Avoiding the Pitfalls of Too Many Cats
While there can be mental health issues involved with "collecting/hoarding" cats that require professional help, sometimes breeders find themselves overwhelmed with more cats than they can comfortably care for. This may be a result of events beyond their control such as divorce, loss of job, death in the family, acts of nature, etc.
There is a great deal of negative publicity given to a substandard commercial facility and the atrocious conditions occasionally found in catteries/kennels. Some of this publicity is generated by radical animal rights advocates, aided and abetted by unscrupulous and sometimes self-serving politicians. It's critical that, as breeders, we do all we can to defuse these issues through our own internal policing and the following of common sense guidelines.
In recent years much publicity has been focused on "puppy mills", a term promoted by animal rights advocates to characterize substandard commercial facilities where dogs are kept in atrocious conditions with little socialization. Commercial breeding of cats is rare since it is difficult to manage large numbers of cats and expect to make a profit. Nevertheless, occasionally there are situations when poor conditions exist and these many be exploited by the media or politicians as the norm or reason for anti-breeder laws. This can be extremely damaging to all the breeders who do provide good care for their cats. It is critical to do all we can to avoid these issues through our own internal ethics, self-regulation and common sense guidelines.
This article deals with some of the reasons breeders become overwhelmed and offers suggestions for avoiding the problems in the first place.
Find a mentor
If you are new to the Cat Fancy, look for someone who has been breeding and showing for a number of years. This does not have to be someone in your own breed, nor the person you bought the cat from, though that would be the responsible thing for the breeder to do.
Having a mentor means having someone you can go to with questions about anything related to physical care, environmental care, breeding or showing questions, and placing of pets or retired show cats. Sharing your questions and concerns with a knowledgeable mentor helps you to avoid many of the problems the inexperienced breeder might encounter.
Set number limits for yourself
One major pitfall that new breeders sometimes encounter is not being aware of just how expensive and time-consuming breeding and showing cats can be. In addition to basic nutrition needs, there is litter, possibly cage needs, bedding, toys, and, their very essential, superior veterinarian care.
While expenses vary, it's the extremely rare breeder who ever makes any money at this hobby. If you go into it with the intent of making money, you will probably be dismally disappointed. Consider this, if only one female requires a C-section that could result in a vet bill of generally at least $500, depending on where you live, and whether you have to go to an Emergency Vet Clinic after hours. This is a very expensive hobby and will rarely ever be self-supporting.
It's also easy to underestimate the time involved in caring for the cats. It takes a great deal of time and energy to keep premises clean and fresh. A quick rule of thumb might be something like a minimum of 15 minutes per day per cat just for the basics of feeding and cleaning. All cats deserve more time than just that, though. Build in play time and snuggle time with each cat each day. Otherwise, consider that you are simply warehousing the cat - providing adequate care, but basically no different than a prison sentence.
Plan to spay/neuter most cats quickly and Find Pet Homes For Them
When you consider that the average life span of the purebred cat may only be 10+ years, ask yourself what is fair to the cat with regards to how long it remains whole and part of a breeding program.
Males very often must be caged for their entire breeding life because they spray, some very prolifically.
Females are often caged during pregnancy and during at least part of the time that they are raising litters.
Just how long is a reasonable span of time for a cat to spend in a cage? One guideline is that perhaps 1 to 3 litters is plenty for a female to contribute her qualities to a gene pool, after which she has earned the right to spend the rest of her days as someone's spoiled and precious bed buddy. Don't breed a cat for so long that she goes directly from the birthing bed to the grave.
Males should be dealt with on the same principle. If he's a fantastic representative of his breed, breed him heavily for several years, keep selected progeny, and neuter and find a pet home for him as soon as you reasonably can. Remember, he'd like to be a bed buddy, too. This also eliminates the problem of breeders passing whole cats from one to another until the animal dies from old age - think of the cat's needs first and your ego last.
This piece of advice is based on the welfare of the individual cat. We all want to keep a few of our favorites once they're retired and that's to be expected, but put limits on yourself as though you were just a pet owner.
How many 'pets' can you house comfortably in your home and give them all the attention a normal pet might receive?
Do not fall into the trap of thinking you can give the cats a better home than anyone else - that can also lead to too many animals and give you the 'crazy cat person' label. Keep a few of your favorites and find good pet homes for the others as you retire them.
Network with other breeders who share your philosophy
If you work with several people who share your philosophy of breeding and animal care, you can really cut down on the number of cats you need to keep. If you survey the breeders/owners of any number of national winners from the past decade or so, you'll find that many of them keep fewer than 10 whole cats, some even as few as 3-6. If you share your lines and work with others who have outcross lines, it's possible to produce a number of show-quality animals each year without becoming overwhelmed by too many cats in your own home.
A responsible breeder's goal should be to produce healthy cats first, show-quality cats second, and loving pets always. If you go about this with common sense, it's possible to produce all 3 qualities in most of your cats. On the other hand, producing non-show quality pets is a by-product of a show breeding program rather than the main objective. There are ample pet-quality cats and retired show/breeder cats available to satisfy the demand for most pedigreed breeds and we are just adding to the numbers of homeless pet cats, if we don't keep that in mind.
Always remember you are mortal
Even if you are young, the 18-wheeler out on the interstate could send you over the Rainbow Bridge. Be sure you've made adequate provisions for your cats, no matter your age. There are numerous articles on the web about providing for your animals in the event of your untimely demise, but general guidelines to follow are:
*Put it in writing - have a list of your cats and where they are located in your home, with their names and full descriptions and give it to someone whom you can trust to come in and help with their appropriate placement if necessary.
Microchip identification with enrollment in a national recovery organization is extra protection. Make sure they know where your registration certificates are kept, and that you have signed the back of the certificates to allow for easy transfer of ownership. Also be sure that person has access to medical records/files/veterinarian info just in case it's necessary.
*Have an emergency contact listed in your wallet or on your cell phone as the person whose responsibility it is to provide the above animal assistance.
*Be sure family members are aware of these provisions and know who will be responsible for placing the cats. Assure that funds will be available for your cats' care. In some states, you might want to consult an attorney to be sure certain your wishes are carried out.
Hopefully, this article offers some viable suggestions for both new and experienced breeders. With all the negative media attention today, if we want our hobby to continue without oppressive governmental regulations, we need to become more proactive about regulating ourselves, setting reasonable limits, keeping our premises clean and fresh, so we can be proud of a positive image presented to the general public.