While Bengals, Savannahs and Chausies, have been in existence and owned since the 1960’s, it was not until recently that current exotic bans have begun to sweep them into nonexistence within our country. Although the United States Department of Agriculture, or the USDA, considers such cats as ‘domestic’ animals, the legal jargon often wrote into laws created to ban the owning of tigers, lions, and other larger exotics often lump these small, benign household pets into the same category as exotic animals.
All three breeds of cats are now found within show halls located throughout the world, but the Bengal was the first to take off as a breed of its own. Jean S. Mill first crossed an Asian Leopard Cat, a small exotic cat that enjoys a solitary existence, with a domestic in 1963 and by the 1980s these cats were starting to resemble the modern breed we now see in people’s homes as well as in the show halls. This breed of cat has consistently maintained its record as one of The International Cat Association’s (TICA’s) top registered breeds with over 48,000 currently registered in the United States alone and numerous Bengals are shown almost every weekend throughout the world.
While the Savannah and Chausie breeds are latecomers to the show circuit, they have also found popularity as a household pet. Over 7500 Savannahs reside within the United States per TICA’s records. The Savannah may be marketed as an extremely large cat, but in truth, this breed created by breeding the African Serval to the domestic cat does not often reach over twenty pounds in weight. On average, Savannahs weigh anywhere from 8 to 12 pounds, just like an average household cat. This breed relies upon the power of illusion to appear bigger than they are—Savannahs are the greyhounds of felines. With long legs and slender necks, the Savannah gives off the essence of size without being a large animal. The Chausie, on the other hand, has a muscular build that might make a viewer believe it is a bigger than average, but once again, Chausies tend to remain the same size of a normal house cat.
Although each of these crossbred breeds come from a different exotic background—the Bengal from the Asian Leopard Cat, the Savannah from the African Serval, and the Chausie from the Jungle Cat—the one thing each breed holds in common is their wonderful personalities. In a survey performed of over 1700 people, temperament was the number one reason people chose these breeds of cats to live with. Perhaps due to their exotic heritage, breeders whom have worked with these specific breeds have spent numerous years ensuring that their cats have the right temperament and personalities to live within regular family households. You can find anywhere from the first filial outcross, which is a 50/50 cross from the exotic to a domestic, living with families all the way down to the eighth (or more ) filial generation. These cats possess almost a dog-like personality– charming, witty, and outgoing as well as loving to their families. Unlike the average cat, these breeds tend to be willing participants in their family’s activities. Going out for walks on leashes and harnesses, going on trips to the pet stores, greeting newcomers in the home are all part and parcel of these cats. Unlike the typical domestic shorthair which one can find at the local shelter, the Bengals, Savannahs and Chausies purchased from reputable breeders were created with regard to their personalities as well as their gorgeous looks. These are not cats to hide in the background whenever a friend comes to visit. Instead, these are the types of cats who will sit at a newcomer’s feet and request with a look or a soft meow for a caress on the head or to play with a toy.
Although there is much misconception about these breeds by the general public, the main idea that must be brought to light is that these breeds are simply cats—domestic cats with exceptional personalities and beautiful looks, but cats nonetheless. They are not feral, not aggressive, not tigers or lions. They eat kibble like a normal cat, they sleep on their owner’s beds like normal cats and they will immediately stop everything they are doing to chase a piece of string—just like a normal cat. The best veterinarian for a Bengal, Chausie or Savannah is not the exotic vet who works at the local zoo, but the vet that knows cats and all of their quirks. No exceptional zoonoses (or infectious diseases that transmit from animal to human) affect these breeds and they fall prey to the same health problems any house cat might face. Even household living conditions are the same for a Bengal, Chausie or Savannah. Over 99 percent of the over 1700 owners who responded to the breed survey stated that their cats lived indoors, although some felines did enjoy time outside in permanent secure outdoor enclosures from time to time.
