I just got another great question from a visitor to our website, and thought it would make an interesting topic for our blog...
I strongly recommend visiting a cattery because it tells you a lot about the environment that the breeding cats are kept in and the social experiences the kittens have had. It is one of the best ways to ensure that what is advertised (a healthy, sociable kitten) is what is being cultivated.
When you physically go to a cattery, you can see the breeding cats. Cat lovers who have never seen a Burmese before are often surprised by how small they are in comparison to a typical household pet. They take note of how friendly and curious they are, greeting them at the door, following them from room to room, and sitting on the lap of a virtual stranger. You can also observe the overall health of the cats. Do many of the cats have runny eyes? Are the cats sneezing? Do they have a shiny coat? What is their weight like?
Visiting a cattery gives you an idea of how the cats are kept and what a typical day is like for them. Are they kept in cages all the time, some of the time, or allowed full run of the house? How big are the cages? Is the cage / household environment clean? Is there a separate area for studs and/or newborn kittens? How do they get exercise and stimulation? Do they have access to clean food and water? Is the litterbox changed regularly? While I don't want anyone to come and do a "white glove test" on my home / cattery while visiting (I do have 4 kids, 2 dogs, and quite a few cats, after all!!!), and everyone has their own idea of "clean," you should feel reasonably comfortable with the kitten environment.
Finally, visiting a cattery also gives the breeder a chance to meet you and feel comfortable that you will take good care of the baby they have poured so much time, knowledge, effort, and affection into raising. In the same way you want to see how your kitten has spent its first months, we want to know with whom they are going to spend the rest of their life! When you visit, we have a better sense of you and your current lifestyle, and helps us make the right recommendations in regard to which cat/kitten is right for you.
If a breeder is hesitant about having you come for a visit or insists on meeting you in a parking lot to give you your kitten, I would recommend that you RUN, don't walk, THE OTHER WAY!! This smacks of the rare but well known "kitten mill." Good breeders don't have anything to hide and WANT the opportunity to meet you before handing over one of their babies. This is not to say that breeders who are willing to ship a kitten or offer to drive part way are all greedy and unethical. Some breeders ship because they are located in very remote areas or breed a very rare breed of cat and ship by necessity. At that point you may want to ask for a reference from another breeder or client. If this is not readily available, buyer beware!
Unfortunately, there have been and will continue to be some very rare times when prospective cat owners go to pick up a long awaited kitten from a "breeder" only to discover lots and lots of poorly kept cats and kittens roaming loose in a very dirty, smelly, overcrowded house. This is very likely a hoarding situation, and action needs to be taken to protect the cats and address the issues of the owner. If you encounter such a situation, DO NOT ADOPT any cat or kitten, no matter how much money you paid. Leave the premises and contact the animal welfare authorities in that area. You can also contact the CFA breed club of that breed and make them aware of the situation. Although there is nothing they can do legally, they can be a wonderful resource in rehoming cats if that becomes necessary.
The great news is that in my few years as a CFA breeder, I have met a lot of wonderful breeders and visited a lot of immaculate catteries. Although every breeder does things just a little bit differently, I am happy to make recommendations for the outstanding breeders with whom I have the pleasure to work.