We’ve known for a while that pet ownership can be influenced by the latest trend as much as anything else. Remember when Jack Russell terriers were everywhere, thanks to the TV show Frasier? Ferrets were very popular for a long time, and it wasn’t so long ago that iguanas were the hottest cold-blooded thing around.
Owning exotic or unusual animals has been a human obsession for centuries. What has changed in recent years is the ability of moderately wealthy middle-class Westerners to own ‘designer’ pets — something that would only have been available to royalty in the past.
What do I mean by designer pets? Well, by now you’ve probably heard of the Allerca GD Cat; where GD is not the usual thing associated with cats (“That GD cat left a dead mouse on my pillow again!”), but Genetic Divergences. These cats have been bred to be hypoallergenic, so you can have a kitten without a Kleenex, or a Siamese without the sneeze.
Allerca’s got nothing on Judy Sugden, however. Sugden is the inventor of something destined to become America’s next must-have feline: The toyger.
The toyger is a housecat bred to look like its jungle-born cousin, from the distinctive striping right down to the way it prowls around, stalking a fierce, formidable … rubber squeakie mouse.
Although some cat fanciers are already sniffing in disdain about the toyger’s un-catlike behaviour (for starters, it’s affectionate), experts predict that single toyger kitten will command a price of around $4000 US. This is because people will love being able to bring a little wilderness into the suburbs, in spite of having moved there precisely to escape the wilder aspects of the inner cities.
Now I bet some of you are already eyeing your tabby cat with dollar signs in your eyes. My advice? Forget it. Cat breeding is not for the faint of heart. For one thing, if you thought giving your cat a pill was hard, consider the difficulties associated with artificial insemination.
Even natural cat breeding is difficult. Owners have to help their charges with elaborate courtship rituals, often involving poetry (T. S. Eliot, William Wordsworth and especially Edward Lear), music (Cat Stevens, Cat Scratch Fever, What’s New Pussycat?), and theatre (What else? Cats). The bills can really add up.
Sugden has an advantage over you anyway: Her mother was the inventor of the vastly popular domestic Bengal cat. Sugden bred a tabby with a particularly tigrish looking Bengal with so-so results, and then bred the offspring with a street cat from Kashmir. The resulting kittens were good enough to become the basis for the breed as it is today. (Meanwhile, the Kashmiri cat, hoping to cash in on the fame his paternity will bring, is writing his memoirs. The working title is “The Cat’s Meow — The untold story of one punk cat’s rise from the streets to a life of cream and canaries.”)
While designer cats may sound frivolous, they are not entirely so. The domestic Bengal was invented in the hopes that fewer people would buy leopard stoles if they looked too much like the coat of a beloved family pet. Sugden claims that breeding toygers helps preserve the look and characteristics of a disappearing wild animal. And it’s quite possible that many people who might otherwise be silly enough to try their hand at (in?) a real tiger would go for one of these instead. Indeed, since the toyger doesn’t require an entire deer for dinner, and does not have the unfortunate ability to bite off your head, it might be a very attractive alternative for some.
As for me, if I had $4000 to spend on felines, I’d adopt one from the humane society and donate the remaining cash to a wildlife federation.
No really, I couldn’t do one without doing the other — it’s a cat 22, you know.