heartbroken (I still am!).  It was the worst feeling in the world to be told that I essentially killed my kitten.  Since then, I have periodically visited her website and have found that many kittens are not getting sold or are even returned to her.  I don’t know if she is a kitten mill to this day, but because of my experience I will never deal with her again.

I think the best experience I had with a breeder was when we decided to purchase a Bengal.  I had never had one, did not know too much more about them other than what I had read on TICA regarding their breed standards, but we thought that it was worth looking into. I called a breeder that I had found on the internet and he spoke to me for literally two hours about the breed itself.  Their temperament, eating habits, personalities, etc.  He answered all of my questions thoroughly, offered references, and was honest about why he charged the prices he did for his kittens.  Not only that, but when I still expressed that I wanted a kitten (and he agreed that they would do well in my household) but could not afford the higher price, he recommended another breeder that he trusted/mentored who was a bit more within my price range.  This proved to me that he was not concerned about making a sale.  I ended up purchasing a kitten from the recommended breeder and have continued to have a relationship with both breeders since then.  They are both very much involved with my kitten’s well-being and are now adopted into our family as well.  They have become an extension to our family and breeders that I would recommend to anyone.

Trying to pinpoint who is and is not a reputable breeder can be very difficult.  As I mentioned, there is that one that slipped through the cracks for me.  But I cannot stress enough the importance of doing your research when trying to find the perfect kitten and breeder for your family.  Not only that, but follow any gut feelings you may have.  That sounds rather silly, but if you are hesitant about working with a breeder for any reason, consider stepping back and reevaluating your decision.  It may not have anything to do with the breeder and just that the breed may not necessarily be for you.  Or you may have a feeling that there is foul play on the side of the breeder.  For any reason, if you are hesitating, don’t jump into a purchase without being 100% certain it’s best for you and your family.
The following is a list of things that I picked up while working with breeders as a buyer, then web designer, and followed as a photographer.  Even though none of the breeders would admit to any faults when I talked to them or worked with them, I was able to gleen from information and references how to pinpoint if they were great, reputable breeders who were focused on bettering the breed and finding great homes for their kittens, ones who could have stood to have a bit more knowledge about what they were doing but still weren’t bad overall, bad breeders overall and kitten mills.

  1.  Check references!  Although the references are always subjective, it can help you determine if the cat is of good quality.  Make sure to ask the references about temperament, whether it was purchased to show/breed, their experiences in those things if they are doing it, etc. 
  2. Look at what else this person is breeding.  Are they concentrating on one specific type of cat or are they working with multiple breeds (or even different types of animals)?  Typically I found if they were breeding different types of cats, dogs, etc. they could possibly be a puppy/kitten mill.  In my opinion, only one specific breed should be focused on in order to achieve optimal results in quality, temperament, etc.  That being said, if the breeder is working with a two breeds that is extremely similar to each other, look at their show titles, who they are registered with as well as how many litters they produce a year.  For example, Persians and Himalayans are very similar and I often found breeders who worked with both. 
  3. How many kittens are typically available at one time from the breeder?  Take into account, of course, what the average litter size is for a particular breed (some are larger than others).  I have seen some breeders keep at least 24 kittens available at one time throughout the entire year.  This could be a big indication they are a kitten mill.  I found many buyers end up with kittens that have FIP/FLP (essentially cat cancer) when purchased from breeders with large amounts of kittens available.  That’s not to say all of them did, but I did find it more common in this instance.
  4. How willing are the breeders to offer answers to your questions?  Are they quick and to the point or extensive in their answers?  Do they generalize/approximate them or are they absolute?  For example, do they say “all Bengals love water” or “many Bengals enjoy water?”  Be wary of breeders who answer with absolutes. Are they knowledgeable about the breed and willing to share that knowledge with you?  Each breed will have its pros/cons and a good breeder will try and make sure that the breed/kitten will be conducive in your lifestyle and preferences. 
  5. As we all know, money doesn’t grow on trees but you still need to consider the price of the kitten in comparison to other breeders.  This is not to say the most expensive kitten is necessarily the best or worst, same with the cheapest kitten.  Keep in mind that breeding is NOT cheap.  It’s not just about mating two cats together and having babies to sell.  Expect that if you are purchasing from one of the best breeders to be spending more money, but it should still be within reason to other breeders.  The reason for the higher cost should be because of exceptional show/breed quality with ancestors that have placed well in the show ring.  As an extreme example, Top Breeder should not be charging an extra $10,000 per kitten over the average price.  And if they claim to be a Top Breeder, look it up!  Are they really taking home the highest placements in shows more often?  Or are they just claiming that title to make a sale?
  6. “Pet quality” means a kitten would not place in show because of certain “unacceptable” attributes they may have – which could be as minimal as a certain color type/scheme.  “Show/breeder” quality does not mean they are not good pets.  It just means that should you choose to show/breed they could be expected to produce positive results.
  7. One question I always had was why breeders charged so much more for breeding rights, why some refused to allow you to purchase breeding rights, and why some didn’t care.  To answer the first question, by allowing you to breed the kitten, they are essentially taking away the possibility of more clients – thus losing money.  They are also taking a risk with their reputation if you do breed their kitten since the kitten would carry the breeder’s cattery name as their prefix.  Refusing to offer breeding rights is not necessarily a bad thing!  They are (theoretically) being cautious and wanting to make sure that if this kitten is bred, it is being done to better the breed and not in a kitten mill.  I would recommend you steer clear of anyone who does not care if their kitten is bred/altered or not.
  8. Don’t judge a breeder by their website/pictures.  Remember, a good breeder will not be as concerned with making a huge profit.  Having someone build a website for you can be very expensive, along with having professional pictures done.  I have come across spectacular looking websites and later find them to be kitten mills.  This is not to say that there are not reputable breeders with great websites, I merely state that you shouldn’t judge them based solely on if their website or pictures are attractive or not.
  9. Another thing I would recommend from a photographer’s point of view is to see whether the breeder is willing to provide “unprofessional” pictures of the kitten (assuming they have professional pictures up).  This includes snapshots of the kitten playing or even a video.  You can photoshop a picture so the cat looks amazing (just like you can with people).  So when purchasing online, keep in mind that professional pictures could be misleading. 
  10. I cannot state this enough…research, research, research.  If you do all of your research and still end up getting fooled by a kitten mill or bad breeder, at least you will know that it wasn’t for lack of research.  That person is just very good at misleading buyers into purchasing from them.  It’s sad to say, but it is true.  There are people out there that are only out there to make a couple bucks and don’t care what they do in order to achieve that goal.  But if you do your research and make the best possible decision that you can, then at least the responsibility then lies on the breeder and not on you.  Don’t blame yourself. 

And lastly, once you adopt your kitten and bring him/her home.  Love it like it’s one of your children.  Remember, they are going to be with you for many years!

- Ronni Russell


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