The Controversy of Pedigree Cat Breeding – My Exclusive Interview With Steve Dale on This Provocative Subject

by Deb at 6:50 AM • Informative, Interviews30 Comments

Steve at home with his furry family. Top - Roxy, bottom left - Hazel, and bottom right - Ethel.

Fifty Shades of Grey. No, not the book, but just how complex the subject of pedigree cats and breeding is in a world filled with rampant cat overpopulation. That was the reaction I got when I broached multi award winning pet expert, author, newspaper columnist, radio host, and animal advocate, Steve Dale, about this controversial topic. Not known to shy away from a tough subject, I knew Steve would welcome the challenge when I asked him for an exclusive interview. 

This interview was actually one that I never had planned on writing, but based on my own personal   revelations that I shared in my previous post, “True Confessions of a Cat Lover,” as a newly established author, cat blogger, and cat activist, I found myself immersed in a world of new found knowledge where the harsh realities of the staggering numbers of cats on the streets and in shelters was staring me in the face. What I saw back in the mirror was an owner of two purebred cats, Zee, my male Maine Coon,  and Zoey, my female Bengal. This caused me to question my own life’s decisions and that is why I reached out to Steve to ask him this morally complex question – should cat breeding be banned altogether until the numbers of cats in shelters is greatly reduced or should someone be able to purchase a pedigree cat if they want to?

He started out by saying that first and foremost, unless or until there is no longer a demand for purebred cats, there will be breeders. Whether for allergies, personality, colorings, or whatever personal reason you have,  we are a nation of people that have revered breed specific animals for years (cats, dogs, horses, etc.) and that is not going to change. According to Steve, the solution is not to ban breeding, but to make sure that the breeders we do support are responsible and reputable. Breeding farms, commercial breeding, kitten mills, backyard breeding – these so called methods for profit are generally reckless and irresponsible and do pose a danger to the well-being of the animals and these are the ones we should stop supporting so they are forced to go out of business. 
 
Steve elaborated that of the 90 or so million cats that live in U.S. households, only about 5 to 10% of them are actually pedigree cats. So, even if we did ban cat breeding, the demand would still be there (causing dangerous and unreliable black market breeding) and there would still be millions of cats in shelters. The root cause of cat overpopulation is not pedigree cat breeding, according to Steve, it is lack of proper education, human irresponsibility, and the syndrome that cats are “disposable” that causes the majority of cats to be in shelters and on the streets.

The reasons are endless  – a cat has a behavior issue that someone does not want to take the time to correct, a person is moving and can’t take the pet, they may have lost a job and cannot afford to care for the pet any longer, they let the cat outdoors without having it spayed or neutered increasing the likelihood of pregnancies, they are starting a family and are concerned about having a cat in the house, and on and on.  Steve is adamant that PREVENTATIVE measures – keeping a cat indoors, spaying and neutering, correcting behavior problems, proper institution of TNR programs in communities for outdoor cats, and resources for  staff and volunteers at shelters that can provide socialization classes to make cats and kittens more adoptable, is the solution to decreasing the numbers of cats in shelters and the numbers of tragic euthanizations. 

Many individuals will also make a very heated argument – if you buy a cat from a breeder, then a cat from a shelter will die as a result. This again, is a very complex subject that Steve feels is subjective. If cat breeding was banned, it does not necessarily go hand in hand that someone will instead go to a shelter and adopt a mixed breed. Some people want what they want, and if they can’t have it, they would rather not have anything. It is just not a simple black and white, one plus one equals two situation. And if we stop breeding, are we actually looking for breed extinction? That is a very frightening thought.  

