There are many things that are done bizarrely differently in the cat fancy to the way normal life conducts itself. This is a world where cat judges are the apex predator, cat breeders are royal game, and normal exhibitors have to know their place and be loyal and turn a blind eye to all the deceitful goings-on which saturate the cat fancy. The cats are nothing more than an accoutrement - a necessary means to obtain ribbons and glory for the breeders. They are widgets, to be cast aside once no longer needed.
This post takes a look at collection-addiction and hoarding.
I am mindful of the very many cases that come to light of instances where people have been discovered to be hoarding a very large number of cats, usually in execrable conditions of filth, with the stink of decay and death causing rescuers to have to use masks and breathing apparatus. Very often, these people are noted to have been associated in prominent positions with various cat associations, and been in the business of breeding and/or judging cats.
At these times, there's always the expression of astonishment that such a nice person could have done this - or more ominously from erstwhile friends of the abuser, a blanket denial that the person could ever have committed the acts of which they are accused. Others try to get inside their heads and ask where such a wonderful person went off the rails.
Cat breeders in the cat fancies like to regard themselves as "reputable", committing everyone else who breeds cats but is unregistered to the eternal damnation of the hell of all backyard breeders. The title is a commonly used slur in the mouths of the Royal Game of the cat fancy. But the more you look at the heinous sins that backyard breeders commit, the more you see the organised cat fancy breeders doing much of the same thing. So when a breeder who is one of the Movers and Shakers of the cat fancy are metaphorically caught with their pants down, the cat fancies start to duck and dive, and disassociate themselves with them. Fellow club members conveniently "don't know" if the person is still part of the club & the registries often become very quiet.
Take the case of one Karen Crooke, an experienced breeder of some 25 years, who abandoned her house full of cats when it came up for repossession, and left them locked inside to die. A prospective buyer of the property thought they heard cat noises inside the house and the animal welfare authorities were called in after the necessary warrants had been obtained. They found a house full of Maine Coon cats, 18 of which were dead (some of them having deceased many months before - at a time when Ms Crooke was still in the house), and - amazingly - 5 cats were still alive.
Here's the news report : Feline tomb belonged to ex-club boss
In the above article and in other coverage, I'm bemused to read that Crooke's cats "bring her a lot of pleasure", and that she enjoyed dressing up her cats and arranging the annual cat "dress-up show" to attract the public to the club. I also noted in the subsequent case that she demanded to have her cats back!
In the following statement, as reported on July 11, 2012 one will note that she expressed regret and stated that "she never intended for it to happen". Such remarks are hardly rare, and in this case of an abuser where there is evidence that some of the cats could have been dead for more than 2 years in the house, I'm unsure of how anyone can ignore cat corpses for so long, and still claim it was never intended.
And then bear in mind that this woman walked out of the house full of cats and left it locked, intending never to return. Her behaviour suggests that the only thing she regrets is getting caught.
Rather than dwell on her sentence - which many people including myself feel to be far too inadequate, I would like to touch on the issue of the public face the breeder displays, and hence the cries of disbelief when (at last), they get caught out.
Consider carefully these phrases from the web page of Miaw cattery : Miaws Beginnings
"Shelby made the final in her very first ring! We were hooked even though she didn't make any other finals that weekend". Note the word "hooked". Cat showing is addictive.
"By the end of our first show season we knew we wanted another cat to show. We even had a good idea that we might eventually want to go into breeding these wonderful cats". The addiction grows.
"Eventually we met and became friends with Karen Crooke of Terrificats/Lovabacon Maine Coons. Karen took us under her wing and began feeding us so much information. She is literally a walking encyclopedia of The Cat Fanciers Association, the Maine Coon breed and breeding Maine Coon cats. We e-mailed, called and talked with her as much as we could to learn as much as she could teach us".
(Note Karen's apparent knowledge, but that it appears to be more a knowledge of the CFA, rather than knowledge of cat physiology, behaviours and applied husbandry. Proper cat husbandry will never tolerate overcrowding.) Note that it is not evident that these people ever visited with her personally at her home...
"On February 27, 2005 TruTails Sinead of Miaw, with the help of Terrificats Gambolero, gave us our very first Miaw Maine Coon kittens".
Note these breeders using one of the Karen Crooke stud cats.
"Andrew and I would like to thank the following people for their support and friendship:
Karen Crooke of Terrificats/Lovabacon, also a true mentor, for being the voice of reason and encouragement, sharing with us all of her experience and knowledge that comes with 25+ years of breeding and showing cats, and, above all, for teaching us to never compromise our ethics."
And from SaraJen Maine Coons Website : "Cherry Pop, pictured here at just a whisker over 7 months, is just a fabulous girl bred by Karen Crooke of Terrificats. Karen has long been known as a reputable breeder of wonderful, healthy, typey Maine Coons and we can't thank her enough for entrusting Tina and I with one of her kittens".
What glowing endorsements of Karen Crooke! A true mentor - a voice of reason and a teacher of ethics, a reputable breeder and hideous cat abuser to boot.
No wonder you then get comments on public forums like "we don't know what Karen Crooke has been through, and what got her to this state". I saw the musings of another individual in another recent case, where they pondered the mindset of the abuser, and wondered whether it was just another of those cases like Ted Bundy, where an apparently nice person was a monster, but hey- "who can tell?". Shrug. * (we will come back to this a little later).
And when it happens, the breeders always claim to get "overwhelmed" and get a slap on the wrist, and then it's back to business as usual, once the (usually lenient) sentence has been carried out. At the court hearings we are told by the defense attorneys that the proceedings have been "very traumatic" for the accused, who is in a bad mental state as a result. As if it's the fault of the animal rights people or the courts, rather than the abuser, who persistently appears not to take responsibility for their actions.
