It turns out that if you live in Australia and want to purchase a cat from the Country of Russia you can not do so directly. For a variety of reasons, some legitimate, some political, it is impossible to import domestic animals directly into Australia from Russia without a stopover in a different country from which such transactions are allowed. Surprisingly it is possible to send animals, domestic cats at least, directly from the United States to Russia. All of the facts in the above introduction were completely unknown to me until approximately three weeks ago when a good friend of mine asked if I would be willing to help her transfer two kittens from Russia to Australia.
My friend as it turns out owns a cattery business, which, in case you were unaware, is an establishment for boarding and/or breeding cats. She is mostly a breeder but does some boarding on occasions such as this transfer situation if the money or other compensations are worth it. Unlike most other business transactions, money (at least of the immediate direct payment variety) is not the primary motivator of deals such as this one.
In this particular instance the arrangement was made because of a long-standing friendship with a fellow breeder in Australia and a desire for access to cost effective transportation of another cat to her from a particular cattery in Germany that does not ship internationally. Access to this gene pool would allow her to improve the confirmation and overall type of her own cats and thus greatly increase their chances of winning shows and intrinsic future value as breeding stock. Essentially she was trading the work necessary to get the cats from Russia to Australia for the means for one or more of her cats to fuck or get fucked by one or more other cat(s). And so the circle of life is complete.
The money that can be made in this business is not trivial. Top of the line, rare, genetically desirable cats can sell for many thousands of dollars or more depending on the breed, bloodline and color. Competing in shows increases the value of any given cat and the cat’s my friend deals with are or will be titled show cats before they are ever bred. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, show prize money is low and most of the money is made indirectly, in ways I will describe later. Show prize structure differs from registering organization to organization, but to take just one example, the Australian Cat Federation (ACF) based shows typically have both ribbons and cat based prizes like cat trees, premium cat food, etc in addition to the points towards titles earned in each competition ring. Prize size differs by the show with some awarding no cash at all and some in the three digit range. Interestingly, American shows tend to be the stingiest and award only ribbons and competition points. The exceptions are the really large regionals & international shows which have much nicer prizes, including cash for the highest placing cats. The primary element that most cats compete for are titles and points. These are critical to determining sell-ability and price of the kittens. Titles differ in both name and mechanism of attainment by registering organization and are described below for just two of these bodies (CFA and ACF):
USA: Champion (requires 6 wins), Grand Champion (Requires 100 wins). Briefly, while kittens compete for points and overall rankings, they are not eligible for titles until they graduate to one of the adult classes at 9 months. Adults compete in one of two categories depending on whether they are intended to be breeding stock (entires — yes that is spelled correctly) or are neutered/spayed and being exhibited for additional titles (alters). To attain the title of Champion, a cat must be the best in its breed and class (open/champion) in 6 rings. For a Grand Champion title, he/she must beat 100 other cats (1 pt. per cat beaten). Champion and Grand Champion are the titles earned in the entire class, while titles earned in the alter class are distinguished by the titles Premier and Grand Premier. At the end of each show year, the top 25 in each category (kitten, adult entire or alter) are awarded the title of Regional Winner, National Winner, or International Winners. Got that, good, because I was like wtf.
ACF (Australia): Titles earned in Australia are roughly the same as the United States with only adults competing for titles. Entires earn the titles of Champion (requires 60 accumulated pts/wins), Grand Champion (requires 120 accumulated pts/wins), Double Grand Champion (requires 180 accumulated pts), Bronze, Silver Gold (each of these require and additional 100 or more pts successively), with alters earning the parallel Premier titles. Additionally, the best male, female, neuter and spay in a judging ring are given an Award of Excellence at the judges’ discretion. Upon accumulation of 10 of these, a cat is eligible for the first Award of Excellence wins (AoE) title. Subsequent AoE titles follow the same rules as for CH, GC, DGC and so on. How about that one? Get it? Be prepared for quiz at the end.
