The Controversy of Cat Breeders – A Breeder’s Perspective: My Interview With Teri Thorsteinson of FurryDance Cattery

by Deb at 11:50 PM • Interviews43 Comments

A typical A to Z cat breed book

When I was much younger, before computers, I was a regular visitor to the library and bookstores for my edification and entertainment. No matter the circumstances, I always made time to go to the animal section to look at the cat books. You know the ones I mean, the A to Z’s of cats that showed each breed, complete with pictures and a description of the cat’s physical traits and personality. I have several of these types of books in my own personal library and have always been fascinated with all the different breeds of cats. Until recently, I never equated these books with controversy, cat overpopulation, or anything other than I loved the wonderful variety of cats and learning about them.

Teri and her Cornish Rex, Brighton, at last year's BlogPaws opening ceremony.

The same can be said of Teri Thorsteinson of Dumfries, VA. The only difference was that she did have a specific fascination, the Cornish Rex. She fell in love with the breed after seeing them at a cat show, eventually deciding to become a breeder herself, and in 1988 had her first litter and the beginning of FurryDance cattery. Teri has been a Veterinary Technician since 1971, is the author of the popular blog, Curlz and Swirlz, and also is an active member of the BlogPaws community where I met her at last year’s conference. She was very interested in my current series on the controversy of cat breeding where I asked the very compelling question – should cat breeding be banned until the numbers of cats in shelters is greatly reduced or should someone be able to purchase a pedigree cat if they want to? This was a question that Teri has had her own personal struggle with, as did I as an owner of two purebred cats, and she was grateful for the opportunity to talk to me from her perspective as a breeder.

She said that when she began breeding over twenty years ago, there was not a stigma attached to the subject like there is now and for her, breeding was an extension of her love for the breed and her career as a Veterinary Technician. She welcomed the opportunity to share the breed with other Cornish Rex lovers and took breeding very seriously, with the health, temperament, and integrity of the cat foremost in mind to ensure strong, stable, and healthy kittens. All of her breeding cats were screened annually by board certified vet cardiologists for HCM (Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy) and if a problem was found, she did not use that cat in her breeding program. Any cat that entered her cattery had a full veterinary exam as well as lab tests for felv-fiv/fcv/toxoplasmosis, chemistry/cbc and for intestinal parasites as well as a fungal culture. Her  breeding cats also had regular wellness exams and lab work, including tests for contagious diseases and internal parasites.

With complete responsibility in mind, any adult cat or kitten purchased from Teri came with full veterinary records, a health guarantee, and was altered and microchipped BEFORE adoption.  The adoption process itself was also rigorous – because the lifetime well-being of an animal was at stake, Teri had a 4 page questionnaire that she had people fill out for pre-screening, and if for any reason she was not comfortable with any of the answers, she would decline the sale. She has actually had potential clients indicate that they felt the form was “far too personal in nature” and that certainly was a red flag to her. But, because she needed to ensure each cat/kitten was best matched to the personality and environment of each potential buyer, this intensive process was critical. She would expect the same inquiries of her and encouraged those looking to purchase a cat to ask her questions, to ask for references and medical records, and to come by and visit the cattery, if possible, to meet her and all her cats. Responsibility is a two-way street and Teri always recommends anyone looking for a purebred cat do their homework to find a reputable breeder.

Clement is one of Teri's cats that was returned to her that she was able to successfully re-home.

The other reason her interviewing process was so thorough, was because it was part of her Contract of Sale that she would take a cat back for any reason, at any age, and in the over 22 years she bred the Cornish Rex, she has had 8 cats returned to her, and she was successful in being able to re-home them. Her rationale – she would much rather get these cats back than find out they were surrendered to a shelter, which would just break her heart. If the problem was behavioral, she would work with the cat in what she called a “12 step program to recovery” before she re-homed the cat, to help ensure it had the best chance at a new forever home.  She is very proud to admit that of the 155 kittens her cattery has sired, she has remained in contact with all but two of the owners, and those she lost contact with was due to the complications surrounding divorce.

Teri is actually so devoted to the breed, that she has been involved in the rescue of three cats that she did not breed herself. Not all breeders are as dedicated or passionate as she was, and it saddens her deeply when she sees a Cornish Rex in rescue, because it signifies to her that the breeder was not there for the cat, either because the person giving it up did not keep in touch with the breeder, or the breeder had no interest in taking back the cat. It also pains her when her motives are questioned.  She recalls a time when she commented on a post on DogTime about what she thought made a responsible breeder and someone wrote in saying, “‘You weren’t a good breeder, you were just a good businesswoman.” That comment hurt her deeply, but when she looked into her heart, she did not have any doubts of what she really was…an animal lover who cares deeply for each cat she brought into this world. She continues to be there for each of them, and in that way, she knows she is so much more than a business woman…  

Hero is another of Teri's cats that she successfully re-homed.

