Mentorship is a huge and very important part of breeding and should be heavily considered before even getting your first breeding cat(s).
First and foremost your goal of being a breeder is to improve and advance the breed. It can be as simple as putting two cats together, allowing them to just be until they no longer are drinking mom’s milk and finding them a home at 8 weeks or younger. Anyone can do this which is why we have an overpopulation of cats, sick cats and kittens going to honest families and backyard breeders who are only interested in making money and nothing more. You don’t want to be a basic breeder, you want to be an ethical, responsible and knowledgeable Breeder. You want a mentor.
Don’t think you are too good for a mentor, sometimes you must rely on others in order to fully understand something as well as easily avoid situations through the guidance of someone with more experience. A mentor is a fantastic opportunity to further your development and your future program as a breeder as well as reach educational, professional, and personal goals.
What is a mentor?
A mentor is another experienced breeder that can teach you what they have learned from their mentor, other breeders and their own personal experiences that can advise you during your breeding journey.
Be available to answer questions
Providing information about the registering body and how to register a cattery, cats, kittens, cats from other registries and becoming a member
Provide information on the breed history
Promote good sportsmanship, breeder relations and networking
Promote the understanding of the cat breed standard(s) and what qualifies as a great representation to the breed for a program and show hall
Understanding and working with pedigrees
How to create and manage a breeding program which includes helping to find appropriate foundation cats
Helping the mentee become familiar with everything involving the show calendar, entering shows and exhibiting in shows (suppliers, etiquette, scoring and titles
Help with grooming needs
Detail expenses involved in maintaining a cattery and showing cats
Obtain the knowledge and experience of breeders and those that show and network with those individuals as well as encourage them to continue to seek information
Help avoid costly mistakes
Educate on nutrition, veterinary care, illness and disease including breed specific conditions and testing, reproduction, genetics including inheritance, color, pattern etc., genetic diversity, inbreeding/line breeding, outcrossing etc.
Teaching about good cattery practices such as husbandry housing standards, sanitation, hoarding
How to raise kittens from birth until they go home, knowing when to let go
Finding homes for kittens, appropriate length of time to keep kittens, contracts, advertising, waiting lists
Co-owning, Selling, Leasing breeding cats
Education on times its best to close a cattery
Details on Good Cattery Practices
How to handle drama, other breeders, biases in the show hall
Why do you need one?
My back story. I have been in various facets of the animal industry since I was 7 years old. Not only have I worked in retail for pet stores, pet food companies and owned my own business creating commemorative jewelry for people who have lost their companions, but I also have done rescue work volunteering in shelters and fostering kittens, I have raised other animals like rats and rabbits, ran my own pet business, read endlessly about all aspects of animals and their care. I took animal first aid courses, was an FFA member, got certified in diet formulation and took every science and animal-related class in High School. I even have a degree in Psycho-Biology Pre-Veterinary with a minor in evolutionary studies all before I even started my mentorship which spanned approximately a year before I got my first breeding cat. Am I rubbing your face in how experienced I am? Quite the opposite. I have spent almost all my life in preparation to become a veterinarian ( a dream I had since I was 7 years old) and still much of my experience while it has certainly helped me, still has never prepared me enough to be a breeder.
You are many things as a breeder
You wear many hats some you acquire throughout your time as a breeder.
Just like a parent, a mentor is there to guide you and help you navigate trouble or odd situations, prevent sticky situations and help you develop your own goals as a breeder. A mentor provides the nitty gritty information that a textbook can’t tell you without the struggle of learning the hard way.
How does mentoring work?
Mentoring can work in many ways. All breeders and mentors are different in their style of communicating, teaching and showing information, skills, and experiences.
You can communicate via facebook/social media, email, in person or on the phone allowing you to have a mentor that isn’t just in your area, but across the country!
It can include an exchange of information, articles, pictures, hands on show and tell, books and more.
How do you find one?
Some registering bodies such as TICA and CFA have a mentorship program where they set you up with an experienced advisor that can answer all your questions.
There are several facebook groups and yahoo groups where you can ask questions and connect with someone or a few people who may be willing to mentor. This will also allow other reputable breeders to recommend people that could help as well.
Another great way to find a mentor is too look at lots of breeder’s websites. See what you like and dislike, see if your values and goals will align with theirs. You’ll get to read the information on their website, view pictures of their cats and kittens and get an overall feel. Use the list of questions to interview breeders either by phone, email or personal meeting to see if you are a good match.
While sometimes having a mentor nearby is helpful for local shows and helping evaluate kittens in person or help with emergencies, a mentor can be found all over the world. This is especially useful if you are looking for someone specific. Not everyone in your area will agree with the same values as you, or will specialize in the same color as you will want to so you may have to branch out a little.
