Based on a true story
She was one of the kindest people you ever met. She was a mother of two, and a good one at that. She was an old friend, someone who was always there to hold your hand and offer a shoulder to cry on.
She was also a backyard breeder.
You didn’t know she had ventured into irresponsible breeding until she started promoting her Facebook page. There, she shared dozens of photos of the cute cats she had—and all of them were for sale.
You wondered how this escaped your attention in the past. Curious as to when your friend decided to dabble in cat breeding, you stalked her timeline and found an update that made your blood boil.
“Looking for a stud for my Siamese cat,” she had said. “Willing to split breeder earnings once kittens are sold.”
After a little sleuthing, you found out she kept all of the cats in cages. The photos were pretty damning: The cages were a mainstay background. Almost predictably, she kept the cages in—where else?—her backyard.
When you asked her why she kept cats in cages, she tried to reassure you. “I give them an hour a day to roam the backyard.”
Quite literally a backyard breeder with a budding career, she continued to share photos of her cat’s newest litter. She was disappointed, she said, because they had gotten sick.
“They might die because they were fathered by an unhealthy tom!” She claimed she was duped; the stud owner might have lied about his cat’s health.
“Such a pity! This is why a cat’s breed is so important. I want to ensure my queen mates with a stud cat that has good genes!”
You found it all ironic. There she was—your friend, the backyard breeder—wailing about the welfare of her kittens after she bred her cat irresponsibly. She was unconcerned about the many cats she still kept in cages just a few meters from where she stood.
Could it be that she was just ignorant? you wondered. Maybe I could educate her about responsible breeding – perhaps, even convince her to rescue and adopt?
You prepared yourself mentally for that day you would talk to her about why what she was doing could put animals in unnecessary danger. You even printed out the position paper of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; if you couldn’t convince her, maybe the official criteria for responsible breeding offered by an animal welfare society might do the trick.
You also prepared a little speech on how you weren’t a big fan of breeding, and how there were way too many animals on the streets still looking for a home. You rehearsed your speech in your head, hoping it didn’t sound like one at all.
You decided to ask a common friend, Sally, for help. You told Sally the whole story. She was just as horrified as you first were when you found out your friend was a backyard breeder. She helped you come up with a plan.
Tomorrow. Tomorrow, you would pay her a visit. Fingers crossed.
“Don’t worry, it’s over. I learned my lesson.” She smiled at you as she served you a glass of cold lemonade.
You still had your doubts. “But the sick kittens…”
“…Have all found loving homes. They will be fine.”
You knew it wasn’t enough. Impolite and demanding as it was, you asked to be taken to her backyard. She shrugged her shoulders, fished out her keys from her pocket, and led the way.
You followed her, afraid of what you’d see. You didn’t know what was worse: being proven wrong, or being proven right.
There were a dozen or so steel cages in the backyard, some on top of each other, while the rest were placed on top of makeshift plywood tables.
But there were no kittens. There was not a single cat in any of the cages. You could still smell the stink—it reeked strongly of feces and fear, a stench that would stay in your nostrils for days—but there were no animals in sight.
“See? I told you,” she said. She played with her keys, held together by a black-and-white cat keychain.You looked at the cages again. Just last week, she had dozens of cats for sale. Now, there were no meowing balls of fur in sight.
As if she knew you were coming. As if she took out the cats just this morning because she knew you would insist on checking out her backyard.
Sally. Could it be? Could Sally have warned your friend, the backyard breeder?
Upset yet unsure if a cover-up was afoot, you asked your backyard-breeder friend as you stared into her eyes, “So you’re saying that you have officially stopped breeding cats?”
She stared back at you, an odd, panicked smile plastered to her face. “And I’ll never do it again.”
Feeling a little drained, you left your printouts on her coffee table. You walked out of her house, the stink of her backyard clinging to your clothes. You knew without a doubt that your friendship would somehow never be what it used to be.
As soon as you got home, you checked Sally’s Facebook for clues. Was she somehow in cahoots with your friend, the backyard breeder?
But it seemed crazy. Paranoid, really.
You realized how ridiculous you were getting, scrolling down your friend’s timeline like some trying-hard detective desperately looking for evidence. You laughed at your own folly. Sally was not the type to…
You gasped. On your monitor was a photo of Sally, smiling sweetly at the camera.
She was holding a cat.
There were cages behind her, all full of cats. Right beside her was a door. Something dangling from the doorknob caught your eye.
It was a black-and-white cat keychain.
If you found out that your friend was a backyard breeder, what would you do? Would you be willing to put your friendship on the line to put a stop to irresponsible breeding?
While not all the details of the above story are true, real circumstances inspired them. These circumstances aren’t unique to me; many people who care about cats often find themselves surrounded by people who breed animals for profit while being negligent about their welfare.
This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s August 2017 issue.