NEW YORK - Goodbye Goldendoodle. Designer dogs are so last season. Now animal lovers are clamoring for cat crossbreeds - and they are sparing no expense on the latest "it" pet.
Hybrid house pets were originally developed to create well-behaved companions that don't shed. But with unmatched cuteness and likeability, crossbreeds like Puggles, Labradoodles, Yorkipoos, and Schnoodles drove demand among the dog-loving set.
Now mixed-breed cats, with their beauty and stature, are causing a craze for those with a fondness for felines.
And for some, no price is too high for a designer kitten.
"For our customers, money is no object," said breeder Simon Brodie.
Brodie used a "secret recipe" to mix an African serval and Asian leopard cat with a domestic cat, to create the world's most expensive feline hybrid.
The Ashera, an exclusive product of Brodie's firm, Lifestyle Pets, resembles a little leopard and can weigh up to 30 pounds. But it's more suited for lounging than stalking prey.
"They are very friendly, very affectionate," Brodie said.
Although an Ashera costs $22,000 (plus $6,000 for the premium placement option, which will expedite kitten delivery by about six months) Lifestyle Pets has already sold several cats to customers around the world since the pricey pet was unveiled last May.
Once an order is placed, the Ashera is hand delivered (the cost of delivery is approximately $1,500 within the United States) by a representative who remains on hand for a few days to answer questions and facilitate the transition. Asheras come fully vaccinated with a microchip identifier, a supply of kitty food and cat toys, access to an animal behaviorist, and a year of veterinary insurance included.
There's even a certificate of authenticity that includes an image of each kitten's DNA "fingerprint." But what else would one expect for a cat that costs as much as a car?
Brodie says that his company will keep the supply small, developing less than 50 cats each year to uphold its unique appeal - and high price.
Although the Ashera may be the most expensive mixed-breed offering to hit the market recently, it's certainly not the only one.
Other popular hybrids include the Bengal (part Asian leopard mixed with a house cat), Savannah (part African serval, part house cat) and Chausie (part jungle cat, part house cat).
Holly Hummel, who has been breeding hybrids for 20 years, says demand for exotic blends is growing, and the pricier the pet, the more sought after it seems.
"The more expensive ones move faster than the less expensive ones," Hummel said.
Even though her top-of-the-line Habari-breed cats range in price from $10,000 to $12,000, "most of our kittens are spoken for by about two weeks of age," she said.
But does coughing up that kind of dough guarantee a perfect pet?
With any designer hybrid, "there are things to watch out for, as far as genetic defaults go," cautioned a spokeswoman from the International Cat Association.
But, generally, emerging exotic breeds are well monitored, she said. "We're very careful that there is no genetic downside."
That means pet owners can rest assured that their investment in a designer cat will not disappoint - that is until the next hot mix hits the horizon.