No matter where you are in the world, the title of DM or Distinguished Merit is one of the most coveted as a breeder. To earn a DM title, a queen must produce 5 kittens that earn the title of Grand Champion. A stud must produce 15 kittens that earn a Grand Champion or equivalent title to qualify. These are coveted in a line because they are an indicator of how consistently a line throws in accordance with the breed standard. (breeder speak for how consistently winners are bred, I think horse breeders have a similar terminology)
Entry fees vary from $50–100/cat depending on the show size (# of judging rings/day x # days) and the level of the show (e.g. a regional would cost more than a state show, an international would cost more than either of those).
Last but not least, registered cat naming is standardized globally. The first word in a name is always the cattery where the kitten was born. (E.g. all of my friend’s cats bear the prefix of [Redacted] because that is her cattery. Then comes the name, e.g. [Redacted’s] Winter Phoenix, [Redacted’s] Aurora Americana. The suffix “of ___________” is only for unaltered breeding or former breeding cats and indicates the name of the cattery where the cat resides/works.
The kittens we would be helping to transfer were Sphynx. In case you are not aware the Sphynx has a certain defining trait for the breed, they are hairless. These are those wrinkly, crazy looking, rat like creatures you may have seen on television, usually the pet of some odd, but typically very rich, socialite or mogul. For whatever reason these cats have become very desirable among the wealthy and top of the line specimens have been known to sell for as much as ten thousand dollars though they average around $3000. On the low end these cats still bring in around $500 at a minimum. The definition of quality in this case is highly technical and very specific and is based on a number of physical features and behavioral characteristics that are described in great detail in the 3 page document of standards for the breed published by the Cat Fanciers’ Association (see image of page 1 below). In shows each cat is judged against the standard for its breed, the same way as is done with dog breeds. This is in the classic/traditional show ring. Most of the larger shows also run feline agility, in which the fastest cat to execute the agility course following its’ owner’s lead/commands wins regardless of breed.
The kittens we were picking up were on the high end quality wise and were being purchased for $3500 each by a friend of my friend in Australia from the Russians who were selling them. The Russian cattery the kittens came from is an extremely well respected Sphynx cattery with some of the most coveted lines in the world. They produce and sell kittens nearly worldwide, despite a not significant language barrier which became evident during the finalization of travel arrangements. International travel arrangements for cats are usually fairly straightforward. One books the correct size and type of crate with a cargo carrier and the receiving information is transmitted on the other end. The veterinarian issues an international health certificate and the required local travel paperwork and the cat is good to go. In this case there were a number of unexpected difficulties and it took three weeks and countless hours before the correct documentation was received. Largely thanks to Google Translate the kittens’ travel to Chicago and subsequently Cincinnati was arranged. (In a twist that Yakov Smirnoff could definitely make a passably funny joke about, those little squares on government forms have a formal name in Russian “kvadrata.”). The kittens arrived in Chicago, not without incident. Turns out the flimsy carriers they were sent in from Russia were not international flight grade and had to be replaced in Chicago by carriers from United Airlines at considerable cost — and considerable drama which might be the topic of a future post, though given the length of this one I am thinking probably not.
If you have objections to this entire line of business you are not alone. I myself find the entire enterprise morally suspect at best and downright vulgar at worst. That said, my friend is a genuine cat lover like myself and treats all of her animals as well as any I have ever seen. In general the persons in this business are like her though no doubt there are the occasional less than reputable characters involved. That said if you do not treat your cats well you will not last long in the business. Poorly treated cats do exceptionally poorly in any end of the competition. In my (admittedly limited) experience, most breeders’ cats are treated better than most peoples’ pets. Those that don’t play with, brush and groom their charges on a daily basis have essentially zero chance of winning at any level in these competitions.
It is certainly true that showing is extremely stressful and a cat that has little to no relationship with anyone cannot be shown. Without a solid relationship of love & trust, the nervous/stress level in a hall full of 200+ other cats, their owners and hundreds of spectators is just too much. A scared cat hisses, spits, growls and often bites.
