Interview with Ragdoll Breeder Bette Willette of Willetteragdol Cattery
We introduced you to Willetteragdoll Cattery in MA last week. Now, here's an interview with Bette Willette!
Website: Willetteragdol Cattery
Facebook Page: Willetteragdol Cattery on Facebook
Facebook Group for Willetteragdol Cat Owners: Willetteragdol Ragdoll Owners Forum
How long have you been breeding Ragdolls?
Rick and I starting breeding in 2010. We call it being “smitten from the first kitten”.
How did you pick Ragdolls to breed?
We fell madly in love with the breed when we bought our first Ragdoll. At first, we just wanted to experience having a new life (pet) in our home. At the time, I just had an ordinary cat. However, this cat followed me from room to room and was always at my side. I brought him to the vets for a regular check up and the doctor said “of course he is not a ragdoll, but he has behaviors like a ragdoll”. He was super sweet, intelligent and best of all, his personality was less like an average cat, and more like a golden retriever in a cat suit. That was it, I wanted a Ragdoll. It took me awhile to convince my dog loving husband that having a Ragdoll would be good for me, since at the time I was recovering from my first total hip replacement at age 35. I researched this breed for over 18 years before we bought our first ragdoll. My husband now agrees that Ragdolls are the best cats on the planet.
Do you show? Why or why not?
No, not at this time. We take care of my brother who has Alzheimer's disease. I promised my mother before she passed away that I would always look after him. My brother has many medical issues and he needs constant supervision. It takes both myself and my husband to look after him. Going to a show for a weekend would require a nurse or someone who could look after his medical needs and behaviors. At the moment, our little family needs to be there for Raymond. I will not put my brother into a nursing home, so we both need to be at home. I love him and it would break his heart being away from the only family he has. Showing is just not feasible for us right now.
What congenital defects are in Ragdolls?
Ragdolls are known to have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy which is when the left ventricle is thicker than normal. Because Ragdolls can be very laid back cats, signs of this disease are often missed by parents until it's too late. It’s a scary thing because sudden death can occur. Here at Willetteragdol, we do DNA testing for the gene mutation through Davis Labs in California. We also DNA test for PDK polycystic kidney disease .
How are you breeding to avoid those defects?
We do DNA testing of all our adult breeder cats for both HCM and PDK. We also do blood work for feline aids leukemia. We also do blood group testing in the unlikely event that one of my girls might need a transfusion from a emergency C-section.
How large is your breeding operation?
We have only one stud cat, our beautiful Jacque Philip who is named after my late father. Jacque enjoys his own bedroom which he is only in at night. During the day, he wears a stud suit that is custom made just for him. He has the run of our, "man-cave" (a finished in-law apartment in our downstairs) during the day. At night he, as my husband Rick calls it, “goes commando” in his room. In other words, we take his stud suit off at night when he is ready to retire to his bedroom. He is never caged. Even when he is in his bedroom, we check in on him quite often so he isn’t lonely. Jacque does enjoy his "dates" with his ladies. Jacque's ladies are as follows (oldest to youngest) .... Beautiful Annette Simone, aka “Annie”. She is named after my mother because my mum had beautiful blue eyes, just like our gorgeous Ragdolls. My mothers name was Simone Annette and all of our girls have her name as part of their pedigree name. We also have JeTaime Simone, Madeline Simone, Delia Simone, Molly Simone, and our newest up and coming queens, Fifi Simone and the lovely Kimberly Simone.
Where do your cats spend most of their time?
We have six rooms upstairs in the main part of our house. We recently closed in our porch and converted it into our kitten room/sun room, complete with a cat walk. We converted the porch into a kitten/sun room so my cats could enjoy the outside while remaining totally and forever indoor cats. We also feed the birds for their entertainment so they can pretend to be the great hunters that they imagine they are. We also have a storage room, living room, second kitchen and Jacque’s Bachelor Pad (bedroom) on our lower level. Our cats have the run of the house, except for Jacque's man cave, which consists of the three rooms on the lower level. As I explained earlier, Jacque has the run of the lower level during the days when he dons his stud suit. We also own ten cat trees, so there is always something to do and someplace to go.