Use multiple sources so you can get a well rounded opinion of various breeders. Eventually you’ll end up with a small circle of trust worthy breeders you can talk with regularly.
What does a good mentor look like ?
Mentorship is a partnership. It's often sharing information and questions between each other to provoke a discussion. You may not always agree with your mentor but the questions, answers and discussion can help you carve your way in the breeding world.
Mentors will make a commitment to take part in learning alongside the mentee which may include some uncomfortableness as mentors can be stuck in their ways or have a harder time accepting change. This also can be on the mentees part so it's important to know something may connect later or have value in the future. But the important part is both mentor and mentee push on and dive into the learning experience.
These learning experiences can be explored with understandable literature, pictures, shows, hands on representations, drawing from personal experience and situations. The mentee then interacts in a manner that demonstrates they understand the mentor and can connect the information then their own experiences.
Finally the mentor will promote awareness of what was learned and ask key questions.
How to be a good mentee
As much as finding a good mentor is important, being a good mentee is equally as important.
Being a good mentee is staying in touch with your mentor asking questions, discussing topics and ideas you have thought of, come across or questioning. Don’t feel like you are a bother. If you don’t ask questions you may end up in a sticky situation.
Being teachable is key as well. While your feedback is important you want to be receptive and seriously take what your mentors have to say into consideration. However it's important not to always be a yes man either. Make sure you are thinking for yourself and using the information to form a well rounded opinion or mode of action. Balance is important.
Make sure that you can take constructive criticism and be open to information as well. Evaluate what is being said and how it applies to your situation or why someone is seeing something in a certain way.
Be respectful of your mentors’ time they are volunteering to do this. They may not always be available 24/7. Also be respectful of their knowledge. That is their experience and has shaped how they operate.
Be responsible for your continued learning. Don’t just rely on your mentor for everything.
Be dedicated to learning, expanding your horizons and practicing the things you have learned to gain skills that can be extrapolated to many other experiences and situations.
Questions to ask a potential mentor
In many respects this is like looking for a good breeder partially because you want to mentor under someone who has the breed’s best interests in mind and thus a good influence for you to learn and excel as a breeder. So here are some questions to get you started. Also reference the above in what makes a good mentor.
Have they mentored someone before?
Can they be a reference if so ?
Was this person successful as a breeder, what span of time?
If they have not been a mentor before, what do they feel qualifies you to mentor?
How long have they been breeding?
What is your understanding of breeding?
What is their understanding of showing?
What do they know about microbiology, illness and disease, husbrandtry, emergencies, genetics, nutrition, etc.
Do they health test (HCM, PRA-b, PK-def, other genetic tests and screenings)
How much time can they dedicate to mentoring?
Are they recognized and accepted as a source of information and guidance.
Do they have a strong interest in helping others.
Do they recognize and congratulate when others succeed in the cat world.
Do they Enjoy actively learning new things related to the breeding and exhibition of pedigreed cats.
How do you know they are a good fit for you?
What are their values and how do they compare to yours?
Do you like their personality? Are they honest? Too brutally honest?
Can you be honest with them? Can you confide in them?
Is it easy to talk to them?
Are they a good listener?
Are they approachable and willing to share knowledge.
Red Flags to be aware of when looking for a mentor
Sometimes someone may want to “mentor” to simply get their name out there and make money etc. sometimes their intentions aren’t the best sadly. It’s important to recognize some red flags that may pop up that may indicate someone to avoid.
They are overly critical or use fear mongering techniques.
They have a problem with what seems like everyone else.
They are always right, it's their way or the highway.
They feel no need to improve or change.
They don’t walk the talk .
If they offer you deals like I will mentor you if you take six cats from me i’ll or you get X if you Y….
If there are scams or other bad information about them on the internet, facebook, reviews, better business bureau etc.
If they are suspended or on other restriction lists by registering bodies or other organizations.
If the say they never had an illness or disease, any deaths or anything “bad” happens in their cattery.
Dangers of not having a good mentor can severely damage your reputation or send your breeding career in the total opposite direction than intended so be careful of who you mentor under and don’t be afraid to walk away if need be.
Also keep in mind that just because someone is a registered breeder, friendly, offers a good deal, well known or does great in the show hall doesn’t automatically qualify them to mentor.
Mentorship is an integral part to being an awesome breeder. It’s a lot of work but it’s also fun, engaging and rewarding when you feel 100% prepared to breed your chosen breed and troubleshoot issues you have been prepared to deal with. You easily become a knowledge base and a respected member of the breeding community as accepting mentorship shows that you are eager, patient and willing to learn and through that learning to develop your own skill sets and direction for your breeding program.