Heather McRae absolutely loves cats.
She’s dedicated a lot of time and money into keeping a rare breed alive, after buying a kitten for her husband Richard back in 2008.
Heather has now played a part in breeding around 20% of Asian cats – when a Burmese cat is bred with a Chinchilla, a variation on a Persian cat – registered in the UK in the last two years.
Asian cats are known for being pretty, playful, and smart, but have never become well-known and are classified as rare.
Heather first heard about the breed when she bought Annas, a little black kitten, for her husband.
At their home in Polmont, Falkirk, they now have 16 cats, and have bred 153 kittens since 2010.
Breeding these cats doesn’t come cheap – Heather, who works as a director of an advertising agency, estimates she makes a £12,000 year loss on her ‘expensive hobby’.
The costs come from distant travels to find cats to breed, thorough health checks, vaccinations, and plenty of care given to ensuring any cat has been bred from healthy pedigree parents.
Heather said: ‘I like Asians because they look like cats, and some people say they have dog-like personalities because they’re so friendly and sociable.
‘I don’t like cats with squashed faces or extremely pointy ears – I just want a cat that looks like a cat.
‘With a moggie you just don’t know what you’re going to get, but each breed has different characteristics.
‘The Asian breed is our passion.
‘People come to see us after visiting other breeders and they are shocked, but we are just normal breeders – the problem is the people they have seen before.
‘Responsible breeders do not make money, they do it because they love the breed and they want it to survive.’
Heather and Richard often have to travel thousands of miles to keep the breed alive.
Once they drove to Brussels and slept on the floor of the airport with a kitten, before flying to Milan, where they were collected and taken to Switzerland by fellow cat breeders.
The couple are keen to be ‘ethical breeders’, giving themselves rules to make sure all their cats are healthy and happy.
‘We had a lot of soul-searching before we started, and decided we would have to be very strict with ourselves – there have to be rules and parameters, and the outcross kittens have been rehomed,’ Heather says.
‘In older breeds, in-breeding is at about 20%, but in our cats it’s more like 5%.
‘There’s a balancing act between having enough consistency in characteristics, and enough variation in the genes that the cats are healthy.
‘In the older breeds there is a level of puritanism, people don’t want to sully their lines.’
Heather and Richard also regularly travel to cat shows so the general public can discover the breed, and now charge £500 for each cat – but say that in order to break even, a kitten would need to be sold for around £900.
Heather said: ‘There’s the cost of buying a cat, the cost of using a stud, or building a stud pen and ensuring it’s ventilated, and travel costs.
‘Pregnant cats cost twice as much to feed, and we get through four kilos of food for a litter of kittens every two days.
‘Each kitten needs two vaccinations, they have to be wormed three times and neutered before they leave.
‘Then there is the mum’s vaccinations and vets bills, and insurance is about £200 a month.
‘But our passion is this breed.’
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