This is about Maine Coon cat breeders, cat breeders generally, and Jim Atkinson of, formerly, Wasychigan Maine Coons, specifically. It was written by Michael (MB), and edited by Valley Girl (VG) who also had the idea and who sourced the stories of Meron and Laura referred to below who bought Maine Coon cats from Mr Atkinson. Thank you VG, Meron and Laura. This article is intended to assist buyers of purebred cats. It is not a “bash the Maine Coon cat breeder” rant but, I hope, a fair critique of what happened and what possibly should happen.
In general, people who want to buy a purebred cat don’t immediately think of bad cat breeders, breeders that sell purebred cats that look nice but are ill or predisposed to illness. I know this because people who search for purebred cat breeders on the internet far outnumber those searching for cat breeders who have a bad name, who are unscrupulous. The ratio is 40:1 approximately1. I lot of buyers will be first timers who will quite possibly have little knowledge of the pitfalls.
The bad cat breeder will use to his or her advantage the fact that their “product” or “merchandise” is a living creature which will tug at the heart of the purchaser. Purchasers connect with a new kitten very quickly and profoundly. The buyer will be reluctant to relinquish their cat back to the breeder even if he or she will take the cat back. This is useful for an unscrupulous and bad cat breeder because he can get away with selling ill cats and place the burden of treating them on the purchaser.
The breeder will also know that he can get away with a breach of contract of the most horrendous proportions as the new cat caretaker will rarely sue for breach of contract. The bad cat breeder abuses the cat foremost and the customer too. Some will argue that there is a doubtful place in this world for cat breeders generally bearing in mind the more than 2 million healthy cats killed each year by so called shelters in the USA. Why breed when we kill in parallel? It looks crazy. But the bad cat breeder compounds the whole problem and he or she should be intolerable to society but there is no regulation of breeding standards by any authority public or private.
Why don’t the cat associations regulate their breeders, ban breeders and put demands on them such as obligatory donations to a fund to finance research into inherited defects that are known to exist in some very well known breeds?
One such genetic illness is hip dysplasia in the Maine Coon cat. This condition has been around for years (see also Genetic diseases in purebred cats). Research is being carried out. Buyers should be able to find out which Maine Coon cat breeders have the lowest levels of incidence of this condition in their cats to allow them to buy in an informed manner. They can’t at the moment. This is a major failing due to lack of regulation of breeders generally and Maine Coon cat breeders. Other Maine Coon genetic diseases are PKD (Polycystic kidney disease) and HCM (Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy – heart disease), gingivitis and spinal muscular atrophy. Buyers should be fully aware of these and should at least ask the breeder questions on these subjects. Buyers should research genetic diseases of purebred cats. The above link should help greatly. Questions posed to Maine Coon cat breeders should not be confined to these diseases, however.
Jim Atkinson is, or was, a Maine Coon cat breeder. He no longer trades under Wasychigan Maine Coons. He may no longer trade under any name except his own and even that might not be the case. He is still selling cats however, at least as of Jun 4 2010, via free ads on an online site.
I don’t want to use defamatory language but true fact can never be defamatory. I will rely therefore on the first hand, factual, experiences of Laura and Meron both customers of Jim Atkinson. Mr Atkinson admits that he sold a Maine Coon called Sasha to Laura. He also admits on Flickr that the cat had a congenital defect that caused the left eye to be small and blind. When Laura bought the cat he excused the fact that Sasha’s left eye was half closed and odd looking by saying that her eye did that whenever she was petted too much on that side of her face (Laura’s words on Flickr). When Mr Atkinson (Mr A) was confronted by Laura again about the defective left eye Mr A said, “It’s probably just a little Herpes“. Frankly, herpes can’t be described as “little” as it can kill! It is also highly contagious. Sorry Mr A, but as a Maine Coon cat breeder you should know better and be a lot more concerned. Also his first excuse was frankly shameful. My immediate thoughts are that any buyers of purebred cats should ask questions and not proceed if such excuses are offered.
The worrying thing is that later, after Mr A had seen the cat that he had sold, he said, “It looks like she is missing part of the eyeball, when you shine a light in, one eye does not reflect back so I suspect it is stunted which explains why the eye looks partly closed…it’s because the eyeball is not pushing it out. She’s probably blind in that eye.” He seems to be saying this is in a matter of fact way. Indeed he says, “Sasha, not her name now, with her congenital eye defect, leaving one eye lid a little smaller than the other has now been placed in her new home after being dumped at my door as a reject by Laura Blake and is well loved in her new home.“
Mr A is in denial. He is blaming the buyer for the problem. He is trying to pass the buck. He has completely eliminated from his mind his responsibility towards the cats that he has bred. And it is an onerous responsibility or it should be, but unfortunately bad Maine Coon cat breeders don’t get it. In my opinion, Mr A cannot have a empathetic approach to cats in his charge. He must, in my view, on these facts, see cats as objects that create income and profit. This shines a light on the great dilemma of cat breeding; how to reconcile financial profit with the fact the “product” is a feeling, living creature.
