Here kitty, kitty

October 16, 2006

West Coast scientists studying cats and the allergies they trigger in humans discovered serendipitously that not all felines carry the sneeze-gene that produces troublesome allergens. If true - there's always room for doubt about early claims such as this - millions of allergy sufferers who are forced to love Felix and Sylvester from a distance might have a future in which they can have their cat and pet it, too.

Not everyone, of course, is fond of mousers. But the country's estimated 30 million cats have their fans, and a big chunk of the $35 billion pet industry comes from cat owners. In a move to cash in on what could be a lucrative market, a group of San Diego-based entrepreneurs formed Allerca, a company that breeds these special cats and intends to sell the offspring as "lifestyle pets," hypoallergenic kittens that allergy-sufferers can cuddle without worrying about health problems.

The catch - you knew there had to be one - is that each kitten costs $3,950 and carries an add-on fee of almost $1,000 for "processing and transportation." For some animal lovers who would rather live with their allergic reactions than without their cats, this fee might not seem excessive. After all, some people pay up to $8,000 to give kitty a new kidney.

Hmm, you're thinking. Why not invest in a few of these kittens, let them breed when they get older and undersell Allerca or even give away the cats to friends who love the animals but have terrible reactions to their dander? Forget it. Allerca will only sell cats they have neutered.

Which brings us to this point: If the West Coast scientists really have discovered hypoallergenic cats, someone else can discover them, too. And perhaps they won't be as proprietary with their find. It would make a lot of cat lovers feel better, in more ways than one.

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