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. If all breeders were like Terri, we wouldn’t have the issues today. Again, education is key and I’m happily sharing this.

    • Deb says:

      Thank you for sharing Layla. As with most of everything, education is key and the only way we can expect change is to continue to share positive and informed posts.

  2. Vicki Cook says:

    Great post Deb! Teri is a wonderful example of a responsible breeder. I think your series helps to show that the choice to purchase a purebred cat rather than adopt from a shelter or rescue group is not a black/white issue.

    • Deb says:

      Vicki – you are so correct. This issue could literally be an endless series, as my post has only scratched the surface of this complex issue.

  3. Wonderful post, Deb! We’ve followed Teri off and on for a few years now. Have always loved her blog and have been fascinated by her breed. Can’t wait to meet her (and you!) next week!
    xo Glogirly

    • Deb says:

      Glogirly – we can’t wait to meet you either! Teri is just as wonderful in person and I marveled at how well-adjusted her cats were that she brought to the conference last year. My gang would never be even be the tiniest accommodating in that regard and I am certain I would be the victim of serious bodily harm!

  4. Cheysuli says:

    We are impressed with her dedication. We are also pleased with this series, because, particularly when you are blogging for pets, so many people want to help shelters that they are often unforgiving about the purebred cats. There was a cat contest where you voted in comments after we had been blogging for perhaps a year. I was entered and several of the comments thought I should be disqualified because I was a purebred cat and I was not welcome there.

    People can be very hurtful because they have these preconceived notions that all breeders are cat-mills. There is also that underlying assumption that somehow good breeders are the cause of pet over population when it’s really just irresponsible people who don’t take care of their cats.

    As a person who adores Siamese, the Woman says she will always look for the Meeze first and if she does’t find the one she wants, she would find another reputable breeder, no matter how far she had to drive (she drove to Klamath Falls for me, which was a full day’s drive, so they spent the night down there before driving me back home).

    • Deb says:

      Bonnie (Cheysuli), thank you for sharing this comment. People can be hurtful and it pains me as well, because I have always considered myself a cat lover and I don’t like thinking I am any less so because some of my cats are purebred. Without opening our arms to compromise, how are we supposed to make a difference? Not welcome…. Wow, that is just not right. Irresponsibility is the crux of the issue and that is why I have been trying so hard this year to educating myself as best I can on a variety of feline subjects so that I can better speak on behalf of cat welfare with a strong and educated voice.

  5. There are so many shelter cats who need the love and dedication that Teri gives to her kitties. I realize the huge expense that would be involved in doing so but Teri really sets an example (even if she’s not breeding anymore) about how to love a cat, purebred or not!

    • Deb says:

      You are so right about that Sele and Miss Bella. If we all put the love and dedication into the animals we have, we would not have such staggering numbers of cats in shelters to begin with.

  6. kokopurrs says:

    Wonderful article, as the mom of both rescues and pure breds, this was a much needed post. The key here is: licensed reputable breeders. From my experience reputable breeders are passionate about cats and are often very involved in educating the public about cats.
    I never could have fulfilled my ambition of having a cat in the San Diego Pet-Assited Therapy program without the training I received from Connie of Sweat Heaven Cattery. (Who also did large animals rescue and regularly trains therapy dogs.)

    • Deb says:

      Thank you kokopurrs. I always feel that if I am questioning something, then chances are so is someone else and that is why I really wanted to delve into this topic that is not frequently discussed. From my experience in blogging for the past year, there is no question at the dedication and passion responsible breeders have for the well being of cats, not just the cats they breed.

  7. Just as feline nature itself embodies duality, each owner’s choice also embodies duality: It’s all about liberty and responsibility. Two sides of one coin. Yes, each and every cat owner deserves the right to choose their perfect cat, whether pedigreed or mixed-breed, cattery-bred or rescued. And in making this choice, each and every cat owner assumes a solemn responsibility to that cat, and, by extension, to all cats. You cannot enjoy the freedom without owning the responsibility. Responsible breeders are not, and have never been, “the problem” – and not just because pedigreed cats are such a tiny fraction of the domestic cat population.

    Indeed, responsible breeders have always stepped up to sponsor and finance vital feline medical research – work that has benefited all cats – through such organizations as the Winn Feline Foundation and others. This is too often forgotten. We, as writers and educators, must make sure that we honestly communicate the vital and too-often unsung role of breeders in advancing the interests and reputations of all cats. Responsible breeders deserve the respect and gratitude of all ailurophiles.

