Tips on Avoiding Kitten Mills, BYBs, & Online Scammers…
What is the difference?
Kitten Mills often have contracts with pet shops or sell through websites. They have a high turnover and are very profit driven, usually producing several litters at a time. Genetic testing is not done on their cats and medical care is rarely provided. Sick kittens are often euthanized or left to die. Conditions are often cramped and not well ventilated, and animals are usually caged. Their queens are not given rests between litters, and can even be bred to death. It is very unlikely that buyers will be able to view parents or visit the premises. Animals are rarely well socialized.
BYB or Backyard Breeders usually claims to breed purebreds, but lineage is often in question and papers are rarely provided. Breeding stock is often not the best representations of their breed, and may be related. These kittens are usually sold through classifieds and for sale ads, rather than reputation (although that is not something only done by BYB). Genetic testing is unlikely to be done on parents. Some basic care may be provided, for example, first vaccination or a round of worming. Sometimes kittens are caged, other times they are raised underfoot. They may try to pass off health problems as no big deal rather than fully informing buyer. Kittens may come with some kind of minimal health agreement.
Neither BYB or Kitten Mill owners are involved with improving the breed, whether that be health or overall general quality. You will likely not see one at a cat show.
Internet Pet Scammers are a whole other ball game! They often use free websites, Craig’s List, or Facebook to advertise pets that do not exist. Generally, they are offering expensive animals, like the Savannah Cat, at very low prices (for example, an F1 Savannah for $1500!). Kitten are offered up for a low “adoption fee”, or sometime at no cost - all you have to do is pay for the shipping. These scammers are criminals and their goals is to take your money. They will come up with sob stories, sending you many cute pictures of kittens, and even sometimes will send you a questionnaire to assure you their story is real.
How do you feel assured that you're talking to a bonified Savannah Breeder?
The number one tip we have for excited new kitten buyers is to do as much research as possible before committing to a kitten! If at all possible, try to visit your kitten, or at least the cattery. You can get a good sense of the environment the kitten is coming from even just by meeting the breeder and seeing some of their other cats in person. If the breeder is a closed cattery that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a scammer, but you will need to find other ways to confirm that you will be getting a healthy, socialized kitten. Ask for references, look the breeder up online, and try to talk to them on the phone. If a breeder is unwilling to have a short conversation with you over the phone, it may mean they’re an internet scammer trying to conceal their location. If they cannot provide good references, you’d have to wonder why? Even if the breeder is new, they should be able to give you references from the catteries they purchased their breeding cats from!
One can also tell a lot from the pictures a breeder has posted of their cats and kittens. Do the kittens seem scared (hunched over, eyes widened, ears back) or are they in a relaxed or playful position in their photos? Are the queens shown in cages, images with backgrounds edited out, or are there pics of them growing up in a natural environment? Many breeders use professional photographers to get the best pictures possible, which is fine, but are there only photos posted of cats on backdrops?
One of the other key things a scammer and/or backyard breeder will be missing are the documents from official cat registries (such as TICA and the CCA) proving they are a legitimate cattery. These documents come in the form of Breeder Slips or officially stamped pegidrees proving the cats belong to them and are eligible for breeding. The registries also give out official cattery names and a unique cattery number associated with the cattery owner. Don’t fall for bargain kittens sold for less if they’re not registered! It costs a person $10 to officially register a litter of kittens, so why would a breeder discount a kitten several hundreds for registerable kittens? It’s likely because the breeder does not have an actual pure-bred kitten. Always remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!