Sultan of Brunei joins fight to save cats

THE Sultan of Brunei has stepped in to back a Scottish family’s right to keep an exotic breed of house cat after their local council demanded they be registered as "dangerous wild animals".

The Smith family has spent three years and 12,000 building up their sons’ collection of nine Bengal cats, which look like small leopards but are considered by experts to be as tame as domestic cats.

But Angus Council believes the house pets are a risk to people and refuses to back down.

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Now the Sultan of Brunei, who also owns one of the spotted felines, has joined the wave of support the family has received from across the globe.

Sue Smith, 41, from Lunan Bay near Arbroath, says she has twice been contacted by the Sultan’s secretary to offer his sympathy with their fight.

Mrs Smith last night said her children, Aaron, 11, and Danny, eight, had been physically sick over the threat they could lose their cats.

"The council have told me that if I don’t get a licence they will take my sons’ cats from us. However, a licence requires the animal to be kept in a double wired cage outside, along with other strict regulations including one rule that my children cannot play with them.

"Our cats are just the same as domestic cats in size and temperament, having never scratched or bitten my sons."

Danny said: "I like stroking my cats but I think they might take them away. I don’t want them to because they are very nice and climb on me and sleep with me.

"I took my cat Apollo to school and told the class all about him and they really liked him. I don’t want them to go."

There are more than 25,000 Bengal cats in the UK. Originally a cross between an Asian leopard and a domestic cat, by the fifth generation experts consider them to be as safe as regular house cats.

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Mrs Smith, who runs an animal welfare sanctuary with her husband Michael, 39, added: "My eight-year-old has been physically sick with worry he will lose his cats, as they are his hobby which he has spent his grandmother’s will money on.

"He won’t go to school because he is so scared they will seize them while he is out of the house. He is very upset."

Jo Rothery, the editor of Cat World, said it was "appalling" for lap cats to be considered wild animals.

"This is a ludicrous situation, because if other councils decide to take this stance then thousands of cats will be affected."

Bengal cats were first bred as a scientific experiment by geneticists at the University of California in the 1960s, as part of a study into how Asian leopard cats are immune to feline leukaemia. By crossing the wild animals with domestic cats, the scientists hoped to spread the immunity.

They did not succeed, but the striking look of the hybrid animals they created were quickly in demand as exotic pets.

Aileen Brown, a vet and owner of the Cat Clinic in Edinburgh, said she had at least 50 Bengal cats on her books.

"I have had various scars from domestic moggies but have never found the Bengal to be a problem. They are targeting pet cats here as, from my encounters with them, I find them as handleable as other cats."

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An Angus Council spokeswoman said: "Following examination of the Dangerous Wild Animals Act of 1976 and discussions with various experts in this field, the council’s belief is that Bengal cats must be licensed.

"The council accepts that there may be instances where later generation cats may fall outwith the scope of the legislation, but this was not something which was raised with the council in this case.

"The licence is designed to protect the animal and the public, but this does not mean that the animal must be kept outside or that it cannot be handled by its owners."

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