    Purrrrrs… wac

    • Deb says:

      Wendy – “two sides of one coin,” what a perfect analogy. As you may recall, this topic has been weighing on my mind for a long time. You and I had a lengthy conversation about it at the CWA conference in White Plains last year and you recommended I talk to Steve Dale about the subject, which I did. Thank you for pointing out the value and service responsible breeders can bring to the well-being of cats in general through feline medical research. I hope I did the subject justice – I really wanted to present a forum for open and fairminded conversation.

  8. Great article. We visit Teri’s blog regularly and enjoy reading about her cats and her extended family of cats. We wish all breeders were like her. The love and passion she has for her cats shows in her posts.

  9. Carolyn says:

    Excellent post, Deb. I have also followed Teri’s blog and agree with all the comments here. Whether one goes for purebred or rescue, it all comes down to responsibility and good sense and to have the welfare of the animals uppermost xox

  10. Marg says:

    Wow, this is such a great post about a truly great person. She is the best especially since she does take back a cat that doesn’t work out. She really is a super person and we are so happy to read this wonderful post about her. I really think that purebred cats have a place in our world right along with the shelter and rescue cats. I guess some breeders are just not responsible and that is why some of the purebreds have gotten a bad reputation. The purebreds are all just as nice of a cat as any rescue. Well done Deb.

    • Deb says:

      Marg – I am always so grateful when I hear from someone like you who is so heavily involved in rescue, that you feel purebred cats have a place in the world along with shelter cats. As long as they are loved and taken care of, that should be the yardstick of judgement.

  11. Brian says:

    That was really a good piece on Teri, and there all lots of us who think she is wonderful. It was really nice to learn so much more about her and that wonderful breed.

  12. Thank you for a wonderful article. Sweet Praline was a registered Persian and both Truffle and Brulee are registered Persians. I love the Persian breed! I’m also well aware of the special and time consuming care that is required with owning this breed. I did a lot of research on the breed and checked out breeders very carefully before choosing my breeder, Terri. I was able to visit Terri’s cattery several times both before and after purchasing my “purebred” kittens. Terri loves her cats as much as her human family. She is also a vet tech and issues a health guarantee with all of her cats. I had to also go through an interview process and she also required references and she checks on them, especially calling the vets. She has been known to back out of a sale because she didn’t feel comfortable with the potential buyers. There is also a clause in my contract that they would go back to her if for any reason I couldn’t keep them. She has also taken back a few kittens in the past and was able to rehome them.

    I wish we lived in an era where every dog and cat had a wonderful forever home, but I don’t believe we should criticize those who love a particular breed and choose to purchase one and provide a wonderful, caring home. I don’t advertise overtly that I purchased two purebred kittens for fear that I would be attacked, but I love my girls as much as my own life.

    Pee ess – Truffle and Brulee are Silver Shaded Persians. Sweet Praline was a tortoiseshell Persian.

    Thank you again for a wonderful article!

    • Deb says:

      Thank you for the comment Sweet Purrfections. I like how you point out what I stated in the post – responsibility is a two way street for both the breeder and the potential buyer and I commend your Terri for all the care she puts into finding the right homes for her kittens. Your cats are absolutely stunning and when I stop by your blog, I can tell just how much you love them!

  13. BZTAT says:

    I am saddened when I see that this is a controversy, but I know that it is. As a big supporter of animal rescue, I can also say that I applaud those who responsibly breed animals too. My best companions growing up were pedigreed – a Siamese cat, a doberman, and 3 dachshunds. My family bred a few litters of dachshunds and one litter of Siamese kittens, and they all were well loved and well placed in homes.

    The problem of homeless pets is not the fault of responsible breeders. It is the fault of careless, irresponsible people who do not do what is necessary to to properly take care of a pet. It doesn’t matter if it is a purebred cat or a mix – the problem is the human who does not fulfill their responsibility to care.

    As we advocate for pet rescue, we need to be careful not to direct our frustrations at the wrong people. I see too many people blame responsible breeders when their energies would be so much better directed elsewhere.

    Thanks for sharing Teri’s story. It was very touching and illuminating!

    • Deb says:

      BZTAT – Being somewhat new to the world of social catting, I was genuinely shocked at all the controversy this creatures could cause. I never realized loving an animal could subject you to criticism or judgment. I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of the situation – our energies need to be directed at helping to make change, not blame and finger pointing. We need to keep our minds open and that is why I am trying to bring these topics to the forefront of discussion. I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts.

