Why You Should Think Twice Before Buying A Cat Like This

Thor is going viral — but even his owners say you should adopt instead.

When Rani Cucicov and Hilde De Coster decided to buy a Bengal cat a couple of years ago, they had no idea that they'd be answering questions from all over the world about where people could get one like theirs.

Thor is a well-loved Bengal cat living in Belgium and taking the internet by storm because of his amazing stripes and spots. But when people see an animal like Thor, they don't realize that there's also a dark side to the demand for Bengal cats.

While Thor has been going viral this month, there was a quieter story in the news: Kevin Cheng, a man in Australia, just got busted for running a kitten factory. Bengal kittens and cats were found riddled with infections and living in filth; 30 of the 72 cats seized were so sick they had to be euthanized.

One of the cats found at Cheng's operation was Bahiya Aussie Ripples, a champion show cat imported from the U.S. By the time he was found, he was so sick he had to be euthanized.

Not all breeders, of course, are as bad as Cheng's nightmare operation. There are Bengal breeding operations all over the world, but the trouble is that they can be very hard to regulate, or even see.

According to Animals Australia, kitten breeding operations in general lack transparency and regulatory oversight, and "the actions of unscrupulous breeders all combine to create what can be, at best, a life of deprivation and chronic boredom for cats and their kittens or, at worst, a living nightmare."

But Cucicov and De Coster told The Dodo in an email that they chose Thor because they "really wanted a Bengal." The couple was worried about how their dog would react to a cat. "[W]e knew that Bengals were normally very good with dogs and they are very active and kind."

The couple searched shelter websites first but didn't find anything, so they looked for a breeder, and they tried to be discerning. "We absolutely hate 'puppy mills' and 'cat farms' ... where you can buy more than 50 different races, and where the cat and dog mothers are 'abused' and need to be pregnant as many times as possible," the couple wrote.

The couple found a breeder they liked in the Netherlands and that's where they bought Thor, the now-Internet-famous cat.

"Now that Thor is going viral, [we] get many questions where to buy a cat like him," the couple wrote. "I always say to these people to really think about it because I don't want these Bengals [to] be bought for their appearance, and then when people get to know them, and see they're so active, they don't want them anymore."

The Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone, Minnesota, gets about 20 calls per month from owners of Bengal cats who can't handle them anymore. Bengal cats can have health and behavioral issues stemming from their wild genes and hybrid breed, including urinating all around the house and having chronic diarrhea.

Thor's owners recommend looking first at animal rescues and shelters for a cat. "[A]lthough Thor isn't adopted from a shelter, [we] have lots and lots of respect for people who adopt and who open their hearts for animals who are not wanted anymore," Cucicov and De Coster wrote.

Some people have a bit of a different view on Bengal cats because fetishizing the breed can bring out the worst in cat lovers.

"I've seen the stories about this Bengal," Susan Bass of Big Cat Rescue told The Dodo, about Thor. "Bengals are the result of the unnatural breeding of domestic cats with Asian leopard cats," she explained. "As with other cat hybrids, breeders try to produce a cat with the distinctive markings of a wild cat but the calm temperament of a domestic cat."

Why? "These breeders know that people will pay a lot of money to own a cat that is different or special," Bass said - as much as a few thousand dollars. And when one considers how many unwanted cats are fighting for their lives in shelters right now, it becomes nearly impossible to justify spending thousands to buy a cat just for his special designer markings.

"We don't want to see a market for Asian leopard cats and other wild cats like servals simply so breeders can keep up with the demand for hybrids," Bass said. "There are millions of domestic cats in shelters who would make wonderful pets." Right now, there are an estimated 3.4 million cats in U.S. shelters alone.

In addition to Thor, Cucicov and De Coster take care of two strays who live on their street, feeding them every day. They even made a shelter in their garden for the cats to sleep in. "Every animal deserves to be taken care of," they said.

When an animal like Thor goes viral, the danger is that people forget about these homeless cats, whose unique beauty can't even be named.

Koshka, a rescued mutt living in Brooklyn, was found as a baby in a trash can. She might have some Maine Coon in her, but who knows. | Roberto Palomba

"Will there be little Thors in the future?" one commenter asked on Thor's Facebook page.

"No," Cucicov and De Coster replied. "He is already fixed 😊"

If you'd like to adopt a cat of your own, check out Adopt-a-Pet.com to get started.