I have a cat named Pancake. She is very beautiful, and wherever she goes people comment on her appearance and her incredibly soft coat. Pancake waits for me at the door and likes to lie on my feet and follows me around and talks to me constantly. Pancake has the most personality of any pet I have ever owned.
Pancake is also a total f-cking nightmare. She is hyper-destructive, she is demanding, she is so territorial it can be difficult to have people over (my friend Meghan came to visit and I legit worried about Pancake attacking her in her sleep, instead Pancake pooped on my bed). She has litter box problems, she has digestive problems, she’s never met a window treatment she didn’t want to shred into a million tiny pieces. She is capable of wailing so loudly my neighbors can hear her three floors down. Pancake is a Bengal cat.
I tell you about Pancake because Justin Bieber has “celebrated” his wedding to Hailey Baldwin by purchasing two exotic kittens known as Savannah cats, a cross-breed of a domestic shorthair and a serval, which is a wild African cat. Savannah cats are beautiful, and Bieber’s kitties, Sushi and Tuna, are no exception. They are gorgeous, with spotted coats and tufty ears. Check them out on their Instagram, where they have ninety-five thousand followers:
Exotic cats are very popular on social media. Instagram and YouTube are full of Savannah cats and Bengal cats. Their unusual markings, pretty faces, bold eyes, and playful personalities make them little superstars. But don’t be fooled by their relative small size. These are wild f-cking animals. And don’t come at me with your F-5 and F-6 breeding nonsense about more “stability” in later generations, removed three or four times from the wild antecedent. I live with one of these Frankensteinian creatures, and I am here to tell you: They. Are. Wild. Animals. Four, five, even six generations is not enough to breed out the wild. Your average domestic cat is about FOUR THOUSAND YEARS removed from the wild and that cat will still f-ck you up. There is an entire genre of 911 calls devoted to cats trapping their owners in their own houses. Now you take that regular cat that still has a strong prey drive and territorial instinct and cross it with another cat that’s only a few generations removed from an actual wild animal and you get a wild animal.
I despise the trend of exotic pets on social media—I’ll post the occasional photo of my cat but I’ve also been open about the problems I’ve had with her—and it does not help when celebrities turn these pets into trendy accessories. Exotic cats are a huge amount of work and a considerable investment in resources. It’s not just the price tag—Bieber paid thirty-five THOUSAND for his kittens—it’s the day-in, day-out cost of keeping one of these critters happy. I’ve had Pancake for eight years and I have spent, conservatively, $25,000 on her. If I had a kid or even another pet, Pancake would be long gone (and she is the last survivor of her litter, the others have been euthanized for similar behavioral and destructive issues). Of course, money isn’t an issue for Bieber, but exotic cats take time, too. They need a lot of attention, they need dedicated play time, they need your focus. This is not a cat you can pat once and throw a catnip mouse at. This is a cat that needs a ton of personal interaction.
In my time with Pancake, I have come to know other owners of exotic cats. Many give up, overwhelmed by the destruction and cost, and their cats end up, for the most part, euthanized (a few make the effort to get their cat to a breed-specific rescue). Some, like me, are simply resigned to the chaos and the cost, understanding none of this is our cat’s fault. Pancake did not ask to exist. She is here, and she requires care. The shelter that accidentally let me take her home is deeply apologetic—they have a policy of not homing exotic cats for this exact reason—but also very clear: If they take her back, they will put her down. She is considered un-adoptable. I know a nice fellow with a breed-specific rescue, but he has taken so many abandoned Bengals he can’t take in more and still provide them with quality care (and he is hardly alone). I will give Pancake the best care I can, for as long as I can, because I know that giving her up is essentially a death sentence. Even in the best circumstances, these cats can have precarious futures.
Justin Bieber has a despicable history of pet ownership. There is the snake he used as a bracelet, the hamster he gave to a fan during a concert, the cat that disappeared from social media (uh oh?), the dog his dad allegedly chucked off a balcony (!!!), and who can forget the actual f-cking monkey he abandoned in Germany? I wouldn’t trust Bieber with an animal fully capable of taking care of itself, let alone with two exotic kittens that are going to need considerable attention to be happy, healthy kitties. Even for a responsible, committed pet owner an exotic cat is a lot of work, but for Justin Bieber? I am legit worried about Sushi and Tuna.
And I’m worried about exotic cats becoming even more fashionable as Insta-ready pets. My experience with Pancake has led me to believe exotic pets should be illegal, full stop, no exceptions. I love her, but she shouldn’t be a pet. People really have no idea what they’re getting into, and breeder marketing jargon makes the responsibility seem reasonable. They’re just “athletic”, “high energy”, “active companions”. What that really means, though, is “crazy strong”, “super-demanding”, “domineering hairy toddlers with knife hands and needle mouths”. Any pet is a responsibility, but an exotic pet is a particular responsibility. It only exists because of our selfishness, because we insist on possessing things we aren’t meant to possess.
We have decided we deserve to have little jaguars and leopards in our homes, and the result are exotic breeds ill-suited to house living. It leads to upset, disappointed owners and worse, animals who suffer because we’re f-cking idiots. Justin Bieber’s cats aren’t an internet sensation. They’re wild animals who need dedicated, devoted care to meet their unique needs. Care I worry they won’t receive, given his history and the general celebrity lifestyle. I just hope that when the Biebers inevitably give up on their living room lions, that Sushi and Tuna end up somewhere safe. Too many of these animals end up abandoned or worse. It’s not their fault. They don’t deserve that. It’s our fault, but we can stop it. One place to start is on social media. Don’t turn these cats into stars. It’s not cute and fun to have an exotic cat. It’s a helluva lot of hard work, and the cats deserve responsible care. After all, again, none of this is their fault.
If you would like to support rescue and sanctuary efforts for exotic cats, please look for breed-specific (Savannah, Bengal, Chausie, Safari) organizations in your area. I guarantee they’re there, and probably overwhelmed.