Steve and I agreed, this issue can get as extreme as you want it. Right now our government is contemplating regulation on the size of sodas we drink. Do we also want them to step in and tell us that until every child in an orphanage has a home, that we cannot bear our own children? I realize I am being dramatic, but that is the point I am trying to make and the overriding message that I learned from Steve. The only way the cat overpopulation problem can be solved is through preventative measures, mainstream education, and responsibility. Someone should not be told they cannot purchase a cat from a breeder if they want one. As long as they give it a safe and loving home, shouldn’t that be the ultimate goal? And Steve, like myself and so many others, we have opened our homes and hearts to all types of animals, from strays, to rescues, to purebred and everything in between. The key is keeping them in the home and not letting them end up in a shelter for whatever reason.

And Steve also points out that there are also numerous rescue groups now that are breed specific and these rescue organizations are a great alternative for someone looking to adopt a particular breed of cat, but don’t want to go through a breeder. Not everyone who wants a pedigree cat is concerned with lineage, many just want the breed in general and would be more than happy to adopt from a rescue. 

Steve’s real concern is not owning a purebred cat, but the current nature of breeding itself. The trend towards “designer breeds,” overbreeding, or breeding to fit certain criteria or standards for showing that results in harmful proclivities to the animal is a subject that needs to be addressed in a much larger format in his opinion. He says it is more prevalent with dog breeding, but that still does not make the tendency any less alarming.  

I thank Steve for his time and thoughtful and provocative answers. If you would like to learn more about Steve and his extensive library of works, please visit his site at http://www.stevedale.tv/ and his blog at www.chicago.com/stevedale. He also has two new ebooks available that are getting great reviews – Good Cat! Practical Answers to Behavior Questions and Good Dog!  Practical Answers to Behavior Questions. Stay tuned for the concluding post of this series where I interview Teri Thorsteinson of Curlz and Swirlz who shares her experiences as a Cornish Rex breeder.

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  1. RumpyDog! says:

    I think this is spot on! I don’t have a beef with breeders. I DO have a beef with breeder mills.
    .
    I think it’s rather naive to assume that if we convince breeders to stop breeding that the problem will be solved, and for the very reasons you mentioned.

    Unfortunately, there are many breeders out there that will have nothing to do with those of us who take this realistic approach. I was recently in a social situation with a breeder who was quite rude in her talk about “PETA types'” and she was aiming her language at me. She also happens to be a reputable blogger.

    So there you have it. As long as there are enough of those out there itching for a fight, those of us in the middle who are trying to find solutions to these complex problems will have a tough row to hoe.

    • Deb says:

      I agree with you RumpyDog – it’s not the fight we are looking for, but figuring out ways to make it better. Extreme opinions on either side tend not to be the solution and it’s a shame that someone had to be rude about it.

  2. What excellent points brought up. It’s so true that people will buy purebreds regardless of how many cats who are not purebreds need homes. It is absolutely the responsibility of the owner to make sure that the breeders are not breeding the cats in destructive ways. Great idea about education as well and what that entails. Every cat owner or prospective cat owner needs to read this post and Steve’s blog for the best info. Good job as always, Deb!

    • Deb says:

      Thank you Sele and Miss Bella – I wish I had a magic wand so that I could get this post to more of the mainstream public, but the more of us that talk about it and share, the better off the cats will be.

  3. In the end it is about responsible breeding which someone had mentioned on your previous post. Bottom line, that is the answer. If one buys a cat from a breeder a shelter cat will not die and vice versa, the objective should be to find ALL cats homes.

    I was at the Kitty City rescue event last week and fell in love with a cat that I purchased for complete strangers. I wanted the cat to have a home so badly (after it bonded with me) and I could not adopt it. So, I bought it for someone else that was there that day.

    Also, there were at least 4 Bengal kitties (yep pure bred Bengals) at this adoption event.

    BTW love Steve, I reviewed both of his books a few months ago on both of my blogs, I also know him from author Tracy Ahrens (whose book, “Raising My Furry Children”) I also reviewed that included video of Steve. Great and knowledgeable guy!