Why do we get no closer to understanding why certain people do this (apparently isolated) deed - if the cat fancies are to be believed? That's because we're looking in the wrong place. We should not be looking at the perpetrator, but at the system to establish the commonalities. Once a common link is found, the truth becomes obvious. Here it is.
Have a close look at the "organised cat fancy", of which Karen Crooke was a leading light in her cat club, an official, a committee member as recently as 2009. Read the CFA web pages, & look at the section devoted to warning cat breeders (let's just refer to them as "registered cat producers" shall we?) about pending legislation which would prevent them from carrying on & proliferating cats. See CFA exhibitors alert as a good example. The CFA coach their members on how to object to proposed legislation which would safeguard cats and put a reign on their owners.
The CFA boast that they are "the worlds largest registry of pedigreed animals". They got that way by encouraging the breeding & showing of cats. Every kitten born is registered with a cat registry (for a fee) transferred to a new owner (for a fee),put on show (for a fee). Every stud to be used has to be registered annually (for a fee). Every cat on show is judged in a number of "rings" (judgings), and the entrants pay per ring. The fee income from new cats and cat showing is the lifeblood of the cat fancy - and this applies worldwide.
The GCCF (Governing Council of the UK Cat Fancy), note in the SWOT section of their business plan that fee income from registrations is by far the majority of all their income sources. Their (new kitten and cat) registrations process is noted to be "the basis of the organisations existence". Under Risks, is noted the
"Negative press focussing on health and welfare issues and genetic anomalies in pedigree cat breeds"
So I ask you with tears in my eyes - "WHY on earth would the CFA and other cat registries do anything to deter their breeders from collecting and breeding cats?" Karen Crooke was only one such breeder who has appeared in the public domain. And the one thing the cat fancies HATE is their dirty laundry being aired in public and the AWS, HSUS, PETA etc. getting wind of it.
(Remember the * above? The cat fancies love the "who would have known?" response. It keeps them out of the limelight as a possible cause via their endorsements and reward of multiple cat breeding and showing. It allows them to pretend that "any lunatic can pop up at any time, and we couldn't tell she/he was one of them - how is it our fault?" And it allows them to be seen publicly distancing themselves from the perpetrator (whom they already knew had all the excessive numbers of cats from their breeders database) - which they would not have done, if the dirty deed had not come to public scrutiny.
And then they donate a (small) amount of money to causes that window-dress them in a good light (like the Winn Foundation).
CFA has a unit dedicated to keeping the breeders who get into trouble out of the limelight. It's called the "Breeder Assistance Program", so if they themselves see fit to do damage control, how prevalent is cat overcrowding, overbreeding and animal abuse in the cat fancy? It's extremely prevalent indeed.
And where is the focus in the cat fancy ? Have a look at Fishin' for fun with the Coastwind cat club the Yahoo bulletin board dated 20 Feb 2010.
I see lots of raffles, patriotic flags, dressing up your cat contests, gifts and apple dumplings and I also note Karen Crooke being listed as a club board member for media and show promotion. I don't see anything about what this is supposed to do for the cat.
Consider the National Maine Coon Cat Club Mission Statement and statement of objectives :
"The National Maine Coon Cat Club is dedicated to the preservation and advancement of the Maine Coon Cat breed."
"The National Maine Coon Cat Club objectives shall be:
To encourage breeding the standard of the Maine Coon Cat as such standard is set forth by the Cat Fanciers' Association.
To encourage membership in the Maine Coon Cat breed council.
To promote interest in and knowledge of the Maine Coon Cats through promotional and educational literature and by holding shows.
To cultivate friendship and common interest among breeders. owners and fanciers of the Maine Coon Cat nationally.
To provide the membership of the National Maine Coon Cat Club with constructive information for the improvement and the advancememt of the Maine Coon Cat
To advance, in every way possible, the interests of breeders, exhibitors and fanciers of the Maine Coon Cat.
To promote the welfare of all cats."
Dedicated to preserving and advancing (whatever these terms mean) the Maine Coon, and yet "promoting the welfare of all cats" is at the end, and doesn't even refer to the Maine Coon. It's a catch-all which sounds warm and fluffy to convince the reader thay they're there for the cat. The rest of the club objectives are proof that the cat comes a very sorry last, if at all.
How did Karen Crooke get to that place? Like every other breeder in any cat fancy. By becoming a "cat producer" and taking cats to show in exchange for the ribbons and titles which give a cattery prominence and make the sale of expensive cats much easier. Become a "big name" cattery and the world is your oyster.
Cat breeders appear to have little if any humanity-their primary responsibility is to themselves only, and they will stop at nothing to pursue their cat collection and production "hobby".
It would be a good idea for anyone truly interested in the welfare of the (pedigreed) cat, to start by understanding how the cat fancy works. The registries, the politics, egos, the pride and the shows. The ribbons and awards and cat and kitten sales. And the abuse that goes with it. And look at the meeting minutes. Some of the meetings appear to be breathtaking in their length and pointlessness, and all of them tend to revolve rather much around finance and petty politicking, rather than the health and welfare of the animal.
I'd say the real villains are the cat fancies who turn a blind eye, or cover up abuses in their ranks. I would love to see concerned people demonstrating outside every cat show hall countrywide in an effort to raise awareness of the role the cat fancy plays in encouraging cat overbreeding, overcrowding and abuse, and to encourage others to stop supporting cat shows.
When cat fancies are called to account in the public domain for their members' conduct, they will take more responsibility to protect the animals bred and shown under their auspices, from which a huge amount of money is generated, both for themselves and the breeders.
"For evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing" - Simon Wiesenthal.
Are there "good men" in the cat fancy, when these deeds are common knowledge and yet the dirty secret is protected and ignored?