Pickapaw Breeder Spotlight – Natalie and her Bengals
Meet Natalie Wilkinson, owner of TICA registered Bengal Royalty Cattery and a Pickapaw trusted Bengal cat breeder from North Carolina, US. Natalie is a young professional breeder obsessed with health and well being of her spotted beauties. Her Bengals are curious, intelligent, have high-energy personalities and bond with people for life. But remember, if you upset them by forgetting dinner or playtime, you’ll never hear the end of it until you make good on your end of the bargain! Read more below:
Our Interview with Natalie
How did you become a breeder?
That’s a great question! It’s a bit of a long story, but I’ll keep it as simple as I can! Back in 2012, I was starting a brand-new chapter of my life. I had just married my wonderful husband, Thomas, graduated from college, and moved up here to Charlotte from my hometown in Miami, FL. I soon learned that Thomas’s cousin had a Bengal cat, and when I saw him, I was struck by how amazingly beautiful he was. As I continued to adjust to married life, being a housewife, and looking for work in a new city, I found myself wanting a kitty companion more and more, just to spend time with during the day. I finally sat down and started to look on Google. I found a Breeder that was surprisingly close by us, and decided to reach out. She was so thorough and informative, I didn’t look anywhere else. I went out there and met Bengals for the very first time. The first thing I noticed, and I’ll never forget this, was how they all looked at me. There was such an intelligence behind those eyes, I could swear they were reading into my soul. I was weirded out, yet fascinated – I had never seen such eyes! I sat in a room full of kittens and soon met my baby, Casanova. It was love at first sight – until I learned his price was $4,000! There was just no way we could afford that. In what could only have been an act of God, the Breeder happened to be looking for help, and asked if I would be interested in working off the price of the kitty. I happened to be looking for work, so that’s where I got my first job in Charlotte! I was there for close to two years, during which time I learned so much about the Bengal world. I got to witness births, help with Vet visits, talk to families looking for a new baby, learn all the hilarious and crazy quirks of this breed, photograph them, feed everybody, administer meds when needed, experience working with an early generation hybrid, do lots of cleaning, and scoop quite a bit of litter! It was very much a thorough on-the-job training, the likes of which I had never experienced before, and I would do it all again. I was soon able to bring King Casanova home (then known as Prince Casanova, of course), and soon thereafter, another litter was born that had our gorgeous Queen Aurora in it. That was the first litter I helped name – the Breeder knew I was a Disney fan, and she was gracious enough to let me pick a few names. It was truly a lot of fun, and as time passed, I started getting good at it. Breeding Bengals was something I fell in love with and wanted to continue on my own, which is exactly what I have been doing ever since.
What is the life of a breeder like?
To summarize, breeding is a lot of work, and you’ll be busy most of the time. It is not necessarily a difficult job to do if you start with solid breeders with great genes, and a Queen with excellent milk (with Aurora, I’m eternally grateful never to have run into any major problems with milk production, which can very quickly make the job of a Breeder very difficult.)
Most of the challenges show themselves as you go through the day-to-day chores. You do have the privilege of being your own boss, and as to be expected, this comes with its own set of responsibilities. You wear all the hats – customer service, webmaster, SEO team, R&D, marketing, tech support, financial supervisor, midwife, nanny, janitor, chef, chauffeur – and the list goes on and on. Having the support of a spouse or close friend is invaluable – someone who can scoop litter here and there or feed everyone when you’re tied up. It makes a huge difference!
Keeping your Cattery as small as you can makes life infinitely easier. If you’re not overloaded, you’ll have the time to answer everyone’s questions and take care of your cats and your home.
Who is, in your opinion, a responsible breeder?
Quality over Quantity is the underlying philosophy. A responsible Breeder, regardless of specialty, is one who takes a realistic account of several major things: the space they have available to them, the resources they have in order to take care of everyone, and lastly, a sense of balance. They do not have too many animals for the space and resources available. They do not make a living off their Breeding and have a main source of income to help fund their Breeding. (This may vary from one particular case to the other; this is my personal opinion, and what I feel is the ideal. Some may be wealthy and able to breed exclusively without potential losses affecting their day-to-day lives. This is part of a realistic assessment of resources. A Breeder who doesn’t live off their sales will tend to be considerably less pushy, and much more interested in a quality match.) They also do not toss their animals indefinitely into cages; a responsible Breeder realizes that these are not just animals, rather lives they are responsible for that need love to thrive. With that in mind, they know when to separate breeding adults, and when to let them together. A responsible Breeder has a plan for every baby’s placement, even if it means keeping the whole lot of them and fixing everyone in a pinch. That’s what I fully intend to do should the day ever come that I have too many kitties.
A responsible Breeder is one who listens to their clients, makes an honest assessment of their compatibility with one of their babies, is enthusiastic and supportive when it’s an ideal environment, and straightforward and kind when it’s not a potentially good match.
Healthcare is among the absolute top priorities, as is transparency with clients. There are health guarantees in place, which involves customer support should a congenital defect show up, or there is some other issue. A responsible Breeder doesn’t knowingly sell someone a sick kitten, puppy, or any other pet, and won’t let them go home until at least 12 weeks (for kittens). The TICA Voluntary Code of Ethics is a phenomenal way to set a standard that can be easily followed by Breeder and client alike. A responsible Breeder has an open mind and is dedicated to never stop learning. Over time, things change; new patterns and colors are admitted into the Breed standard, medical advances are made, new genetic tests are developed – it’s an ever-growing and ever-changing world we live in. Keep it real, and be kind to one another! =^..^=
Who are your customers?
