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Tips on Avoiding Kitten Mills, BYBs, & Online Scammers…
What is the difference?
Kitten (or Puppy) Mills often have contracts with pet shops or sell through websites (such as Kijiji, Craig's List, or through auctions). Sometimes they may sell through their own website as well. They have a high turnover rate and are very profit driven, usually producing several litters at a time. They will have dozens to hundreds of animals (often of multiple breeds) and sell dozens of kittens at a time. Genetic testing is not done on their cats and medical care is rarely provided. Their animals will likely not ever see a vet, and if they do it will be for bare minimum care. Vaccines and dewormings (if given at all) are often given at home. 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 any buyers will be able to view parents or visit the premises. Mill animals are rarely well socialized. They are unlikely to come with any sort of health guarantee or registration papers, though some mills are registered through questionable registries to provide a breed certificate (which can easily be falsified).
BYB or Backyard Breeders usually claim to breed purebreds, but the lineage of their cats (or dogs) is often in question and papers are rarely provided. Breeding stock is often not registered and not the best representations of their breed. Parents may be related, very outcrossed, or not even of the same breed. These kittens are usually sold through classifieds and 'for sale' ads, rather than reputation (although that is not something only done by BYB). Genetic or even basic health testing is unlikely to be done on parents. These breeders are ignorant of their breed's specific health concerns. Some basic care may be provided, for example, first vaccinations or a round of deworming. 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 the buyer. Their kittens may come with some kind of minimal health agreement, that may or may not be backed by the breeder if something goes wrong.
Neither BYB or Kitten Mill owners are involved with improving the breed, whether that be for their health or overall general quality. You will likely not see one at a cat show, participating in breeder groups, and often they disappear from the breeding world quickly (usually when they realize how difficult it is to profit off of raising living beings despite cutting corners). Their prices are often lower than the breed standard due to all of the corners they cut and are tempting to prospective new pet parents that are new in their research.
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 (i.e. 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 stolen from other breeders, and even sometimes will send you a questionnaire to assure you their story is real. They may use GoogleAds pointed at a quickly made website with stolen information and pictures. As soon as enough people report the website as being fraudulent it will be taken down (usually after several people have already been scammed). They are persistent and usually ask for money to be wired to them using gift cards or Western Union.
If you have been scammed, save others by reporting the scammer! A lot of people feel powerless and frustrated (rightfully so) after they lose their money to a scammer. Prevent them from continuing by having their website removed! All you need to do is fill out a DMCA form (digital millennial copyright act). Once you have this info, you can send it to the hosting company of the website (unless it is in Cameroon). You can find the host by using Godaddy Whois or any other Whois domain name website.
How do you feel assured that you're talking to a bonified Savannah Breeder?
The number one tip we have for excited new kitten parents is to do as much research as possible before committing to a kitten! If at all possible, try to visit your kitten, the cattery, or even meet the breeder at a pet show. You can get a good sense of the family or 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 that 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, ask about them on breed-specific forums. Try to talk to them on the phone, or better yet, have a live video call with the breeder and the kittens you are interested in. If a breeder is unwilling to have even 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-AFC) proving they are a legitimate cattery. These documents come in the form of Breeder Slips or officially stamped pedigrees 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 $13.00 to officially register an entire 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!
Always ask to review a Purchase Agreement prior to giving a deposit. Find out what is and is not included with your kitten before committing to them and do not be afraid to ask questions!
Buyer-Breeder Question Checklist
We've come up with some questions prospective pet parents can ask the breeders they are interested in prior to committing to a kitten:
Are you registered and with which clubs?
(Savannahs for example can only be registered in North America with TICA and the CCA-AFC. Any other registry will likely mean falsified documents. Both parents of a litter should be registered and breeders should have copies of their papers/pedigrees to show on request. Not all catteries will pay for advertisements with their clubs, but a list of all registered catteries can be found on the club's website for verification).
Can I see a copy of your purchase agreement?
(Purchase agreements or health guarantees will be given with every kitten by a registered breeder. It should include a genetic health agreement and various stipulations, for example, views on declawing, rehoming, medical care, etc.)
What is included in my kitten's price?
(Registered catteries will have signed an agreement to abide by with their club. This stipulates kittens need to bare minimum leave their cattery healthy, with two sets of age-appropriate vaccinations, appropriately dewormed, with a health guarantee, with their registration documents, and no earlier than 12 weeks of age for their health and temperament*. Most breeders also will microchip their kittens and have them spayed or neutered prior to leaving their care.)
Can I see my kitten prior to committing?
(This can be either in person, or via video call.)
Are your cats health tested?
(ALL breeds of cats and dogs have breed-specific issues. Good breeders test their breeding stock to ensure the parents are healthy, thus producing healthy offspring. Learn your chosen breed's issues and ask about them. For example, many breeds of cats (Savannahs included) can carry for PRA (progressive retinal atrophy / delayed onset blindness) or PKDeficiency (progressive anemia). Both of which can be entirely preventable with an inexpensive DNA test. If the parents are negative - the kittens will be too. Parents should bare minimum also be tested for FeLV (Feline Leukemia Virus) and FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus). Many breeders will also elect to test for common non-deadly bacteria, viruses, and parasites as well. If a breeder tries to dodge these questions, saying "My cats have always been healthy so I don't need to test them" - RUN! Many genetic diseases are recessive - meaning they require both parents to carry for it to produce a sick kitten. They can be silent for a few years, or skip generations. There is zero reason why a breeder wouldn't want to prevent unnecessary heartbreak from illness or death by saving on an inexpensive test.)
How are your kittens socialized?
(Ask if the kittens get to meet other people or pets. Are they raised underfoot and thus used to common household sights, sounds, and smells - i.e. vacuum, television, cooking smells, etc.? Are they litter trained and know how to use a scratching post?)
These are just some basic questions, but we recommend people write down a list of everything important to them prior to contacting a breeder so they are well prepared. Purchasing from a registered breeder will be very different from purchasing from a shelter or rescue. A breeder's goal should be to improve their breed and produce healthy, well socialized kittens. It is an expensive and time consuming hobby. Queens and studs should be health tested and registered. Their kittens should leave at an appropriate age. While shelters have limited resources and need to place kittens into their new homes quickly to make space for other cats, kittens are not generally mentally, socially, or physically prepared to be removed from their families and littermates and into a new home until at least 12 weeks of age.* They may be old enough to eat on their own and use a litterbox, but their immune systems are not mature enough before this, so they will be more prone to illness until they receive their 2nd booster vaccine. They also learn a lot from their feline mother and littermates in those few extra weeks, and removing them before 12 weeks of age can lead to kittens having a more difficult time adjusting in their new homes. They won't be as confident, may be prone to anxious behaviours, or may even develop long-term behavioural issues. A kitten 12 - 16 weeks of age is better trained, more confident, and better prepared for the lifechanging move of changing homes. Most cat clubs recognize this and have it as a part of their agreement when registering new breeders.