Do you breed full time? In other words, do you have another job?
Yes, we breed full time. Our day starts at dawn with fresh food, fresh water and the scooping of 27 litter boxes. Every floor gets washed daily by my husband, known as the "MOP MAN". Jacque's Bachelor Pad walls, floor, and bedding is washed and changed every single day, holidays included. I am in awe of the breeders who do this alone or hold down another full time job. We take lots and lots of photos of our babies and our parents receive those photos twice a week. Wednesday/Thursday is our “midweek smile day” (first set of photos). Then on the weekends, parents generally receive a second photo. We also send them what we call our “letters home to mum and dad” once a month. This serves to keep our parents informed of the events of the past month with their kitten. Also, it helps to keep them in the loop of all medical updates and speeds the bonding process that we feel is crucial in raising a well-rounded beautiful Ragdoll Cat. We also have photos and video up on our Facebook cattery page during the week. Our Mop man is also in charge of our videos, which are not only entertaining and cute, but educational for our parents as well. Even though it’s quite a lot of work, we do not consider our cats to be “our job”… they are our life ❤.
What sort of health guarantees do you offer?
We offer a one year health guarantee in writing with all of our Ragdoll babies. We make ourselves available for questions, support, and love for the life of every one of our Ragdolls. We encourage parents to contact us with any questions or concerns that they may have.
What happens if the kitten gets sick?
We keep a very close eye on all of our babies. When a kitten appears ill, we bring the kitten to the vets asap. We have a vet, Dr. Erika, who comes to our home shortly after babies arrive . She also visits when our babies are 7-8 weeks of age for their first check up and shot. We do not do our own medical. We leave that to our licensed veterinarian. We do a spay/neuter at 12 weeks, before the babies go home, and our babies receive their second shot at this time. Occasionally, our surgeon will also gives them their rabies shot if the kitten is old enough.
Do you have any fun adoption stories to share?
Oh my goodness, all of our adoptions are great! We did have one kitten who was born a twin…Thumbelina. She and her sister, Tiny Dancer, were born attached to the same placenta and our vet thought for sure that they would both die. Her twin sister, Tiny Dancer, unfortunately, did not make it. Even though I tried everything I could think of, she just wasn’t strong enough to stay with us and we lost her. However, Thumbelina was a true fighter and grew, and grew, and grew! The woman who eventually would adopt her, had twin daughters and was delighted with the fact that Thumbelina had been a twin. She was a perfect fit! Truly meant to be!
What makes this kitten or cat “pet quality” or “show quality”?
A kitten that is pet quality is a kitten who is mismarked . He may have a dark spot on the back leg, or two different colored ears, etc. Show quality is a kitten with a perfectly shaped head, perfect markings, and the correct size tail, etc. We do not charge extra for show quality kittens. We have one price that applies to every kitten, regardless of color or pattern. We do not sell breeder kittens.
Do you keep some of your cats for your own?
Yes we have a few retired breeders as our pet cats. We also have two little girls, Fifi and Kimberly that were fathered by our retired breeder, Pierre. They will be two of our breeding queens once they are old enough.
How old is your oldest cat?
Our oldest pet cat would be our first stud cat, Butch who is retired. He will be 8 this year.
What is your favorite Ragdoll look?
Oh my goodness ... that's a tough one.... I think it would be the Blues. I'm madly in love with my one-time only stud cat Pierre, who is my heart cat. He also happens to be a Blue. Pierre can do no wrong in my book.
Do you raise your cats underfoot?
Oh course .... we sleep with them! Sometimes we end up sharing our room with a litter of kittens. It's not uncommon to wake up with six raggies in our bed.
Do you send photos of the parents before you adopt a kitten? Or do you post the parents on the website?
All of our parent cats are shown on our website. Of course, if a potential parent wanted to see additional photos of any of our cats prior to adopting, we would send them additional photos. They are also always welcome to pay us a visit and meet our kitty parents in person.
Do you send the kitten’s pedigree when you adopt a kitten?