Now on to Jacques Pierre, a brown classic tabby Maine Coon that Meron bought from Mr A on Sept. 3rd, 2005. Even on the day of purchase Mr A was lying and covering up his poor breeding practices. Meron says that Jacques Pierre,”was dirty, and smelly, but Jim said that he’d been playing in the outdoor enclosure and just needed a bath. Yes, but he also had a massive ear infection that ruptured his left eardrum.“
MB & VG comment: when buying purebred cats from a Maine Coon cat breeder the cat must be in first class condition in every sense and any excuse for a failure to meet this reasonable standard must be registered by the buyer as a reason to walk away and start again.
About two years later Jacques Pierre had, unbeknown to Meron, “shattered his right hip and the femur had started to disintegrate..” due to femoral necrosis….Meron continues the story:
“His left hip was moderately displaced. Both knees required ACL surgery due to lax tendons. We consulted with the Chief Radiologist at Guelph University, and a premier Orthopaedic Surgeon. Jacques’ problems were congenital. Our Jacques was on Morphine, and in constant pain. He would require several surgeries, with no guarantee of success. We decided to put him to sleep…..Mr A told us that he’d never had a problem with Hip Dysplasia before..“
MB Comment: In my opinion it is unlikely that Mr A had never has a hip dysplasia problem in his Maine Coons before.
Meron continues her story having decided to accept two kittens in replacement from Mr A for the loss of Jacques Pierre: “On December 2nd, 2 007, we brought home both Remy and Emile. They were supposed to be litter mate brothers. They visited our vet within 24 hours of coming home with us. They both had “kitten colds” for which they were given medication. It turned out that Emile was three weeks younger than Remy, and hadn’t even been properly weaned yet! We ended up having to wean Emile ourselves on kitten formula. Over the course of the next two months, after numerous visits to the vet, we found out that the boys have Herpes. Our vet said that because Herpes isn’t a congenital defect, (although it IS a recurring, chronic condition) we had no legal recourse against Wasychigan Maine Coons and Jim Atkinson.”
Comment: I disagree with the vet. Depending on the contract Meron could sue for breach of contract but it depends on the contract and what was said. The bottom line is that Meron had acquired two ill cats direct from a Maine Coon cat breeder who was in denial about his lack of standards. I also feel that anyone buying from a Maine Coon cat breeder should be guided by reputation. The best Maine Coon breeders have good reputations, upon which you can almost always rely (but see below).
The problem for the person who is not in the cat fancy is knowing the Maine Coon cat breeders with good reputations. Once again the cat associations should assist but don’t. The cat fancy is that group of people who breed and show purebred cats. They tend in my view to keep their cards close to their chests. If a Maine Coon cat breeder has health problems in her cats he or she will keep quiet and brush it under the carpet rather than come clean. This is understandable from a business perspective but it is a failure from an ethical and moral perspective as it hurts cats and most importantly the breed generally. A lot of todays genetically transmitted purebred cat diseases are perpetuated because breeders do not work adequately together to eliminate the diseases and/or they are not sufficiently coordinated or coordinated at all by the cat associations.
As a buyer, I would seek references from other purchasers of the Maine Coon cat breeder in question and if in doubt get a vet to check the cat in question before buying. The vet should not be the vet used by or recommended by the breeder/seller. A visit to the breeder’s facility is always essential. If the breeder is unhelpful and not forthcoming with good answers assume the worst. I think buyers have to do that because they are not assisted by anyone in choosing the Maine Coon cat best breeders. Buyers should also realise that buying cheap is in fact very often the opposite. The cost of vet’s bills will sometimes far outweigh the savings in purchase price and in any case by far the heaviest expense in caring for a cat is life long maintenance ($10,000). I wouldn’t skimp at the beginning. Buy the best quality but don’t assume the best quality equates to the best health – sorry, it is always caveat emptor – buyer beware – in the purebred cat world. The major burden in the transaction is on the buyer. They have to spot the bad Maine Coon cat breeders.
It seems that Mr A was overbreeding. He was breeding too closely (inbreeding) and he was breeding carelessly. It shows a disregard for necessary ethical standards in cat breeding and a lack of respect for the cat. Many breeders breed for type (appearance) and it can drive them to ignore health and character. In my opinion, this trend make them bad cat breeders. The first call is health. In the case of Mr A he was not, it seems breeding for type but simply breeding carelessly.
Mr A says he no longer breeds cats…but watch out, Mr A might well be about. And if not Mr A there will certainly be a Mr B or C!
When buying a cat the responsibilities on the buyer are substantial because buying from a bad cat breeder supports the breeders business and perpetuates it. A bad cat breeder hurts cats. That is what hurts me and all people who care, really care, about all our fellow creatures including our beautiful domestic cat.
Maine Coon cat breeders – associated pages:
Free Maine Coon Kittens – don’t believe it.
Maine Coon cat breeders – notes:
1. Keyword search SBI Brainstorm it using Wordtracker.