Q: Our 10-year-old daughter has her heart set on a female Himalayan kitten, and we've decided to get her one for her birthday.
After a trip to a cat show, we found two local breeders, but the prices they want for their "just pet" kittens are outrageous.
They also say we must spay the kitten, which we would have anyway, so that's OK, and keep the cat inside. We agree with that, too, especially since we've had long-haired cats before and know how dirty they can get.
I guess the only barrier is the price. Why is it so high, and do you have a suggestion other than don't get one?
A: Several factors contribute to the price breeders charge for a purebred kitten or puppy. The major ones include the cost of acquiring breeding-quality animals (which can run into thousands of dollars), the cost of top-quality care for all of the breeder's animals, and, most of all, the money required to offset the cost of campaigning show-quality animals.
It's generally not a profitable enterprise for caring, responsible breeders, but they do like to come close, at least, to breaking even.
Finally, the cost of purebreds is influenced by what other breeders in the area are charging, and by the rarity of the breed and the number of people who want one.
You have some options, but first you must realize that the greatest expense is in maintaining a pet, not acquiring it. Food and veterinary expenses, along with the possibility of boarding fees and the professional grooming a long-hair cat may occasionally need, may run several hundred dollars a year. The up-front cost of a purebred Himalayan kitten, divided over the normal life span of an indoors-only cat, may be less than $25 a year. The point is not to defend or justify prices, but to let you know that the proper care of any cat can be a very expensive proposition.
If you have met a breeder you want to work with, talk to her frankly about your concerns and see if a payment plan might be arranged. If that's not an option either of you can live with, she might have, or know of, an older Himalayan that needs a good home. Responsible breeders occasionally have older pets around because they insist that buyers return an animal if they can no longer keep it. You are obviously prepared to provide a good home, and that goes a long way with a good breeder.
Another option would be to check with your local shelter. Expensive purebred cats and dogs end up in shelters with astonishing frequency, and some humane groups maintain 5/8 5/8 TC "want list" of people who are looking for a specific kind of animal. There'll be an adoption fee, of course, and you will be required to spay your new pet, since shelters don't need the repeat business more kittens represent.
Finally, if your daughter will only be happy with a kitten, not an older purebred cat, and you stand firm on the price issue, I encourage you to consider a non-purebred.
With so many kittens looking for homes, you should be able to find one that resembles almost any breed you can name.
Of course, it's possible that your daughter will be happy with any cat of her own, no matter what the markings or coat length. If that's the case, let her pick out her own kitten, and use the experience to teach her that all pets are special to those who love them, no matter what their pedigrees. The lesson that "it's what's inside that counts" is a valuable one worth emphasizing.
Q: We have a Newfoundland who is very sweet and good-natured, and we'd like to find her a cart just for fun -- pulling the children around the neighborhood, things like that.
A: Many breeds were originally developed as draft animals, and many that weren't may be able to handle it well and enjoy the challenge. While dogs such as malamutes and huskies seem best-suited to pull a sled or cart, almost any healthy medium-to-large dog could be trained to the task.
A basic cart and harness runs a little more than $200. One source for carting supplies and information is K-9 Sulkys, 2406 N. Wood Court, Claremont, Calif. 91711.
*Ms. Spadafori is a licensed pet trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o At Home, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.