In terms of handler and judge behavior, no challenge of any sort is permitted on the show bench. The cat is handled & graded by a judge they’ve never met. As all cat guardians can attest, no matter how awesome the cat, they usually do not do well if handed off to a total stranger. That level of trust is very difficult to build and it takes time and dedication. There are times that people try to present cats that clearly do not have that level of trust for one reason or another (lack of handling, not had them long enough, etc) and those are the rare few that bite. The resulting breeder/owners are usually asked to leave the show hall (USA) or ejected by security.
There is no way for a cat to run agility without being handled everyday from an early age. Cats aren’t like dogs. A dog obeys and can be intimidated into obedience, not a cat. A cat respects a hierarchy but unlike a dog, a cat will only work with someone. Agility for cats is the same as for dogs. The course has jumps, things to thread, things to go under & they have to be run in a very specific sequence that is never the same. The cat can’t run it on auto pilot, it takes hours of almost daily practice, of constantly challenging fear & distractions.
Most shows also sponsor their local ASPCA or humane society. They usually set aside space & pay for ~20 cats from the local shelter to be advertised for adoption each day of the show. My friend tells me that at almost every show all of the cats up for adoption are taken into loving homes by the end of each show day.
Certainly all of that makes me feel a lot better about cat breeders and shows in general but my objection lies not in the treatment of the animals per se but rather in the purpose of the activity as a whole. Essentially it is a eugenics program for cats. We find eugenics morally objectionable for humans and I see no reason why it should be different when applied to animals such as cats. Of course my hypocrisy on this issue is obvious as I have no objections when similar, and much worse, breeding techniques are used in animals I happen to like to eat such as cattle and chickens. Some have argued that humans have practiced eugenics in one form or another from our earliest civilizations and that we have really only viewed it objectionably in humans since its perversion by the Nazi’s. In my view this says more about our moral failings as humans then about the ethics of eugenics. I do not see any possible argument for eugenics in humans that does not fall tumbling down the slippery slope to Nazism or worse if enough time passes. The moral case against eugenics in animals is much thornier and open to debate. I touched on this topic briefly a very long time ago in a post I wrote on the ethics of keeping animals as pets. I will be revisiting at some point so stay tuned. I have linked that earlier post below.
The Case Against Pets — A Response
I just came across a very interesting and frankly intellectually challenging argument for the fundamental moral…
In any event I agreed to help my friend and so found myself this past weekend in a car on my way to Cincinnati airport to pick up two hairless sphynx kittens from Russia. You might also be wondering exactly how much work is required, how difficult is it, to import to domestic animals into the country from overseas. Though I only have seen it from the outside and only small parts at that, to me it seemed an impenetrable maze of bureaucrats, paperwork, phone calls, emails, and headaches. Throw in the issues inherent in dealing with a crooked country like Russia in this case and the Russian dealers who barely spoke English, and you have a recipe for a major pain in the ass. Originally I had intended to describe the process in some depth in this post so I asked my friend if she could prepare me a brief outline, preferably in diagram form for easy digestion. What she sent me appears in Figure 2 below which I will not be discussing in any detail as I think it speaks for itself.
This thing has already gone on way too long and I haven’t even touched on all the exciting adventurer’s we had with the two kittens at the airport and on the ride and overnight stay at hotel home. II am afraid that is going to have to wait for a follow up piece because I am all catted out at the moment. If you have made it this far, you have my sympathy. Hopefully at least you learned a thing or two and maybe made a new friend a long the way. I learned that ugly kittens are still kittens and that when a kitten shits in a car you are riding in with the windows closed and air conditioning running you will wish for and come close to a slow and painful death, but sadly you will survive, and be forced to endure for at least as long as it takes to get to the next exit.
Author’s postscript: Special thanks to my friend (who for many legitimate reasons wishes to remain anonymous). She provided almost all of the nitty gritty technical details about cat shows, breeds, standards, etc. for the piece. She also did all of the hard work associated with the transfer and provided editing and writing support for many section of this piece. My role in the whole deal was quite limited but I very much appreciated the opportunity to participate and learn about this interesting and little understood business. Plus, despite my many comments to the contrary in the post, the little guys were awfully cute, even without any fur.