There are dog-people, and there are cat-people.
And then there are cats-who-behave-like-dogs-people.
Alfred is one of them.
The cats in question are in fact Bengal cats—a line of domestic cats that have been crossbred with Asian Leopard cats and are identified by their highly contrasted and vividly marked fur.
Alfred encountered his first Bengal in 2006 when he was in New York for a work trip.
“I was sitting at Central Park when I saw this guy walking this animal and I was like, what is that?”
Alfred was so enraptured by his experience that he promptly bought his first Bengal upon returning to Dubai, where he was living at the time.
In 2010, he purchased his second Bengal after relocating to Singapore. By the next year, he was breeding and selling Bengal cats to Singaporeans.
Today, he’s the proud owner of 30 such Bengals and a shop: Designer Bengal Singapore.
I chanced upon Alfred’s business on Facebook some months ago when an advertisement for his cats appeared on my news feed. His cats, stunningly wild and exotic looking, and, I admit, slightly illegal in appearance, caught my eye. But what drew me in the most was the price.
Each cat cost upwards of $1500, and were priced all the way to $6500.
This wasn’t a sofa, a queen-sized bed, or 6 week trip to London. It was a cat.
At that price, it’d better be able to do my laundry.
The journey to a sustainable business however, was tough.
For starters, Alfred had to import several breeds from overseas and Bengal cats back then cost a lot more than they do now. “When Bengals were first sold in Singapore, they were priced at $3000 to $16000 and at times, even up to $27000,” he says.
Because of the hefty start-up cost, he was determined to lower the prices for his customers, which led to him breeding his own cats. He was still an unlicensed breeder at the time, and so once his business took off, the authorities came knocking.
Suddenly, he was forced to decide between his then-job as a consultant and pursuing a new career in raising, breeding, and selling Bengal cats.
Safe to say, he chose the latter.
With stray cats in Singapore aplenty (and free to be adopted too), I could scarcely fathom why anyone would want to pay thousands for a cat—especially one that behaves just like a dog.
Unlike regular cats, Bengals can be trained to behave like a dog in a cat’s body, Alfred tells me. The breed, if handled well, can be very friendly with strangers; “Very outgoing, very loyal and very active.” With proper instruction, they can even play fetch and be taught to walk on a harness and leash.
These characteristics are not only developed through training, but also enabled through the “design” of the cat’s temperament and personality.
With Bengals, Alfred is able to carry out selective breeding whereby two cats with specific desirable behavioural traits are bred in order to endow their offspring with similar traits.
It’s a lengthy process that involves copious amounts of trial and error on the breeder’s part to create, essentially, a dog-like cat.
Sure, Bengals look far more unique than a regular dog. But I knew there had to be more going on underneath the hood.
As Bengal-owners Cindy and Qian tell me, Bengals are in fact better than dogs.
For Cindy, her relationship with her two Bengal cats, Harios and Orlando, runs deep. According to her, they’ve helped her cope with her asperger’s syndrome and autism, as well as her depression.
Despite not being trained as guide dogs, they have taken it upon themselves to act as Cindy’s guide pets whenever she brings them out with her on a leash.
At home, they help her feel safe by remaining near to her at all times, and notifying her whenever a stranger approaches the house.
More importantly, she says, they’ve learnt her daily routines.
“They are highly intelligent and even know how to open my drawers to take stuff for me,” she says, citing for example, how they know to retrieve certain colours and clothes that she tends to wear during the week.
“They are very good with routine,” says Alfred of his cats. “They understand routine. Once they know your schedule and get used to it, they will follow.”
Cindy’s cats may not be entirely aware of what they’re doing for her, but nevertheless, they’ve contributed much to her happiness and self-confidence.
For Qian, her Bengal’s instinctive animal nature, how he “senses danger, how he copes with it, how he ‘hunts’ and ‘attacks’, as well as the motions combined with the movement of his muscles, is an amazing thing to watch.”
Despite being 4 or 5 generations away from the original hybrid, Bengal cats have managed to retain a little of their wild side.
“Although he does play like a dog, he’s definitely very much of a cat. A wild one too.”
Bengals too, are more complex than dogs, and prouder as well.
“He’s not shy to tell you what he wants,” Qian says. With food, Tego her cat will “tip his dishes upside down, flood the floor with his water when he’s not happy with his food, and knock on the dishes to tell you “hey, I kinda need some chicken”.”
Unlike a dog would, Bengals “typically will not do anything if there’s nothing for him.” Tego pesters Qian when he wants to be petted, but would never go out of his way to try to please her like a dog would.
“And of course,” says Qian, “You can’t deny how amazingly beautiful they are too.”
Given the sheer cost, size, rarity, and unique appearance of the Bengal cat, they’ve also become what most dogs are not: status symbols and markers of wealth, much like Bentleys and Sentosa Cove apartments.
With selective breeding, Alfred is not only able to control a cat’s personality and temperament, but also it’s colouration and marking to his or his client’s fancy.
Often times, Alfred’s clients come in with a specific look in mind—it could be a spotted print one day and a snow coloured cat the next. If such a cat is not available, they’ll be put on a waiting list while Alfred works to design them their desired cat, a process which can take up to one year.
A favourite of many is a distinctive rosette print, which (depending on the clarity) can cost clients either $4500 or $6500.
70% of Alfred’s clients also prefer male bengals who are much larger than their female counterparts. At their peak, Bengals can grow to the size of a medium sized dog and weigh anywhere between 9 to 12 kilograms.
So for all those who are on the fence about whether dogs or cats are better, here’s perhaps a compromise of sorts. Or, if you prefer, you can just take this to mean that cats are better.
Just don’t expect these ones to come for cheap.
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