  14. Great article Deb! It was fun to read about Teri – she is our vet tech and is awesome 🙂 It was very interesting to read about a breeder’s thoughts on breeding vs. rescue.

    My dad’s first cat in the 80s was from a friend’s kitten who had a litter &the second was a cat that was supposed to be a “buddy” for the first cat (who wasn’t!), was a purebred Maine Coon. My dad says he would never buy another pure bred cat – I think partially because he did have some health problems, the breeder ended up being a hoarder…maybe even in jail…and having been volunteering with a rescue for several years now, I know there are ways to get purebred rescued cats & even the plainest tabby cat can have the best personality!

    Looking forward to seeing you at BlogPaws!

  15. I have enjoyed reading the very thoughtful comments from everyone (both friends I have met in person and those who I know just from following their blogs) and am grateful for the compliments bestowed upon me as a breeder and fellow blogger.

    I have made my mistakes, but have learned from each one and feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to share and communicate with so many. Just as I felt being a conscientious and educated breeder was an extension of my career as a vet tech, I will always enjoy ‘ending my day knowing I helped someone learn something and take best care of their cat that they can, even if it is just to help them know what questions to ask of their vet, or what questions to ask of a breeder when looking for a purebred cat.

    Reading @Rachels comment, brought up something that I didn’t mention to Deb when being interviewed, but when all my current Curly Swirly crew have to cross the bridge, I so love both the Cornish Rex and Sphynx breed, that I will get another…but it will be an older one, one through rescue, that can share their golden years with me in my golden years…

    Thank you again, Deb, for giving me this opportunity to reach so many with my story.

    • Deb says:

      Teri – it was my pleasure to interview you and share your story. This is a subject that tends to get swept under the rug and nothing is accomplished that way. I agree with you – I am very pleased with all of the open-minded and level headed comments this post has inspired and you truly do deserve the accolades. We need the voice of responsible breeding to be heard and I am grateful I could provide that platform. And interesting as well, when the day comes that I will have to say goodbye to my beloved Maine Coon and Bengal, I too will be looking for a breed rescue and open my heart and home to an older cat.

  16. As a rescuer, I have heard it all. And I have to admit to having a soft spot for RESPONSIBLE breeders like Teri. It shouldn’t be about banning those that love the breed but about banning those that are doing it for money. I have met another woman who breeds British shorthairs and Maine Coons. She says more than once that if it were for the money, she would have been done a long time ago….she does it for the love of the breed. And like Teri, she is very careful and follows her kittens.

    Here is the other thing to consider – if we do away with responsible breeders, we lose these unique cat breeds as well…..and that isn’t a good thing either.

    • Deb says:

      Random Felines – thank you for your thoughtful comments and I could not agree more about your statement on losing unique breeds. That would be such a tragedy.

  17. Another thing I see – we all say when it’s time to get a new friend, we’ll all get older cats! I agree.

    • Deb says:

      Yes Rachel, for me anyhow, there is a time and place for all that we do. When I got both Zee and Zoey as kittens, it was because during that point in my life, I wanted younger cats to grow up with as I shared my life with Dan and them. As I get older, I can see that I will want an older cat who deserves a chance at a furever home. Not that I regret my decision to get Zee and Zoey as kittens – they have been one of the most joyful parts of my life and at the time, that was the right choice for me.

  18. momsbusy says:

    excellent article! i admire the dedication that terri has with her love for the cornish rex breed and the kittens she helped to bring into this world.

    i wish responsible breeders were the rule and not the exception (at least it seems to be that way here in the south). i know of a person that bred his dogs and starting counting the dollars before the puppies were even born. i always felt so sad for those pups.

    • Deb says:

      Momsbusy – I honestly don’t know the numbers of reputable breeders versus those that are questionable, but I do commend Teri and certainly hope that one day all breeders will be responsible. Thank you for stopping by and I appreciate your comments.

  19. Caroline says:

    Teri is a wonderful, loving cat mom. She is the model of what a breeder should be. Ignorant people make ignorant, blanket comments about breeders they know nothing about.

    Great article, Deb. Thank you for spotlighting this issue!

    • Deb says:

      You are correct about that Caroline – ignorance rarely makes for a logical arguement and I am glad you found the article to be informative. It seems to be an issue that warrants further discussion, so I am glad I was able to open the door by sharing Teri’s story.

  20. RumpyDog! says:

    I don’t have a beef with responsible breeders. But breeding has always been about demand. And if one doesn’t breed, another one will.

    I am heartened that more people choose to adopt, and I will continue to promote adoption.