In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?
And what shoulder and what art
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And, when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand and what dread feet?
What the hammer? What the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?
When the stars threw down their spears,
And water’d heaven with their tears,
Did He smile His work to see?
Did He who made the lamb make thee?
Tiger, Tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
— William Blake (1757-1827)
Since I am on a tiger theme at the moment … One of my cat clients has two bengal cats that I take care of from time to time. One of them has markings that are amazingly like a leopard (there is no bengal leopard, so why are they called bengal cats? I don’t know). That cat probably cost a few thousand dollars, too.
Perhaps inspired by the bengal cat, now there is a group of people who are breeding another designer cat, the toyger. The toyger is reminiscent of a tiger, although it is a lot smaller and easier to housetrain. If this dedicated breeder can perfect her imitation tiger, some experts expect it to become one of the most sought-after cats in history — fetching prices as high as $4,000.
The perfect toyger has small, round ears, a strong chin, a broad nose, and a long muzzle. It has patterns around the temples, and the stripes atop their heads run parallel to its brow — something that no domestic cat yet has. Its coat has flecks of golden “glitter,” and its movements are “reminiscent of the big cats.” But currently, there are no perfect toygers in existence.
Twenty cat breeders around the world are working on breeding the perfect toyger. It is estimated that it will be 2010 or later before the perfect toyger is born. But even imperfect specimens exude a certain jungle glamour (see picture).
Getting cats to reproduce is not as easy as you’d think. Unlike dogs or cattle, they’re more likely to resist artificial insemination. Instead, the breeder typically oversees an elaborate courtship ritual in which the cats are exposed to each other’s scents to determine if there’s chemistry. If there is, and all goes well, kittens will follow.
But is it ethical to breed designer housecats when so many cats are being put to sleep every year?
[A]s Sugden [the breeder] sees it, Toygers are about saving something rarer–the essence of tigerness.
“Wild animals are disappearing in front of our eyes,” she says. “We can’t keep big cats where we have people in massive numbers.”
One alternative is to keep a small version in your living room. Toygers are certainly easier to house-train than tigers. And, she adds, “they’re getting more and more beautiful every year.”