One of the points brought to the forefront of the push to ensure these cats are illegal revolves around supposed health issues that are found within these breeds. The petition to the state of California’s Fish and Wildlife department actually states, “Animal welfare… is violated, as [these] cats are often at increased risk of serious congenital defect.” While it is well documented that the Bengal breed has suffered from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (or HCM), it is also important to note that per the Winn Feline Health Foundation, one of the top researchers into feline health issues, “The most common heart disease found in all types of cats is… HCM.” A newsletter produced by the Purina Pro Club further delineates as it discusses the identification of a DNA marker in HCM in the Ragdoll cat breed, one which has no exotic heritage, “Ragdolls are not the only breed affected by HCM. Others include American and British Shorthair, Scottish Fold, Maine Coon, Devon Rex, Persian, Siberian, Norwegian Forest Cat, Turkish Van and Sphynx.” It is important to note that none of the breeds noted in the quoted article have any exotic heritage. Therefore, HCM is not a disease specific to Bengals (or Savannahs or Chausies.) Other diseases appear to follow the same pattern—if it is a cat disease, such as feline leukemia (FELV) or feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), these cats are not immune to it. Yet there is no supportive evidence indicating that these breeds are more prone to these conditions either. In the poll of Bengal, Savannah and Chausie owners, less than six percent of owners have dealt with serious health conditions with their personal cats such as FIP or FELV.
Due to the popularity of these cats, it should be noted that breed-specific rescues have been in place from the inception of the Bengals, Savannahs and Chausies. As Brigitte Cowell, Ph.D., president of the nation-wide Savannah Cat Rescue, states:
We find it hard to believe the claims of some exotic cat sanctuaries that Savannahs make bad pets and that this breed is over-burdening rescues and shelters. We feel that Savannah Rescue is able to handle the number of cats that are in need of homing, and in fact think that most of our waiting list wishes there were more Savannahs in need of rescue. We of course are happy that so few are in need of our help.
Once again, the numbers from the previously mentioned survey support Dr. Cowell’s statement. Out of the over 1700 respondents, approximately ten percent reported adopting their cats from a shelter or rescue, while an overwhelming amount, nearly 89% reported that their cats came from personal breeders.
If one is actually educated and knowledgeable about these breeds, one must ask, “Why are they being included in the bans that have recently swept our country?” From Ohio, which nearly lumped these breeds into their ban due to the Zanesville incident where numerous exotics were released and than their owner committed suicide (after much lobbying, the hybrid cat breeds have received a reprieve in Ohio and are exempt) to currently the state of California and West Virginia, the owners of these cats must constantly fight for their rights to own their household pets. One must ask, why?
Ignorance and fear mongering is the best answer to this question. If one was to spend time in the show halls throughout the world or even visit a cattery that bred Bengals, Savannahs or Chausies, one would immediately realize the foolishness of such bans. While organizations such as ‘Big Cat Rescue’ spend their time maligning the breeds in question and stating they are aggressive, territorial, horrible animals to live with—the numbers and the facts do not lie. In the aforementioned survey, these cats live with infants, children and seniors. They share their homes with other cats, dogs, birds, ferrets and other various animals. If these were vicious, aggressive creatures, why would so many Americans choose to share their homes with them on a daily basis? And where are the hard facts stating that there have been any attacks upon human beings by these breeds, in numbers to exceed the typical cat bite/scratch statistics? Where is the proof that these animals are any more difficult to live with than other cats? The proof is found within the homes and show hall! In fact, it might be said due to the lack of high maintenance, they are easier to live with than Sphynx, Persians, Himalayans, and many other breeds that require a regular grooming schedule!
While the energetic fun-loving breeds known as Bengals, Savannahs and Chausies may not be the right cats for every home—they are a well-loved and appreciated group of breeds that are cherished within thousands of households throughout the world. From France to Germany to the United States, these cats have managed to charm their way into people’s daily lives and hearts. The media and animal rights activists may want to portray these cats as dangerous wild beasts, but the reality is—a cat is a cat is a cat. Whether that cat is a Chausie, a Savannah or a Bengal—it is a cat first and the breed second. It is not a wild animal and it only takes a few moments of interaction with one of these cats or kittens to realize to accuse them of being ‘dangerous’ is to malign an amazing group of domestic cats. The Bengals, Savannahs and Chausies deserve a place within our lives and upon our hearth just like any domestic cat of yore. Indeed, with their sweet personalities, they seem to demand it and we, as owners, are more than happy to acquiesce.
Copyrighted to Save Our Savannahs 2014
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