Because of the lifetime commitment Teri has given to her cats, she retired from breeding last year, feeling that if she continued breeding any longer, she could no longer comfortably ensure she would be able to care for any cat that might be brought back to her. The veterinary costs and other expenses alone are a huge commitment, and when you add in the time and effort involved to care for these animals, I can understand and respect her decision. She is ready to just enjoy her 4 cats as pets now that they are all spayed or neutered, and not have all the worries of breeding and finding the right home for her kittens. Teri plans on staying active in the Cornish Rex community, drawing from her 40 years of experience as a Veterinary Technician and her 22 years of breeding experience to continue to foster and promote the health and well-being of this breed. She will eventually turn her cattery website into one targeting Cornish Rex care and cat care in general. She has dreams of writing a book and hopes to get two of her cats “Therapy Certified” to help others.

Retired from breeding, Teri is looking forward to spending more free time with her beloved Coco.

She also hopes to help educate people that the theory of “if you buy, one dies,” is just not as black and white as that and can be a very hurtful statement to both responsible breeders and owners of purebred cats who love their pets dearly. Teri indicates that so many of the people who bought cats from her started out with rescue cats and when they sought out a purebred, sometimes it was a difficult decision for them too. But, if someone ultimately does decide to purchase a pedigree cat, she feels that right should not be taken away from them, nor should they be accused of causing another cat to die as a direct result of it.  As pet expert, Steve Dale pointed out in my previous interview, there has always been a demand for purebred cats and there always will be. With that being said, as long as the cat has a stable and loving home, then judgments need not be made. The real priority should be preventative measures that ensure cats and kittens don’t end up in shelters and dumped on the streets in the first place. Keeping a cat indoors, spaying and neutering, correcting behavioral problems rather than bringing a cat to a shelter, proper institution of TNR programs in communities to prevent litters of kittens from being born, mainstream education on the subject of pet responsibility and so on – Teri is an advocate for all of these measures and also believes that irresponsible breeders should not be supported.
Teri and I both had terrible phone connections and our interview was cut off numerous times before she ended up calling me from her car in the middle of a thunderstorm. I was huddled in a corner of my office, straining to hear her, but that is what we do as cat lovers! I have no doubt of the integrity of Teri as a breeder or of her devotion to the well-being of the feline species. Her career as a veterinary technician speaks volumes, as does her kind heart to help an animal in need. I thank her for taking the time to share her experiences with me and to shed further light on this important topic.

If you would like to know more about the Cornish Rex breed, or more about FurryDance cattery, please click this link for details. Also, don’t forget to keep nominating your favorite blogs for a Pettie Award and the chance to win $10K for a rescue or shelter of your choice. Nominations close on June 29th and you can vote once a day until then!

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  1. What a great topic to pause and reflect. You certainly got people talking about an important subject! But it’s all about education and being responsible both as a breeder and pet owner. It’s a two way street.

  2. Jo Singer says:

    Teri is truly an exemplar for kitty guardianship and love. She is a delight, and the cats that I have met who are fortunate enough to own her are just as delightful.

    I loved your interview- it was great!

  3. Crystal Wood says:

    I have pedigreed cats that I show and rescued cats who just stay at home and are loved. The pedigreed cats aren’t loved any more or less than the rescued ones.

    I have many friends in cat rescue, some who are very outspoken against breeder cats (“Don’t Breed and Buy While Shelter Cats Die!”). However, they tend to paint all breeders with a broad brush, as if they are all kitten mills with miserable mother cats in cages, popping out two or three litters a year and selling them to pet stores and on the side of the road. Yes, some bad people do that. But the breeders I know are as responsible and caring as Teri, and their kittens are healthy and strong, and excellent examples of their breeds.

    And sometimes, pedigreed cats DO turn up in rescue. We adopted a deaf white Cornish Rex from Texas Siamese Rescue, who had been rescued from a hoarder situation without any papers. But that didn’t matter–she was the joy of our lives until cancer took her away in January. (Teri, if you’re reading this, we would love to love another. Just sayin’.) 😀

    At the end of the day, what difference does it make where the cat you love came from?

  4. Maureen says:

    Hello! I am writing a paper for an English Comp class about the, sometimes, misguided breeders who are not as responsible as Teri. I cannot believe how lucky I am to have found this blog site right out of the gate. Thank you for this article! I hope that you won’t be offended if I quote some of your message in the paper. I am determined to make sure that I get a fully rounded research paper and this is the final information I was looking for – a responsible breeders perspective. Thank you, again.