How to find a responsible breeder
With regard to finding a breeder, cat shows are the best places to meet and talk to breeders. You can see all the different colors and patterns, learn about the characteristics of the breed, and ask questions. Do your homework, and try not to fall in love with the first kitten you see.
You can also find breeders through the listings in Cat Fancy and Cats Magazine. These are the two magazines in the US with the largest circulations, and consequently with the largest breeders classified sections. You can probably find one or both of these magazines at a well-stocked newsstand. Just because a breeder advertises in these magazines, however, does not automatically make them a responsible breeder. You still need to ask them a lot of questions.
Newspaper ads are probably the worst place to try to find a breeder. That is not to say that highly reputable breeders don’t place newspaper ads from time to time–they certainly do–it’s just that newspapers are the *primary* advertising medium for poor breeders.
If possible, you should try to find a breeder in your area, so you can visit the cattery. This is the best way to be sure of the quality and health of the animals and the ethical standards of the breeder. You should arrange to visit the cattery to see the conditions under which the kittens are raised. Although heredity plays a dominant part, the cattery environment also has a strong effect on health, personality and temperament. Things to watch out for: overcrowding, kittens raised in cages, poor recordkeeping, poor housekeeping, neglected litterboxes, unclean food or water. Breeders with males will have cages for them; these should be large, well furnished, and clean.
About cages: Some people are shocked at the very idea of keeping cats in cages, but it is a necessary part of a clean, healthy, and controlled cattery environment, particularly if there are males present. It is the irresponsible breeders who allow the "girls to run with the boys" and just sell whatever they get. CFA Cattery of Excellence standards call for a *minimum* of 27 cubic feet per cat, if the cat spends most of its time in the cage. This means that the common 2′ x 3′ x 4′ "Tokyo cages" are *not acceptable* as permanent quarters.
You want a kitten that is accustomed to being handled every day. Kittens should be raised in a home environment. The frequently-quoted phrase is "raised underfoot", meaning that they are accustomed to being around people. Naturally, you want to look for friendly, outgoing kittens, but you should also evaluate the temperament of the adults in the cattery, particularly the dam, but also the sire, if possible. This is your best indicator of the personality that the kitten will have when it grows up.
Of course, breeders will occasionally have retired show cats available. You can tell a lot more about what you’re getting if you consider getting an adult cat. If you would prefer an adult cat (sure, kittens are cute, but not everyone wants one bouncing off the walls), then you might ask the breeder if he/she has "any alters available" (meaning, an adult cat that has already been neutered or spayed).
Questions to ask
How early do you let your kittens go to new homes?
- Responsible breeders typically don’t let them go until they’re 12 weeks old (some wait until 16 weeks). There are many reasons for this, but proper socialization and having a fully functioning immune system are two good ones.
Do you have a waiting list?
- Responsible breeders don’t overproduce. Depending on the breed, the breeder may have a backlog of people waiting for kittens. She will decide to breed her cats only when she has the right cats, when the queen is in good condition, and when she has the space, time, and money to devote to it. This is generally not a profit-making hobby, so breeders are not driven by market demand.
If a breeder cannot provide you with a the kitten you are looking for in a reasonable length of time, she may refer you to another breeder. In the minority breeds, many of the breeders know each other. It’s sometimes a good idea to get references from other breeders. Beware, however, of any breeder who has nothing good to say about another cattery. Slander is all too common in the cat fancy. A good breeder doesn’t have to speak ill of other breeders; she can simply remain silent.
Can I get a copy of your contract to look over?
- You should ask to see the sales contract before you commit to buying. This is another good way of evaluating the professionalism and motivations of the breeder. Sales contracts are common, even for pet-quality cats. Every breeder uses a slightly different contract, so read through it carefully. Avoid breeders who don’t have one at all.
Typical kitten contracts include a health guarantee (14-day is common). During that period, you should have the cat checked by your vet, and tested for FeLV, FIV, parasites, and fungus (ringworm). The contract should allow you to return the cat for a full refund *for any reason* during the 14-day period.
Beyond that, many breeders include in their contracts an offer to accept the cat back (or at least request the right of first refusal) if you can’t keep it. Responsible breeders don’t *ever* want one of their "kids" to end up at a shelter.
If the breeder asks *you* lots of questions, too, that’s a *good* sign!
Feel free to ask in what association(s) the breeder registers and shows her cats. Even though you may only be interested in a pet-quality cat, you would be well-advised to find a breeder who is also a successful exhibitor. The fact that a breeder is also a successful exhibitor tells you several things:
- Their cats conform to the standards. Backyard breeders and operators of "kitten mills" don’t care about this sort of thing at all.
- Their cats are well-behaved, even under the stress of showhall conditions.
- These people are not in it for money. Operators of "kitten mills" consider showing an unnecessary expense. Breeders who go to a lot of shows rarely, if ever, break even.
In general, breeders who are active in showing tend to have healthier, better quality animals and tend to be more responsible.
CFA has a voluntary "Cattery of Excellence" program, which includes cattery inspections. TICA has a voluntary "Breeders’ Code of Ethics". You can ask if they have one of these certificates. However, these are fairly new programs, so many breeders are not certified yet, even though they may meet the qualifications.
Also, there’s a book on this subject, published a few years ago. It’s called Your Purebred Kitten: A Buyer’s Guide, by Michele Lowell (1995, Henry Holt, New York, ISBN 0-8050-3268-1). The author discusses choosing the right *breeder* as well as the right breed, and even includes example question-and-answer dialogues.