Last month I took a cat back that I had sold as a kitten two years ago because his owner could no longer keep him due to her divorce and personal upheaval. I posted Rudy’s availability on Facebook: “Red tabby neutered male Maine Coon, great personality, needs a stable home” along with a cute picture of handsome Rudy. As it so often happens with a Maine Coon, I was flooded with inquiries along with comments on Facebook, most wishing they could have him or good wishes on finding the right home for Rudy. One follower questioned me, “Why don’t you just keep him yourself?”
|Rudy in my house|
And I wondered, briefly, why not? Rudy gets along well with others, he’s very friendly and it would be one way of insuring that the poor guy doesn’t have to move again. I calculated that Rudy had moved at least five times in his two short years so stability was a priority.But I don’t allow it, not for my family or for the cat. As a cat breeder, we have to make the hard decision to let our cats go to pet homes after we have stopped using them for breeding. It seems a bit cold sometimes, but I learned the hard way after I kept my first Maine Coon, Sassy. I felt somehow that I would be betraying Sassy if I didn’t look after her for the rest of her life. It didn’t go well.
Sassy had pissues (peeing outside the box) as a breeding female. Clothes baskets were her favorite toilet. Many queens have this problem, especially when they are in heat. Well, it’s not really a problem unless you are a human and also don’t want to cage your cats. Even after Sassy was spayed at the age of five years, she had pissues. I tried isolating her in our half-bathroom with 3 different litters and boxes, but she still refused usage. The best I could get from Sassy was to leave out an empty litter box and most of the time she’d pee there. Sassy also became unhappy. Her job as a mother was no longer needed and Sassy was a wonderful mom. I tried to tell her to help out as resident grandmother, but the success was minimal. Kittens were brats and they quickly tired of Sassy’s “Back in my day” stories.Because of my problems with Sassy as a retired queen, I vowed to place all retiring females in pet homes. This has worked. If a cat (male or female) had pissues as a breeder, that stopped once they got out of my home, away from the competition. Their hormones settled and new, less offensive habits were formed in the new home. They receive more individual attention. Their coats and size grow and the new owners have a beautiful, loving addition to the family. For 2014, I've retired Sally, Olivia, Tippet and Sunday. Lulu will retire after her next litter. I've also kept two female kittens for breeding and am considering a third.
Male breeding cats have their own set of issues. Not all spray, but when they do, it’s hard to ignore. The good ones (and there have been a few, it's largely a hereditary behavior) live in our bedroom unless we have newborn kittens. Male urine changes aroma when they hit puberty, one of the signs we look for when trying to determine if he’s ready to try breeding. Maine Coon boys are slow to mature, some taking up to two years before they show an interest in a girl. The conversations among breeders can be pretty explicit.
“He doesn't have a clue. She's writhing around like a hussy and he just thinks she wants to play.”
“He enjoys practicing, but he’s still shooting blanks.”
“I’ve put him on top of her, catnip on her neck, showed him dirty movies, played sexy music…and still he’d rather eat than breed.”
Because of the strong aroma of male cat urine, many breeders have to cage or confine them to a room. This is especially true of the “hosers”, males who feel the need to claim their space outside the box on a regular basis. Hosers typically don’t remain working studs for long. In my house, they’re bred a few times, then neutered and placed so they can live the rest of their lives as beloved pets. The non-spraying males work longer simply because they’re easier to keep.
After living with several other cats, showing and making babies, my Maine Coons deserve to spend the rest of its life as a spoiled pet, free from the side-effects of their hormones. I have only three non-breeding cats now that Sassy passed away from cancer last year; Bubba, my daughter’s crazy-ass European Burmese who was purchased as a pet in the first place; Pipsqueak, a red Maine Coon spay who was never bred because she has aerotic stenosis and wasn’t supposed to live past the age of three (she’s five now); and Bugger, my former stud male who didn’t retire until he was older and I felt it would be too hard for him to adjust to a move at that age.
Bubba, Pipsqueak and Bugger. Obviously, we only keep the non-breeding cats that have most embarrassing nicknames, just to amuse ourselves by calling them. Normal-named cats don’t make the cut.
|Bubba the ultimate Diva|
The other, more practical, reason for placing retirees is to keep my numbers down. Keep in mind we also have chickens and two dogs. I’ve been breeding Maine Coons for almost 13 years. If I kept each one after it was retired, I estimate I’d have in excess of 40 cats. In terms of breeding cats, I aim for six girls and two boys. If I keep a kitten, I have plans to re-home an adult within the year. I miss some of them tremendously, but it’s not like I don’t have other cats to replace that spot on my lap.
How long I keep a cat for breeding depends upon many factors. I read several years ago that when a queen starts producing smaller litters, it’s time for her to retire. Sassy went from three to four kittens per litter to singletons. Kitty menopause was approaching for her.
Some cats just aren’t good at living in a cattery environments. These cats may have pissues, fight, or are easily bullied. These cats often have to be confined away from others. We have a built in cage in our basement that has cat-door access to an enclosed outdoor run so that helps, but still, I don’t have that much space. I also have to try to appease my family with some designated cat-free zones. My cattery environment is not rows of cages or an out- building; they live in my house, separated by doors to rooms. All of the females except the new moms run at large in the house. The two boys have their own spaces to eliminate “whoops” breedings.
A cat whose heart ultrasound is questionable will not be bred, petted out to avoid possibly passing on genetic disease to offspring. Likewise if I find out it could be passing on other health issues that the cat itself doesn't have, like gingivitis. If the cat just doesn’t develop into a good example of the breed, I’m not so likely to keep it, especially if I have something better.
Reproduction issues in cats, like in humans, can be common. However, the veterinary medicine for feline reproductions isn’t nearly as advanced so we breeders are often witness to the heartbreak of stillborn or fading kittens. My female cats are normally given two chances at producing healthy, viable kittens. Failing that, she will have a shorter breeding career rather than risk her health and future little lives. Pregnancy can be complicated and some bodies just aren’t meant to make babies. When it works right, raising kittens is a beautiful miracle. When it doesn't, I like to limit the emotional toll it takes on the mother and me.
|Sunday with her litter of nine.|
Another big consideration for breeders is the usefulness of the pedigree behind the cat. I don’t like to have more than two stud cats at one time. If I keep daughters out of Stud Number One, Levi, with the intention of breeding those girls to Stud Number Two, Wilkinson, that’s great. But what happens with the next generation if I then want to keep a female out of Wilkinson? This isn't West Virginia. Sure, I can take her to a fellow breeder’s stud, but that can be more complicated. Plus, I’m further limited with Wilkinson because he’s a brother to three of my queens. It’s already in the plans to retire Wilky at the ripe age of two years as soon as my new stud is purchased (he’s still waiting to be born as of this writing).
Those are all examples of why I would retire a cat a bit earlier. If the cat passes all of the above tests for health, type, personality, good cattery cat and usable pedigree, she or he will probably stay here as a breeding cat until four or five years of age. We love them while they’re here, and after they retire, we allow someone else to love them too. I find homes for cats I have to take back for the same reason; they deserve more attention than what I can give them. Rudy now lives with previous kitten buyers and their other Dracoonfly cat, Camden. Rudy has stability and Camden has a coonpanion.
|Rudy in his forever home with Camden|