Sometimes it seems like writers at the New York Times are in a competition with each other to prove who’s the most out-of-touch.
The latest effort comes courtesy of Alexandra Marvar, who begins her profile of a designer cat breeder by reminiscing about the good old days when those lacking sense or self-awareness could be fabulous by keeping wild animals as “chic pets”:
Not so long ago, wild cat companions were associated with glamour, class and creativity. Salvador Dalí brought his ocelot to the St. Regis. Tippi Hedren lounged with her lions in her Los Angeles living room. Josephine Baker’s cheetah, collared in diamonds, strolled the Champs-Élysées. In their time, these wild creatures made chic pets.
But, Marvar writes, those animal welfare activists had to come and ruin things for fabulous people:
But by the mid-1970s, a wave of awareness and wildlife protection legislation changed both the optics of owning a big cat, and the ability to legally purchase one.
Killjoys. Don’t they know Dali, Hedren and Baker were just being fabulous? They were being classy and creative! Who has time for people who claim it’s wrong to keep a wild animal that ranges 50 miles a day confined in a living room? They have gilded cages, diamond collars and meals of filet mignon!
Now that wild cat ownership has been relegated to mulleted felons and gun-toting Texans who keep exotic cats to hold on tight to “muh freedoms” — stripping the practice of all glamour, class and fabulousness — where can the wealthy turn when they don’t just want pets, but status symbols?
The creators of the latest designer breeds, Toygers and Bengals, of course. Meet our heroes, the late breeder Jean Mill and her daughter, Judy Sugden:
Meanwhile, a cat breeder named Jean Mill was working on a more practical alternative: her leopard-spotted companion was just ten inches tall. At her cattery in Southern California, Ms. Mill invented a breed of domestic cat called the Bengal, which would offer wild cat admirers the best of both worlds: an impeccable leopard-like coat, and an indoor-cat size and demeanor.
Note: If you think a Persian makes you fabulous, surrender that cat to the nearest shelter immediately. Persians are so 2013!
[A Bengal cat breeder] recalled there used to be “tons” of ads for Persian cats in the back of Cat Fancy magazine. But the Persian’s prim, manicured aesthetic is no longer en vogue. “That look doesn’t say, ‘I can survive in the jungle,’” Mr. Hutcherson said. “It says, ‘I need somebody to open this can of cat food because there’s no way this cat is catching a mouse.’”
Carole Baskin, the founder of Big Cat Rescue and a star of Netflix’s “Tiger King,” has called toyger owners “selfish” and said creating new breeds is “strapping a nuclear warhead to the feral cat problem.” Others might argue that compared with shelter pets, designer species (the rarer of which may cost as much tens of thousands of dollars per kitten) are a different beast altogether.
Others might argue! Who are those others? Uh, Marvar and…and…nevermind. The important thing to realize is that there are cats — the riff-raff adopted from animal shelters by plebs — and there are chic, elegant, glamorous beasts. To compare a shelter pet to a Toyger would be like comparing a Geo Metro to an Aston Martin.
In the glowing profile of Mill’s daughter, the toyger breeder — whose cats the Times compares to the Mona Lisa and whose work it describes as a “creative effort” in “cultivating” perfect “beasts” — the newspaper devotes a single line to those who object to the industrial manufacture of designer pets when shelters are forced to euthanize cats who aren’t adopted:
…the designer cat market is a thriving one where supply rarely meets demand, and in its service, more than 40,000 registered house cat breeders around the world are devoted to supplying pet owners with Ragdoll, Sphynx and other prized breeds. (PETA has argued this clientele should instead adopt cats from a shelter.)
The fact that 1.4 million pets are put down every year in the US wasn’t considered important enough to mention in the Times story. Too much of a buzzkill. Ain’t no one got time for that!
The rest of the Times’ editorial staff and its stable of contributors will have a tough time topping Marvar’s masterpiece. But as they try — and try they will — remember these are the same people who want to teach the rest of us about privilege and inequality in modern society as they social distance in their Scarsdale homes and file their stories from their couches next to their $10,000 pets.