I recently read a post on one of the several private cat groups I belong to wanting to know if anyone could refer her to an ethical Siberian breeder. All the ones she had contacted didn't test for their cats' allergen level or didn't do all the health testing she thought they should. I read her post and thought, "You don't want an ethical breeder, you want a guarantee." A guarantee that their kitten will never get sick or develop any inherited diseases. A guarantee that their kitten won't cause them to sneeze 24 x 7 if they have severe cat allergies. A guarantee that the cat will live to the ripe old age of 25 and their kids won't have to suffer the grief of losing a cherished pet.
Unfortunately, folks, we are dealing with living creatures. Stuff happens. Science has only scratched the surface of the genetic code and how biological units work. We know a lot, but we don't know everything. Far from it.
I don't blame the poster for their point of view. They are trying to do their due diligence and have been listening to far too many internet pundits. The problem with getting your advice from social media is the real experts are rarely out there. They get tired of being shouted over by people who rarely have a clue. They get named Experts by a group administrator because they post a lot, not because they've been truly vetted as an expert, and appear to know more than the people asking questions. But really, how do you know the person you're getting advice from knows what they are talking about?
Short answer - you don't. You have to do your own vetting, particularly when it comes to cat breeders. I don't pay to be on a breeder list - I don't need to. I don't keep a paid waiting list, because my kittens rarely go beyond friends, family, referrals, and local people. Even then, they have to wait sometimes a year if they want one of my kittens. Your best bet for finding an ethical breeder is asking for people to refer you to a breeder, interview several, and then ask to speak to former clients and their vet. You will begin to see a pattern, and understand what makes a breeder ethical. It isn't following some checklist you got from a Facebook group. We aren't airline mechanics. Check lists are critical for them. When matching living, breathing beings together for a lifetime, you don't always follow a check list.
I would not qualify as an ethical breeder in that poster's mind. You can read about my breeding philosophy on the Kittens page. You may note that I don't say anything about allergies. That's because it's not relevant to my breeding program. Where does it say a Siberian breeder has to breed low allergen cats? Low allergens are not part of the breed standard, and I don't want to be liable for an allergy sufferer having an attack. So, I'm not going to test the cat. I will test your reaction to my cats. I won't guarantee a cat or kitten to be low allergen, because I can't. More than that, I also don't want to be responsible for someone landing in the hospital because they think the cat is low allergen and won't affect them. I'm also not going to inbreed to achieve those low allergen levels. What I will do is allergy test with them - multiple times if necessary, and I will not place if I see a severe reaction. If a client tells me about their allergy and handle a related cat before I place the kitten or cat, I will refund their money 100% if they return the kitten in less than a month in good condition. In my mind, that is also ethical behavior. Testing a cat for a particular protein that has nothing to do with the cat's health (though arguably the buyers...) has nothing to do with ethics. It's a seller's choice to not test and a buyer's choice not to buy.
So what is an ethical breeder? In my opinion, it's a breeder who puts the health and well-being of the kittens they produce ahead of all else. So, what does that look like?
To me, an ethical breeder will:
not produce more kittens than they can place.
have a great relationship with their vet and be willing to offer a referral.
not confine their breeding cats to cages all day long and allow them the companionship of humans and other cats.
remember that every cat deserves to eventually be someone's pet whether theirs or someone else.
seek veterinary help during difficult deliveries.
not put the health of a queen at risk just to preserve a line.
genetically screen their breeding cats.
do echocardiograms on all breeding cats before placing any of their kittens and follow up scans on suspect cats and relatives.
carefully screen buyers and do everything they can to ensure a good match.
make every effort to socialize kittens so they walk into their new homes confident and well-adjusted.
know and understand the written standard for their breed and select cats for breeding accordingly.
take a cat back if they can no longer be cared for.
provide a written contract or agreement.
be honest about the health, quality, and temperament of their cat.
learn all they can about their breed before attempting to produce litters and find a mentor or a vet willing to coach them.
I'm sure there's more - feel free to leave a comment if you have something to add to this list.