Questions to Ask a Breeder
You are making a big investment, in both money and time, and should make sure that you are getting the very best kitten you can. Ask the following questions of any breeder you contact. A vague answer or two might be expected, but most of these questions should be answered to your satisfaction - or go elsewhere. And most of all, does the breeder seem friendly and anxious to answer your questions? If they seem annoyed with you, move on. Most of us are proud of what we do, and happy to hear from informed pet buyers who have done their research and are asking a lot of questions - it makes us feel more confident in the commitment the pet buyer intends to make to this kitten. Always ask, right up front, if this is a good time to talk. And remember, many of us show on most weekends, so don't feel ignored if it takes a week or so to get a return phone call. Always give a breeder two tries (leave messages) - don't give up if you don't hear from them five minutes after your last call. Most breeders are courteous enough to return the call, even if they have no kittens available right now - and most also are gracious enough to refer you to someone else in the area if they have no kittens but know someone who does. Those are usually good recommendations to follow.
- Do you show your cats? Do you have a registered cattery? All legitimate breeders will answer "yes" to both questions. Now, of course, there are exceptions to the first part - maybe the breeder has recently moved, had a baby, or has some other legitimate reason for taking a break. It is NOT an acceptable answer if the breeder proclaims there is no reason for showing. Showing your cats is not about (necessarily) obtaining titles or acclaim for a cat, and experienced exhibitors are not an elitist, unfriendly bunch. We show our cats to improve our breeding programs, to subject our cats to the evaluation of judges and other exhibitors, and to maintain contacts with the established breeding community, who share a wealth of knowledge about all aspects of the MC, including health problems. Showing is how we find appropriate outcrosses, compare our results to others, share concerns, and develop a group of "shoulders to cry on" when we are having a problem. We also have a darn good time!
There is no excuse for not having a registered cattery. If you don't know what this means, look at a purebred cat's name - it has three parts. "Stormwatch's Havok of Purrfection" is a typical example. "Stormwatch", the first part, is the name of the registered breeder. The second part of the name, "Havok", is the cat's name. The third part indicates the registered owner of the cat. If a cat is kept by the original breeder, you won't see any "of" designation. The breeder's name is the most important part. The name of the breeder follows the cat throughout its show career, and is on the pedigrees forever. We take pride in our cats, and our cattery name is the identifier for many generations to come. A BYB or pet shop could care less.
One other advantage to buying a kitten from a breeder who shows - since we can't determine who is going to be "pet" and who is going to be "show" until much later, kittens ALL have to be raised as potential show cats. This means they need to get used to bathing, grooming, claw clipping, riding in the car, and greeting strangers at an early age. In addition, top show cats generally have a superior disposition - they are trusting, laid-back, and fond of people in general. They pass these qualities on to their kids in most cases.Show cats are necessarily bred for temperament.
- Can I see the pedigree? You really don't know much about who those cats are in the pedigree, but you sure as heck can identify a mother/son or brother/sister breeding. This can happen in the finest cattery, and doesn't usually cause a problem - but we call these breedings "oops", and will tell you that this was an accident. BYB's typically do a lot of "linebreeding" or inbreeding, since legitimate breeders won't sell them cats. So they tend to keep their own offspring, and then breed back to its relatives out of necessity. Ask the breeder how they feel about linebreeding - most of us try very hard to use outcrosses as much as possible, believing this is the healthiest combination for the cats.
Reputable breeders will be happy to show you the pedigree, and are usually proud to point out the many titled cats - champions, grand champions, regional or national winners - in your kitten's background. Beware a pedigree that has lots of cats that have no cattery names prefixing the ancestors. And these titles do mean something = that the cat has been repeatedly judged, by several different judges, to meet the standard of the MC. At least one of your kitten's parents, if not both, should have a title. One exception - the two major cat associations (CFA and TICA) do not recognize each other's titles, so you may see one side of the CFA pedigree totally devoid of titles - since the ancestors were shown only in TICA and may have been the best cats in the country in that organization. But ask for an explanation.
