By Daniel Warn / [email protected]
Rainier resident Julie Laney has just completed the transfer of her Savannah cat-breeding business from Roy to Rainier, and has been awarded the accolade of “Outstanding Cattery” for her efforts.
The cattery, called Rainier Savannahs, is one of two Savannah cat operations in Washington that have received the distinction, which requires a veterinarian to check off a list of 95 criteria for the ethical treatment of cats.
Although the “Outstanding Cattery” accolade isn’t necessarily a full endorsement from organizations like the International Cat Association, Laney said all of her Savannah cats are registered with the association.
“I love cats (Savannah),” Laney said. “They are like dogs. It’s just a passion. … Every penny we earn goes straight back into the cats. It really is a hobby that has become a little more than that.
Laney has placed more than 30 cats in homes since she began breeding at her original location in Roy in 2017.
She said that while a Savannah cat can fetch up to $7,000, she focuses on the quality of cats over quantity, and tries not to associate with breeders who value volume and profit. .
Laney runs the business so she can help get Savannah cats into the right homes, with people who are genuinely excited to add the rare breed to their families.
She has all the cats she sells spayed or neutered before parting with them to discourage for-profit and unethical breeding.
As Laney spoke with the Nisqually Valley News, a little silver Savannah kitten was playing on her living room floor.
“Our little silver baby is going to be our new show cat,” Laney said. “I’m excited because it’s our first house that we’re going to be able to show.”
Laney said taking a cat from his cattery to a cat show might be considered risky for some, because a show will assess the quality of cats from a specific cattery.
“Anyone can breed, but it takes a really responsible and ethical person to want to bring their cats to be judged at a show and get validated feedback on their cats,” Laney said. “Just because she meets the breed standard doesn’t mean she’s going to win anything.”
Breeding isn’t just about pairing up beautiful cats and making kittens, Laney said. Coat colors, genetics, lineage, pedigree and temperament are all factors a cattery owner must consider when producing Savannahs.
She was mentored in the business by a woman in Canada who has two African Servals, which are the wild ancestor of the Savannah cats, their domestic heritage.
Savannah breeders take a Serval male and mix him with a domestic cat to create an F1 Savannah cat. The ‘F’ stands for ‘filial’ or ‘son’, so the F1 categorization is the first generation after the breeding of the original African Serval. F1 through F5 Savannah males are sterile, so the male making new generations of Savannah cats must be six generations from the Serval ancestor.
“You breed for the wild look, not necessarily the wild temper,” Laney said. “I have cats that are F6s, F7s that seem to be one generation away from an African Serval.”
Still, breeding Savannahs is a bit controversial right now.
With the success of the Netflix docuseries “Tiger King,” which put a magnifying glass on the inhumane treatment of big cats, savannah cats have been banned in several states due to their wild ancestry.
Big cat activist Carole Baskin, who appears in “Tiger King,” has advocated for Savannahs to be illegal across the country, and even has a few Savannahs at her shelter, “Big Cat Rescue,” Laney said.
“Carole Baskin is part of the reason these cats are illegal in so many states,” Laney said. “I know in Seattle they’re illegal, for example. They may be considered dangerous wild animals, but I mean, they are hybrids. They are not dangerous.
She said, however, they can be destructive if left unoccupied or without stimuli.
The “Outstanding Cattery” accolade proves that Laney’s treatment of her Savannah cats is top-notch, she said.
Laney’s cattery has a large dependency on its Rainier property which has two separate indoor enclosures, one for males and one for females. There are also two 8ft x 8ft outdoor enclosures for the cats. The spaces will soon be accessible from each of the interior enclosures.
The veterinarian who awarded the “Outstanding Cattery” accolade is a huge fan of Rainier Savannahs, Laney said, in part because of his ethical breeding practices.
In particular, Laney said the vet was impressed that she took a few cats out of breeding, while others would have kept them in the mix as long as they could produce kittens.
“I just retired two of our daughters during COVID,” Laney said. “One of our daughters came down with asthma, so I went ahead and had her spayed. And then her mum needed a second caesarean, so we had her spayed too, so she didn’t reproduces more.
The asthmatic cat may not have passed the trait on to her offspring, but Laney said she “didn’t want to take that risk.”
“I’m going to call all of my kitten parents from this pair — mom and dad — and let them know too,” Laney said. “They come home with a two-year health guarantee, but if there’s anything that happens to the cat, I’ll replace the cat.”
A lady from Camano Island has a kitten that is the offspring of a retired asthmatic cat. This kitten has developed a rare metabolic disorder.
“It was the kind of disorder you learn about in vet school, but never see,” Laney said. “They were very intrigued by what it was. I will replace his cat even though he was well out of the (two-year health guarantee period).”
One of Laney’s cats is currently pregnant, but all of the kittens are already booked.
People who want to join the waitlist can call 253-375-9668, or go online to the Rainier Savannahs website at www.rainiersavannahs.com or the cattery’s Facebook page at www.rainiersavannahs.com. facebook.com/rainiersavannahs.