    • Deb says:

      Caren – how wonderful that you found a home for the cat you fell in love with at Kitty City! Steve really is a great and knowledgeable guy and it was a pleasure getting to chat with him on the phone! I agree with your objective and that is the ultimate goal for all cats…

  4. Cheysuli says:

    I’m a purebred Siamese. I was petted out by a breeder. Even though I was basically retired and she wasn’t getting a kitten, the Woman researched the breeder and talked to a lot of people about her cats. She didn’t want to support someone who was a “kitten mill”. Having always been a shelter person (the first Siamese just showed up there and she fell in love with the breed), she was very uncomfortable with “buying” a purebred cat. However, the cat shows showed her something–these cats are STUNNING. The breeders there, by and large, ADORE their cats and take the best care of them. These cats have information on their family medical history as well as the looks they carry. If a problem becomes bred in, they stop breeding that line of cats (or try out breeding to minimize the problem). She has been to the cat shows with the shelter we work with, where they show household pet cats and adopt them out at the show. The breeders there are just as excited about our non pedigreed cats as the shelter people. There is room for both. The woman likes to think that if some day we were able to spay and neuter all household pets, we could all have “purebred” cats who were only bred because they were wanted.

    • Deb says:

      Chey – thank you for shedding some light on the show aspect. I will be delving into that a bit when I interview Teri, but it is a subject I am relatively unfamiliar with. And yes, I had not touched on that aspect in this post, but that is another reason some people champion breeding – minimizing breed problems and knowing a cat’s particular family history. There is room for both and I appreciate you sharing your story as to how “The Woman”‘ got you.

      • Cheysuli says:

        The Woman would be happy to share her experiences with you with what she did at the cat show for the shelter. Several of the shelter cats were shown as household pets to get exposure. They also had a booth to adopt out the cats and sell goods to raise money.

      • Deb says:

        Chey – that is a great concept and I might just take you up on the offer of talking to the Woman for a future post.

  5. Great post. And my Siamese echoes the word of Chey.

  6. Jennifer Reding says:

    First, let me clear up a few misconceptions. Approximately 3-5% of all cats in North America are pedigreed, not 10%. “Kitten Mills” do not exist in the sense that puppy mills do–because first, there is a very small market of people willing to pay money for a cat, and second, cats generally are much harder to maintain health wise in concentrated numbers. They are not pack animals, and are much more susceptible to simple things like upper respiratory infections and ringworm than dogs are. Keeping cats in a “mill” situation would quickly turn into lots and lots of vet bills. Second, between 88% and 92% of owned cats are already speutered. Owned cats–including pedigreed cats–do not reproduce at “replacement rate”, the number of new kittens wanted by humans in a given year. What causes a surplus? Stray and feral kittens, and cats left at the shelter for reasons mentioned above. The only way any community has ever reduced the number feline euthanasias has been to institute a very low cost spay/neuter program, and to start a TNR program for the community feral cats. North America could outlaw all cat breeding and strictly enforce it, and it have a negligible effect on feline euthanasia in this country without the programs I mentioned.

    • Deb says:

      Jennifer – thank you for taking the time to shed additional light on this topic. Steve had discussed some of your points with me, but I was limited with copy space and appreciate you sharing further information. In particular, the overriding problem of stray and feral kittens. The ability for an unsterilzed pair of male/female cats to reproduce is astounding and TNR and low cost spay/neuter programs are critical. Part of the problem is that not all cultures or communities support this concept and it continues to be an uphill battle.

    • JH Kim says:

      Oh yes Kitten mill do exist. Not really in America but in mostly Russia, boxes of packed up kittens who are old just enough to pass legal regulation of airplane shipment are imported everyday to countries around, mostly Asia (actually wherever there are people willing to buy). They are actually cat who looks like pedigree ones but we all know they are not. Most of them are labeled as Russian blue, Siamese, Persian, Turkish angora, Scottish fold etc. They cost about 5 – 50 bucks each and sold to buyers in another country at about 1000 dollars or more. And lot of them died on the plane since they are definitely just born unhealthy. I Agree with you Jennifer that Americans are not really familiar with the idea of kitten mill but they do exist on the other side of the earth. Flat crucial truth.