- What are the health problems of this breed? A bad answer is "none" - it's just not true. As in all pedigreed animals, the MC has some potential inherited problems. The breeder should not only identify these breed health problems, but should tell you what they are doing to try to prevent these things from happening in their offspring. This is one reason the established show/breeders stay in touch - we share information freely and often. BYB's may tell you that the breed is perfectly healthy and that there is no problem. This is equivalent to the used-car salesmen telling you the car was only driven by an old lady to church on Sundays. Beware.
If you ask a BYB "how much Heidi Ho is in your pedigrees?" they will answer, "Huh?" There's nothing wrong with Heidi Ho pedigrees, but they were used extensively early in the development of the MC, and most breeders are careful to identify how much of this line is in their cats. They will look at you askance if you ask this question, but will have an answer. BYB's will have no idea what you are talking about
- How old will the kitten be before it comes home? Ten weeks is minimum, most breeders hold kittens until 12 weeks or maybe longer. MC's are a slow developing breed, and need a long period of nurturing from both their mothers and breeders. Kittens develop their sense of bonding with humans between 2 and l0 weeks of age - it's wrong to break their bond to their FIRST "human" - the breeder - any earlier. They also have not developed their immune systems or had their necessary shots before l0 weeks of age. Any breeder selling kittens younger than this is more interested in moving the kittens out and getting the money than in raising healthy, stable, happy kittens. At about l2-l3 weeks, a MC kitten is going to be gaining a quarter to half pound a week, and is confident and ready to bounce right into its new home with confidence. Don't worry - they may be "big", but they are still "babies!"
- Will the kitten be registered? It's kind of silly to have a purebred cat and not register it - the cost is less than $l0. Generally, the breeder will provide the "blue slip", or official registration, when you notify the breeder that the kitten has been neutered.
- Will I get a contract and written health warranty? You should. And read the contract specifications carefully. Most breeders will be requiring that the kitten be kept strictly indoors, not declawed, not shown without permission, and neutered at a specific age. Another clause in most contracts is that this kitten may not be transferred to anyone else without obtaining the breeder's permission (hey, we interviewed YOU!)...and that, if for some reason you cannot keep this cat in the future, the breeder must be given the opportunity to take the cat back and assist in finding it a new home. This is because a nightmare to a legitimate breeder would be to find out that one of his/her cherished kittens ended up in a pound. This should never, ever happen.
Your health warranty will spell out your rights. State laws vary, but most warranties will cover a specific period of time for which the breeder remains liable. Check carefully over the specfics - and ask the breeder if you have questions about it.
- What if I want a show cat? Most breeders are happy to mentor someone through the show process, once you have demonstrated a true commitment to the time and money required. The best way to do this is to buy a "show quality cat", neuter it, and show it in premiership (the neutered cat equivalent to championship). If you get hit with the show bug, you'll have a lot of contacts and experience if you then decide to go ahead and establish a breeding program.
- What if I want to breed? A BYB will be happy to sell you breeding rights to the cat for extra money. Don't do it. First, you will find it impossible to find a stud cat for your female from a legitimate breeder to breed to. The converse is, no legitimate breeder is going to want to obtain stud service from your male either. Legitimate breeders get these calls all the time - and none of us believe in just plain" breeding for the sake of breeding". We think that the majority of breeding cats should be titled - and the chance of you having gotten a true show quality cat from a BYB is about zero. You will not have had a mentor with experience with the established show/breeding community, and by selling you breeding rights, the BYB has created another BYB - you! If you really think you want to be a breeder, then you need to do a lot of research and learning, and you need to do that by becoming involved in the established community of breeders and exhibitors. You will also find that being a BYB is difficult, with an educated public. This is not a way to make money, and the "joy" of having kittens around is balanced - sometimes inequitably - with the tragedies. It takes a strong stomach to survive the bad times. If you are SURE you want to be a breeder, then get the very best start you can, by working with the very best breeder you can find, to mentor you and help you along.
- Do you give your own shots? This answer can surely be "yes", but be careful. Many experienced breeders give their own shots, but they should also be making sure that each kitten has at least one veterinary exam before it goes. In some states, health certificates must be obtained from the vet before the kitten can be sold. Don't buy a kitten that has not been examined by a veterinarian. Back to the used car example, you definitely would want a mechanic to check the car out first to make sure no serious damage already exists!