The kind of people we love to work with are those who are looking for more than just a pet – rather, they are looking for a new family member to completely lavish with love. (The ones that are about as obsessed as we are, haha.)
What are some of the challenges the responsible breeders are currently facing?
The biggest one I’ve run into is when you are contacted by someone that has not necessarily done their research, and based on what they share with you, they don’t seem to have an environment that would be compatible with a Bengal kitten. The challenge there is to have to figure out exactly what the situation is, and if it doesn’t seem like it would work, you have to let them know that in a straightforward and kind manner, knowing that it may offend them. I have come across a few families that have a large number of current pets (as in more than 3), which could potentially compromise the amount of quality attention they would be able to give to their Bengal baby. A Bengal kitten will bond to you for life, and will get in the way of whatever takes you away from them. This is why they sit on keyboards, phones, iPads, and even in front of the TV so all you see is the silhouette of a cat’s head in the middle of your favorite episode of Gotham. A responsible Breeder will generally take these things into account and bring it up gently– not in a slam-the-door-in-their-faces kind of way. Someone only trying to make a sale won’t care for the kitten’s best interest and will sell to whomever approaches them without asking any questions at all.
Another challenge we sometimes run into is when people don’t appreciate the value of what you have, and scoff at your prices. The solution to this is to realize that the person does not understand the time, effort, money, and work that goes into each litter, and let it go.
I feel very fortunate that I rarely have had to bottle-feed a baby, but it does sometimes happen, and when it does, it can get extraordinarily difficult to be there every two hours.
Conflicting information is also such a pain. Having a question in the middle of the night or on a Sunday afternoon when the Vet’s office is closed naturally takes you to Google. On Google, you will find a virtually endless torrent of very passionately conflicting opinions. Forums are at times a hostile environment that makes one hesitant to ask a question for fear of being eaten alive.
I’m younger than most would expect (28), which throws some people off when they come to visit us. At the front door, they’ve looked over my shoulder, trying to find the person they pictured from our e-mails, haha.
Finally: not many things in life are as gut wrenching as having to listen to a cat in heat. The exception is listening to cats mate.
What advice would you give to all your future customers?
When writing to a Breeder, take some time and write about what you’re looking for. What brought you to their website? What are you looking for in a Bengal kitten? One liners are ok if you’re in a hurry, but it is so much nicer to sit down to a well thought-out email. It really lets us know you care, and you’re serious about adopting a Bengal kitten. Also, if you think you’d like to wait and shop around a bit instead, don’t be afraid to let us know that. We often wonder what happened when we don’t get an answer back.
Do not breed any kind of animal unless you are prepared to make it your day job, and you have experience working with an established Breeder. Inexperience costs lives. Abide by your agreement with the Breeder, and get your kitten fixed at the appropriate time (we usually recommend 6-8 months of age.)
What makes Bengals special?
Bengals are nuts. Haha! They have such dynamic, high-energy personalities, which, when coupled with high levels of intelligence, make for quite the entertaining companion. Some are more mellow than others, but the general pattern they follow is sleeping most of the day, then becoming very active in spurts during the evening. A Bengal bonds with you for life, and just wants to be with you. You’ll never use the bathroom or sleep alone again. If you upset them by forgetting dinner or playtime, you’ll never hear the end of it until you make good on your end of the bargain. They are curious, get into things, open doors, LOVE bird feeders and fishtanks, and play hard. Not only that, they are gorgeous! With a Bengal, you get the wild look and the sweet domestic temperament. That’s the dream! Breeding Bengals has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, paws down.
What advice would you give to Pickapaw readers?
Don’t buy a cheap Bengal kitten. An inexpensive kitten is more likely to have compromised health and/or poor socialization, which will only bring you Vet bills or other issues later, so you’re definitely looking at a pay-me-now or pay-me-later situation. Invest in a good, solid, healthy kitten, which will run you at least $800, and be prepared for additional costs along the way, including appropriate food, litter, spay/neuter, etc. With that said, expensive doesn’t always mean better, and that goes for anything. Please be sure to pay attention, do your homework, and ask questions. Visit the Cattery you’re interested in, meet the kittens, meet the parents, see how they run their business. Take careful note of the chemistry you have with the kitten before you adopt. If he is hiding from you or not taking to you naturally, chances are this won’t change much over time. Adopt a baby that plays with you, loves on you, is paying you attention, and that you feel drawn to, not sold to.
If a Bengal kitten is just way outside your price range, go to your local shelter and adopt! There are even Bengal rescues you can look into as well. There are so many out there. Here are just a few:
If you’re thinking in the back of your mind about a contingency plan to get rid of the kitten “in case things don’t work out,” you might as well stop looking now, because you will only be contributing to the problem of overcrowding in shelters. This is going to be the newest member of your family; choose carefully and understand that you will be providing a forever home. If you move, take the cat with you. There are so many pet-friendly apartments and housing developments, it is simply not necessary to abandon your fur baby. Keep him inside to avoid exposure to fleas, ticks, and disease. If you think there is any chance of him getting out, consider a microchip for added security. Finally, for the love of all that is good and holy, please do NOT cripple your cat via declawing.
Thank you Natalie for sharing your knowledge and expertise about the Bengal breed and also your love and passion for their spots and high-energy personalities!
- Team Pickapaw
To contact Natalie, please go to her Pickapaw page or follow her on Instagram (@ilovemyfurbaby).