  7. meowmeowmans says:

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post, Deb. It does seem that there is quite a large grey area when it comes to these issues. I can certainly vouch for the fact that there are purebred cats who end up in shelters (I can think of a few who are at PAWS now). Education is absolutely critical, and I thank you for helping people learn about thee issues.

    • Deb says:

      Meowmeowmans – I know this is something you have to deal with every day – the issue of prevention, education, and responsibilty is so paramount to helping these animals so that they do not have to enter shelters.

  8. my, my, my…such uproar over purebred cats, and dogs…tapping claw on floor…well…lemme turn this one over to Mom and Dad….Hiya Mom here…so we had 3 purebred Siberian Huskies and lived within the dog show and dog breeding world for about 15 years. I could say a lot about that. But right now we are talking about pure bred cats. IMHO…if a breeder is breeding to IMPROVE the breed by adhering to standards, and by attempting to breed out genetic defaults…usually health concerns…then they are being responsible. People purchse purebred cats to insure they get temperament, predictable health, and size etc. They also purchase purebred cats because they prefer the appearance of a particular breed. These people would not purchase a shelter cat for most of those reasons. I am not sure they are depriving shelter, ferals of furrever homes. But to speak negatively about those who are just trying to find a solution to the PROBLEM: over population of common domestic cats is pretty unhelpful. The animals are not the problem, people are.

    • Deb says:

      Savannah – thank you for grabbing Mom and Dad on this one! Mom – great response, very thoughtful, and extremely knowledgable, level-headed, and fair-minded. That is really what I was hoping to acheive with this series – open discussion to the possibilities of finding solutions, becasue you are 100% correct, the animals are not the problem….

  9. Very well thought out post and I have to say the same about the commenters, too…all very level-headed and considerate answers to a very complex scenario. I remember commenting on a post on DogTime once, about what I thought made a responsible breeder, and someone wrote in sayng ‘You weren’t a good breeder, you were just a good businesswoman.’ That comment hurt me deeply, but when I looked into my heart, I did not have any doubts of what I really was…an animal lover who cares deeply for each cat she brought into this world. I continue to be there for each of them, and in that way, know I am more than a businessworman…I am an advocate for responsibility when it comes to animals, both as a former breeder and as a vet tech…

  10. Another excellent, well rounded post! The subject of buying from a breeder raises passions on both sides. In reading a book about Florida’s history of smuggling , there will always be demand for something that is forbidden. Especially in the USA where we extol our country’s rights and freedoms, prohibiting breeders will not solve the problem. You and Steve hit the nail on the head. EDUCATION is key. This is why in starting a nonprofit, Pawsitively Humane,Inc. our primary goal will be education. I always include a book on cat behavior whenever someone adopts a cat from Riverfront Cats.

  11. Here’s a true story I’d like to share:

    A couple of years ago, a friend asked me to accompany her to meet a “breeder” where she wanted to adopt a teacup poodle–this was her first pet. (The dog today weighs no more than 3 pounds). We drove to a somewhat depressed neighborhood and met the woman who “breeds tiny poodles”. I felt uncomfortable for a number of reasons. First I knew nothing about what qualifies someone as a “reputable breeder”, having always adopted pets from the shelter or picked them up off the street.

    I encouraged my friend to consider a shelter dog. Sure enough I found one, exactly like Yogi, that was 8 years old and weighed about 6 pounds. But since my friend didn’t have a car (she lived in downtown and took Metro and taxi and worked from home) and shelter was on other side of town, not being able to meet the female poodle, she wasn’t motivated to wait until the weekend where I could take her. She met Yogi and fell inlove. We met this woman at her house. She explained she has been breeding for years. My friend Jennifer of course fell inlove with the dog but not too long after purchasing Yogi, she learned why he was so temperamental. Apparently he had a crack in his skull. The breeder supposedly did not know this and only disclosed the fact he was “tempermental” the day she returned to pay the balance and pick up the dog.

