Asheras Are the Designer Chats du Jour Despite the Cruelties Inflicted During Their Hybridization
"People who love beautiful pets will spend twelve-thousand pounds on a cat. People spend that much on jewelry or a big television."
-- Simon Brodie
Like the latest automobiles rolling off an assembly line in Detroit, the hybridization of the feline species continues unabated as breeders and geneticists pull out all the stops in a madcap race to create even more exotic breeds of cats. In their quest to stay ahead of the Joneses, the rich and the bourgeoisie are seemingly willing to pay almost any price in order to own one of these cats in spite of the patented cruelties and mortalities involved in their creation.
The latest such fad are Asheras. Allegedly created by interbreeding African Servals (Leptailurus serval), Asian Leopard Cats (Prionailurus bengalensis), and a "trade secret" domestic cat (Felis domesticus), Asheras have the spots of a leopard with contrasting stripes. Weighing in at between twenty-five and thirty pounds, they also have long legs and large pointed ears. (See photos above and below.)
Created over a three-year period by a team of geneticists at Lifestyle Pets of Los Angeles, the hybrids are described as intelligent, affectionate, even-tempered, and low-maintenance. Despite their abundance of wild cat genes, they also are advertised to be safe for households with children and more conventional pets. They will also eat commercial cat food.
There are, however, several key differences between them and Felis domesticus. First of all, they prefer to sleep in heated beds. Secondly, they are said to have canine personalities in that they greet their owners at the door, walk on leashes, and like to butt heads.
One thing that they are not is cheap. They are currently retailing for $22,000 in the United States and Canada and $27,000 on the Continent and elsewhere. There also is an additional $1,500 delivery fee in the United States plus applicable state and federal taxes. Installment plans are available for the cash-strapped.
Asheras also come in an hypoallergenic version that retails for $28,000. That is only to be expected in that it was after all Lifestyle Pets' founder Simon Brodie who was responsible for creating the world's first allergy-free cat back in 2006. (See Cat Defender posts of July 10, 2006 and October 10, 2006 entitled, respectively, "More Devilry from Scientific Community as California Company Creates World's First Hypoallergenic Cat" and "Dodgy Allerca and Dishonest CBS Join Forces to Market an Allergy-Free Cat Named Joshua to a Gullible Public.")
When he was head of Allerca Lifestyle Pets, Brodie reportedly sold hundreds of allergy-free cats for $10,000 apiece plus a number of franchises to the tune of $45,000 a pop. He sold Allerca in 2006 in order to concentrate on Lifestyle Pets but remains a consultant with his old firm.
All Asheras come with a Certificate of Authenticity which also includes an image of each cat's DNA. All of the cats are sterilized prior to sale in order to prevent buyers from going into business for themselves and thus eroding Lifestyle's profits.
They also are vaccinated, microchipped, and come with a one-year warranty. To better ensure that the warranties are seldom invoked, the cats are socialized by a behaviorist before they are sold and come with a year's worth of veterinary insurance, kitten food, and vinyl nail covers so as to protect buyers' furniture.
Despite their hefty price tags, Asheras are selling like hot cakes and there is a waiting list of nine to twelve months. Besides gold-plated Americans, the cats are said to be in demand with Russians, Ukrainians, the Chinese, Dutch, and Australians.
That is not surprising. The importation and breeding of wild cats is in itself big business and the mating of those cats to domestics is proving to be even more lucrative. (See Cat Defender posts of May 19, 2005 and June 28, 2007 entitled, respectively, "Savannahs: More Feline Cruelty Courtesy of the Capitalists and Bourgeoisie" and "Rural Alabama Man Makes a 'Killing' Forcibly Breeding Domestic Cats to Bobcats in Order to Create Pixie-Bobs.")
Nevertheless, the fact that there is beaucoup d'argent to be made from genetically manipulating cats does not invalidate the numerous objections that have been raised about this odious enterprise. First of all, the trapping and importation of wild cats should not be allowed under any circumstances.
These cats do not belong in cages at eugenics factories in America and should instead be allowed to live out their lives in their natural habitats. Although many of them are not endangered, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) should be expanded in order to protect them.
