Breeders of 'Misunderstood' Hybrid Cats Dispel 'Myths' of Wild Animals

Among PETA's concerns is also that Serval cats are included in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species as "least concern," and "relatively abundant and widespread."

Alessio acknowledges the different gestations of the two animals but said there is little data to prove Savannah cats have higher rates of premature birth than other cats. In about five years as a breeder, she said she has seen two litters that "didn't look completely full-term."

Libbie Kerr, a Bengal cat breeder in Central Ohio, said the reason she is selective is to have the healthiest cats she can.

"I place them very consciously and carefully," she said. "I work on enriching peoples' lives. That is something all of us need to do."

Marilyn Krieger, a certified cat behavior consultant since 2006 with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, owns Bengals and Savannahs in the San Francisco Bay Area.

She said Bengals and Savannahs are "extremely safe," and other cats descended from "hybrid" mixes are "just like any other domestic cat." Krieger owns six cats and has been running her business, The Cat Coach, since 2005.

"It always depends on the individual cat and doesn't have to do with the breed," she said.

Australia has banned Savannah cats, but Brigitte Cowell, a Savannah breeder born in Sydney said the threat to native wildlife by domestic cats is more of an issue there than in the U.S.

"If you read the 40-page government report that was submitted for this ban, it proved nothing but that domestic cats are very bad for the native fauna and that they assumed that because Savannahs were huge cats, then the threat was intensified, as either they would be better hunters or need to eat more native animals to survive," Cowell said.

Cowell and other cat breeders say they are wary of speaking to the media after depictions of Savannahs and other hybrid cats in the media.

"I was extremely disappointed in the New Yorker for publishing such a biased and inaccurate story such as "Living Room Leopards" by Ariel Levy," Cowell said. "The lack of fact-checking and the inability to present a balanced argument resulted in an impression of an amateur 'fluff piece' with an anti-breeder agenda."

Cowell objects to the characterization that Savannahs are "wild" animals and their owners are out of control.

"I find it completely disturbing that the author hunted out what seemingly are freakish cat breeders, ones that see nothing wrong with ignoring veterinary advice and self-medicating their breeding cats through gory unsuccessful pregnancies, that see nothing wrong with proudly reporting how viciously their cat might react to a dog, that see nothing wrong with owning so many cats they don't have names but only microchip numbers. This is NOT the norm for a cat breeder," Cowell wrote in a letter to the editor of the New Yorker.

Cowell also said the Serval, the Savannah's ancestor, was also mischaracterized as eating gazelles and springbok. The San Diego Zoo states that its diet includes birds, reptiles, frogs and large insects.

Cowell said her Savannah cats get along fine with her traditional domestic cats and her pet beagle, Georgie.

"All the Savannahs adore Georgie. He's "Uncle Georgie" to all the kittens born here. Georgie knows if he wants to play he doesn't have to look far to find a Savannah playmate, but if he's feeling sedate he just ignores them," she said. "They are very different cat breeds but are very compatible."

Alessio also said her daughter, who was two and a half years old when she and her husband got her first Savannah, got along fine with the cats.

She said many of the misperceptions of Savannahs or other hybrid cats, even built into some laws, come from the Internet.

"I think these laws meant well and you get someone in there that completely doesn't understand what the breed is and they interpret it the way they want to," she said.

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