We register all of our kittens. Parents receive their registration when they pick up the kittens. Also, we will provide a pedigree if requested by a parent (there is a little extra charge for the pedigree). We try to make sure that everything is done and ready for our parents when they pick up their kitten. We aim to give our parents an experience they will not soon forget. We treat all our parents as part of our extended family. In addition to their registration, every parent receives a kitten take home basket which includes a hand crocheted kitten bed in any color they want, filled with all kinds of surprises. No two cat beds are alike, just like our babies. Our welcome home gifts are fantastic, if I do say so myself!
Will it be a problem if one requests, and wants to pay for, the CatGenes DNA testing before one accepts a kitten?
Not at all ... Medical paperwork is available upon request and there is no charge. If a parent wants to do their own testing, we would also welcome that. We are totally out in the open with our cattery and have no secrets. What you see is what you get!
Can people interested in purchasing one of your cats visit your cattery?
Absolutely! We do request that you give us a 24 hour notice though. It’s not that we have anything to hide, but we do visits quite often, as well as interviews and cleaning…lots and lots of cleaning, so the 24 hours notice is solely to make sure that we are not already booked for a visit, etc. We have had people come with very little notice, which could cause a problem if we have another parent here at the time. We even offer refreshments while you visit. Some parents (children) receive a toy ragdoll to tide them over until the real deal comes home.
If a possible adoptee cannot visit your cattery, are you willing to talk to your adoptee on the phone?
Of course! We actually do one better, we will send videos of the available kittens so they can see them before they choose.
How do you honor your health guarantee?
We honor our health guarantee 100%. We breed for health first, personality and looks second. We do guarantee the health of our kittens. If there is a problem with your kitten, we will work with you and your vet to help identify and fix the problem. If the problem or illness cannot be fixed, we will refund/replace the kitten.
What if a kitten gets adopted and the customer is unhappy with a kitten, what do you do?
They can return the kitten. If the kitten is young enough, we will return their money. However, there has to be a valid reason for returning the kitten (allergy, not a good fit, or illness). If there is not a valid reason for the return, we will not allow those people to be placed back on our waiting list. Even with our very careful screening process, we have come across a family or two that no one could make happy. We refunded their money and suggested they look elsewhere for a kitten.
How are your kittens registered?
A few of our girls hold more than one pedigree…both Tica and CFA. We have had parents request both pedigrees, which we will supply. Jacque holds both pedigrees as well. However, the majority of our girls are Tica pedigree cats so their kittens would only have Tica pedigrees. All of our kittens are registered, even if a parent is going to put that registration in a drawer and forget about it forever. We have been doing this from the beginning because we feel the parent is paying for a pedigree cat they should have the registration to show the parent’s pedigree.
What vaccination brand do you use? And what vaccinations are given, when?
We use Felocell vaccine made by Zoetis. Our vet who comes to our house, gives first vaccine at 7-8 weeks of age. The second distemper shot is given when they are spayed/neutered. If the kitten is old enough when they go for their spay/neuter, they may also receive their rabies shot, usually at 12-14 weeks of age. Even though I was once a licensed nurse, we let our vet give the kittens their shots when she comes to our home. She also gives every kitten a complete first check up and all medical is ready at parent pick up day.
What are the kittens fed?
We are currently feeding our cats Royal Canin Ragdoll for our adults and Royal Canin Kitten for our up and coming queens. We feed and recommend kitten food until a year old. We also feed canned food because we feel cats, by nature, do not drink enough water. We instruct our parents to feed only out of glass or metal dishes because plastic dishes can cause kitty acne in Ragdolls. We have also found that feeding wet food on a flat small plate such as a dessert or salad plate works better for our cats. We also instruct our parents to change the water frequent and always use a clean bowl.
**Editor Note: For Ragdoll breeders who contact me and would like to be featured on the site, I offer a few options – 1) they can do a write-up like this one and/or 2) they can do an interview with me. I do not EVER RECOMMEND Ragdoll breeders, but rather let readers do it here. It would take months of investigation and also several trips to the cattery. It’s simply impossible for me to recommend breeders. However, I will only feature Ragdoll breeders who responsibly early spay and neuter their pets.