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Cat scams! Beware when buying a kitten

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Be very careful before buying a kitten, especially those advertised on websites

There are many ways in which the unwary – and even the wary – kitten buyer may be scammed. Before starting this article, I scanned through the kitten ads on several free internet classified sites. These are the obvious starting point for today’s kitten buyer, but unfortunately it is very easy to post a false ad. Most of the ads for purebred, and even crossbred, kittens looked suspicious.

So what are the cat scams?

  • No kitten at all: The advertised kittens don’t exist – you pay, but no kitten arrives. If you have to pay for shipping, but not for the kitten, it’s definitely a scam.
  • A cat is a cat: The kitten does exist, but isn’t what the advertiser claims. A pet broker was once exposed. She had random-bred kittens which could be Maine Coon or Persian, depending on what the buyer wanted. Some ads even claim to have ‘all breeds’ available.
  • Playing on your emotions: Sob stories look like scams when you notice the same story that you saw a couple of months ago. Anyway, breeding should be taken seriously; kittens being sold should have been planned and carefully raised.
  • Backyard breeding: The kittens exist, and may even be the breed the ad claims. However, they are sickly, and probably poorly socialised. They are available at 8 weeks of age. Not so much a scam as backyard breeding (breeding for money rather than to improve the breed, having no regard for the breeding cats, kittens or kitten buyers).
  • Not improving the breed: The kitten exists and may bear a cursory resemblance to the breed advertised but aren’t the real thing. This is not exactly a scam, but you are still paying for something that you are not getting – it won’t be a true Siamese or Maine Coon, for instance. Any person should only breed cats if he or she is striving to improve the chosen breed.

Some of the problems on the websites

It is clear that some of the scamsters have been doing their homework. They have noted the recommendations that people should only buy registered kittens, and they know that responsible breeders spay or neuter their kittens before letting them go to their new homes, as well as vaccinating and microchipping them. This does make it more difficult for the prospective kitten buyer to spot the scams. But there are clues.

Proof of registration

One scam ad advertised kittens registered with GCCF. They had a lovely photo of kittens with their ad, but the problem is the GCCF operates in England, not South Africa. The same applies to kittens registered with KUSA. The Kennel Union of South Africa registers dogs, not cats. When you look for a kitten, make sure that you know the names for the cat registries in South Africa and familiarise yourself with their acronyms.

Cat registries in South Africa

Spell check

It is well known in the local cat fancy that scamsters take photos from actual breeders’ websites and use them in their ads. How can you spot these? My suspicions would be raised by a really top-class photo of a quality cat, beautifully presented (probably taken at a show overseas) matched with poor spelling and grammar. Astonishingly few of the Maine Coon ads I saw knew how to spell the breed they were advertising. So be very wary when you see spelling errors in adverts.

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When the price seems too low, it is most probably too good to be true – raising healthy, well-bred kittens is costly

The price

We also know that people prefer to pay as little as possible for their kittens. You have a choice between a responsible breeder charging R6,000 (prices vary from breed to breed) or an internet ad asking R2,000. Both kittens are sterilised, vaccinated and microchipped. Which would you choose? Consider this: a vet in private practice charges around R1,100 to spay a kitten, R380 for vaccinations and R250 for microchipping. Add the cost of food and cat litter, and do you really think that you will get a lovely, healthy, well-socialised pedigree kitten for R2,000? I don’t. Having said that, it is not unusual for scamsters to ask as much as responsible breeders do. And now you know why welfares charge those adoption fees.

Age

Most of the kittens I saw advertised were ‘ready to go’ at 8 weeks. No responsible breeder will let their kittens go at such an early age. For many reasons, responsible breeders keep their kittens for a minimum of 10 weeks, generally longer.

How can you avoid being scammed?

The best way to find a breeder is by personal recommendation. If you see a friend’s cat you really like, ask them who bred the cat. Or go to a cat show, look for cats you like, and then ask for the breeders. It is always best to see the kittens at home (this also applies to non-pedigrees). That way you make sure that there is a kitten, that she is healthy, and – most important of all – that you like that particular kitten and will be happy to look after her for anything up to 20 years. It also gives the breeder the chance to make sure that you are indeed a good home for their baby.

Western Province Cat Club intends to use its new Facebook page to expose scams, so visit them at www.wpcatclub.co.za.

Text: Hazel King. Photography: Denis Nata and tankist276

The full article appeared in the June 2014 issue of Animaltalk magazine. For subscription details visit Coolmags.com.

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