    Today they are both very happy but it has cost Jennifer a fortune in veterinarian bills. Thankfully my friend is very responsible and takes excellent care of the dog, actually more than responsible, she’s literally obsessed and insists on taking the dog everywhere even people’s homes when he’s not invited…that’s another story.

    If anyone could direct me to excellent sources of how to determine a “reputable breeder” or write a guest post for Pawsitively Humane,Inc. , it would be greatly appreciated. This is part of our main goal of EDUCATION.
    Thanks so much!
    Christine

  12. Carolyn says:

    An excellent article and very astute comments too. I am glad he agrees with me on designer breeders lol. It all comes down to responsibility and how we love animals xox

  13. You’ve raised so many thought I hadn’t considered before, Deb. I’ve never personally had a purebred cat. Once, a purebred poodle, but it was a rescue situation. (yes, believe it or not…I DO have a place in my heart for dogs – just don’t tell Katie)

    I agree with Steve that the ultimate responsibility is our own. And education is key.

    Great post, Deb!
    xo Glogirly

    PS – thanx for your comment tonight! We will be in Banff on Saturday, but it looks like our hotel is fully wired so I will make a point to stop by! …oh, I do miss my little convict. heh heh!

  14. This was an outstanding post Deb! Steve touched upon so many important points in this article. Great job to you both! :-)

  15. Starryskye80 says:

    I have never purchased a purebred…however, I have rescued a few. One was a 12 year old Himalayian (sp?) who was living on the street of a local mobile home park after his owner died and her son realized without papers, the cat was worthless. Lulu was covered in mats and fleas, but we cleaned him up, gave him love, and he was with us five years. Last year, we came across an ad on Craig’s List for two 10 yr old Siamese. When we got them, they turned out to be Havana Browns!! They had been locked in a room by themselves for months, and one was severely emancipated. This breed needs to be around people! One we had to have put down three months ago due to severe kidney failure, but the other is my cuddle buddy. As for being 10…at the vet, we discovered that they were “at least 17 years old”.
    Last month, we adopted two pure white cats that are part Siamese. One of them is deaf, the other one is very clingy. Again, Craig’s List. I encourage people to get pets from there, because there are so many neglected and abused pets on Craig’s List that need our help.

    • Deb says:

      Thank you for sharing your story Starryskye80. I did not know this about Craig’s List and I appreciate you bringing attention to this additional plight.

  16. Deb says:

    Thank you Caren – and why aren’t you resting??????!!!!!!!!

  17. Tammy Baugh says:

    I am a Ragdoll Cat Breeder. And you know what I cannot count on both hands the number of strays I have taken in and placed in the local newspaper just until I can find him or her a good home. I would have just gotten all the fleas out of my home too and with the new comer brought a lot more in. Lord knows it never mattered, as long as I could help the helpless I was happy. And so I feel strongly about one thing. The shelter should never be used except as an extreme emergency. Just like taking yourself to the emergency room, if you can get by not doing it well then that is the thing to do. If you must then do so. But on your own concious. And when one of my females gets older I have her fixed and she is no longer a mom cat. She is just a beloved lifetime pet. I never take my pets to the shelter. I have even moved and moved and moved to avoid taking them to a shelter. And I’d do it again in a heartbeat too. They mean a lot to me. All 3 of my children are grown and gone now. SO my cats are my kids. My kids seem to be a bit jealous of the cats. But thats their problem. They have spouses, I have cats. We all need something to love. Responsibility is the key.

    • Deb says:

      Tammy – Thank you for this heartfelt comment. I commend you for being so caring – responsibility is key and if we all kept that in mind, the shelters and streets would be far less populated with cats and kittens. We get ribbed a bit too by our family regarding our cats and how much of a pedastal we put them on. But, like with you, that will never change….