You just can't help it -- you love cats. Those cuddly balls of fur grow up to be independent-minded freethinkers, yet still know when you need a purr session. You enjoy watching Fancy Feast ads on TV and looking at cute cat photos on the Internet. And everyone at your cat's last birthday party knows that you have a sweatshirt featuring an embroidered cat chasing a ball of yarn.
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The problem is, every time you're anywhere near your cat, you break out in hives. Your nose drips, your eyes water and your throat feels as if it will close. As much as you love cats, you are also one of the millions of people who are allergic to them. If you choose your cat over your physician's advice against owning one, don't feel bad. One-third of people who are allergic to cats keep one anyway [source: Humane Society of the United States]. There are a couple of ways to help treat allergy symptoms. Over-the-counter allergy medicines and prescription hay fever medicines might do the trick. If they don't, an allergic pet lover may turn to immunotherapy -- a series of injections of an allergen that eventually decreases the effects the allergen has on the body.
Or, you can avoid the whole mess entirely. For around $6,000, you can purchase a pet that is tailor-made for you: a hypoallergenic cat.
In 2006, the American company Allerca Lifestyle Pets began delivering cats that produce little or no allergic reaction in humans -- what the company calls "the world's first scientifically proven hypoallergenic cats." For $5,950, Allerca will deliver a 12-week-old kitten to your doorstep. The company says its kittens are "friendly, playful and affectionate," as each one has already been socialized.
The cats are a short-haired breed based on the British shorthair, and they grow to a medium size of about 10 to 15 pounds. Customers can specify the type of coat color and pattern, as well as the sex of the kitten they would like, but Allerca makes no guarantee that's what the family will receive. These are, after all, cats, not robots. They are expected to grow up to be just like any other cats, with the one important distinction of being hypoallergenic.
Would you pay $6,000 for a hypoallergenic cat? If so, you're not alone. It looks like the prospect of being able to reconcile a lifelong affection for cats with a lifelong allergy to them appeals to a great many people. As of October 2007, Allerca says that the wait for one of its hypoallergenic bundles of love is two years. Cat lovers who just can't bear that kind of delay can cut the waiting time in half for an extra $1,950 through the company's Premium Placement program.
So how exactly does a mild-mannered little kitty cause a severe allergic reaction -- and in some cases, asthma -- in certain people? How did Allerca get around this long-standing problem? Read on for the answers to these questions.