Since it is unnatural for a much larger wild cat to mate with a domestic cat, this necessitates the use of either artificial insemination or forced breeding. According to Lifestyle Pets, Asheras are conceived via the former method.
Perhaps more importantly, the entire designer pet industry is unregulated and therefore cloaked in secrecy. For instance, Brodie categorically refuses to disclose which breed of domestic cats he uses in order to create Asheras.
Judy Sugden of Eeyaas Cattery in Los Angeles will likewise only admit to using a so-called "Kashmir street cat" in order to create Toygers. (See Cat Defender post of April 13, 2007 entitled "Killing and Torturing Wild and Domestic Cats in Order to Create Toygers Is Not Going to Save Sumatran Tigers.")
Even more puzzling is the claim that Asheras, Toygers, and Savannahs have canine personalities. That does not seem to be a likely outcome from mating African Servals (see photo directly above) and Asian Leopard Cats (see photo below) with domestic cats.
Other critics are even far less charitable and instead insist that the creation of designer pets is a total fraud. Unfortunately, there is not any sure way of knowing what is actually going on until these breeding factories and laboratories are forced to allow legitimate animal rights groups to inspect their premises and that is not about to happen anytime soon.
The USDA's Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which is charged with enforcing the minimalist standards of the Animal Welfare Act, does not have an ounce of credibility, (See Cat Defender post of September 21, 2007 entitled "FDA Is Suppressing Research That Shows Implanted Microchips Cause Cancer in Mice, Rats, and Dogs.")
Since the creation of hybrids involves a considerable amount of experimentation, the miscarriages, birth defects, and death toll must be astronomical. Imperfect hybrids cannot be sold to the public and breeders are far too cheap to either house and feed them or to find alternative homes for them. Animal exploiters never have been known for their compassion.
Nonetheless, Brodie flatly denies the obvious. "Every kitten that has come out so far is (sic) a great kitten," he told the CBC's As It Happens on December 7, 2007. (See "Designer Cat.") "They all go into homes. We don't have rejects."
Since he so willingly lies about the number of cats that he has tortured and killed in his laboratories, it is not surprising that he is equally unconcerned about the plight of the tens of millions of homeless cats that are killed at shelters each year. "People (who buy Asheras) are looking for this specific type of cat," he told the CBC.
Sadly, individuals who shell out the big bucks for Asheras are every bit as callous as Brodie. "People have simply criticized the price," but not the morals, he added.
Earlier on October 29th, he told the Daily Mail, "People who love beautiful pets will spend twelve-thousand pounds on a cat." (See "A Four-Foot Leopard for Your Living Room -- If You've Got Twelve-Thousand Pounds in the Kitty.") "People spend that much on jewelry or a big television."
In making that morally lopsided comparison Brodie has exposed himself. It is quite clear that he, like all breeders, geneticists, vivisectors, and factory farmers, view cats and other animals as inanimate objects to be abused and genetically manipulated at will. People like him think no more of killing animals than they do of chopping up a stack of firewood.
An increasing number of exotic cats and hybrids also are winding up at shelters which not only taxes the resources of those facilities but also necessitates the founding of new rescue organizations. ( See forthcoming Cat Defender post of February 20, 2008 entitled "Exotic and Hybrid Cats, Perennial Objects of Exploitation and Abuse, Are Now Being Mutilated, Abandoned, and Stolen.")
Since Asheras have a life expectancy of twenty-five years, a good many of them are destined to end up at shelters despite their high price tags. Individuals capable of shelling out $25,000 for a cat are not going to think anymore about dumping them than people who take in strays. In fact, if the truth be told, the rich are usually far more callous than the poor.
Finally, Brodie is no stranger to either controversy or brushes with the legal authorities. The transplanted Englishman has a rather checkered past that is punctuated by all sorts of financial improprieties in addition to the systematic abuse of cats. (See San Diego Union-Tribune, October 25, 2006, "Franchised Felines? Allerca's Plans to Sell Hypoallergenic Animals, New Breed Met with Skepticism.")
Photos: Daily Mail (Asheras), Wikipedia (African Serval), and F. Spangenberg of Wikipedia (Asian Leopard Cat at Berliner Tierpark).