Allerca Pet: Simon Brodie's "Hypoallergenic"
If you're reading these words, there's a good chance you're like me: hoping that these Allerca cats will be the answer to your prayers. I am writing this blog to tell you they are not, so save yourself a bunch of heartache (not to mention the money). I am writing out my story to try to help other people avoid the heart wrenching experience I had. I am going to tell the whole story so that you will hopefully be convinced I am telling the truth. The terrible thing about hope - a wonderful emotion - is that sometimes it blinds us to reality. That was definitely the case with me. Simon will know exactly who I am when he reads this, and all I have to say to you Simon, is that what you are doing is really mean. I understand that "a fool and her money" are soon parted, and my hope made me foolish, but it's still not an excuse to break my children's and my hearts. I am an honest and trusting person, exactly the kind of person that suspends intellect to believe others because I can't even fathom living my life the way you do.
So the story begins in 1999. I met my husband and on our first date, I asked him, "Are you allergic to cats?" He replied no. At this point I had lived with at least one cat my entire life, usually more. I had rescued many strays, taking them in, getting them healthy and neutered or spayed, and finding them new homes. I once had the pleasure of taking in a momma cat and her four kittens and watching them grow up until they were ready for homes. I love cats.
Well, after we were married and moved in together, and my husband started living with my two cats, he got sicker and sicker and after about a month ended up in the emergency room. You guessed it, the cats. He swears he didn't know, and I believe him. He had no problems when visiting me before we lived together, but his allergy went from undetectable to unbearable. So of course I had to give away the cats.
A friend of mine from Dartmouth was getting her PhD from Yale in genetics. She told me about Allerca Pet and I began researching the company before they even began selling cats. Of course once they began they were on the cover of Time Magazine, they were on Rachel Ray, the Today Show, etc. You can watch all the clips on the Allerca Pet website. They helped convince me to make the purchase even though I began to get suspicious... as well as the references. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
So when the cats came in market for $2,000, that was waaaaay out of our price range. We were living pay check to pay check, despite the fact that I was working for the federal government and my husband was a surgery resident. We were working hard but making just enough to get by in a small apartment in a not-so-nice section of the city. So having a cat again remained a fantasy for me.
Fast forward many years, and now my husband is a surgeon and we have two children, who really, really want a pet. My son, who was born premature, has multiple allergies - foods, medicines, environmental allergies, and of course, cats. He also has severe asthma, so his allergic reactions often involve breathing problems, ranging from mild to life-threatening, depending on the allergen. Allerca pets are now $6,950. I am cursing myself for not buying one when they first came out, but although we are still living pay check to pay check (college debt, medical school debt, etc.) the paychecks are bigger. So we decide to go a little more in debt and get a cat. My mother, the woman who passed on her love for cats to me, also decided to get one. She gave up her cats because of my son's health issues, and had been missing them terribly. So she dipped into her retirement savings and we contacted Simon about ordering two Allerca Cats.
Warning signs that I noticed but ignored because I am an idiot and I WANTED to believe in this:
1) He wouldn't tell me where the cats were bred and raised
2) There was nobody else in the company to speak to, only Simon, and when you call the main number there are a bunch of voice mail boxes, but only Simon will call you back
3) The money has to be wired to the United Arab Emirates before he will ship the cats
I didn't see all the stuff online that you can find about how the company was closed, how he was arrested, etc. I wasn't looking for this to be a scam. I kept thinking about my friend from Yale telling me she thought it was real and the answer to my prayers, and I kept watching that Rachel Ray clip and convincing myself it must be real. (It isn't, at least anymore.)
Simon put me in touch with a few people that had Allerca cats. They are on his website. There was a woman in a wheelchair in Washington state and a guy names Tom in Massachusetts. They all said nice things about Simon and told me how much they loved their cats and had no allergic reactions. I believed them, and maybe the cats that Allerca Pet was first selling actually were genetically modified. I will ever know. But the ones Simon is selling now are just savannah cats from www.a1savannahs.com. I know this because he made a mistake. Read on.
Once he had my money, over $14,000 with shipping fees (makes me sick to write the number), he was very sporadic about replying to emails, often just didn't bother, despite months passing AFTER the time frame he promised the cats would arrive. I was really feeling stupid now, but clinging to hope! Once he graced me with an email, saying that a tornado had damaged the secret breeding location that he couldn't divulge because of PETA and other animal rights activists, so that accounted for part of the delay.
I was thinking I had been totally scammed when I finally got word that the cats were coming on a flight. HOLY COW!!! We were over the moon excited. The kids were beside themselves (ages 6 and 3 at that point) and so was I. We picked up the cats and followed all of Simon's instructions and wiping them down, limiting exposure, etc. We soon found out that one of the cats had giardia. He was bleeding out his rectum and not eating. So we took him to the vet, of course. The vet also noted a weird scar along the cat's neck. I emailed Simon. He said he would pay the bill for the exam and treatment for the giardia, which of course he never did.
The male cat was my mother's, and she was anxious to get him to her house. So she took over care of the male at her house. We kept the female. We were wiping her down and keeping her mostly separate from my allergic 6 year old and allergic husband). One day my husband and 6 year old were outside playing and I was inside doing chores with the three year old. I was doing some of the never-ending laundry. My 3 year old started screaming in her room. I ran to see what was going on. Apparently during those minutes the kitten climbed in the dryer. Of course I didn't know and when I left my daughter's room, shut the dryer door and turned it on, I didn't know the tiny kitten was in there. I didn't hear anything different. Well when I went to get the laundry an hour later, it was a devastating moment. Thank God my husband was home. I kept silent so as not to alert the kids and ran outside to find him. He put on a movie for the kids and then we held each other in the garage and sobbed. He took care of getting the cat out, we threw out all the laundry, and he cleaned the dryer. Then he emailed Simon, who did call us back right away. Simon told us to go ahead and just tell the children that the cat was ill, had to go to the vet, and would be home soon. He promised us a replacement cat within a week.
The point of sharing this tragedy with you is to let you know that we didn't yet know if the cat was hypoallergenic or not. My mom had her cat an hour away at her house, and although my husband and son were having breathing problems, Simon said they would probably resolve as they got used to the 'minor cat allergens'. It was also a high pollen time of year, June, so we didn't know if it was just the pollen bothering them.
So Simon asked me to wire him $1250 (again to the United Arab Emirates) to cover the cost of sending a replacement. Of course I did it right away, not wanting to upset the kids with the tragedy, having renewed faith in Simon since he finally did send cats, and not having been able to tell whether my family was going to tolerate them or not allergy-wise. And then we waited. He let me know a week later that the cat he was going to send was ill, and that he couldn't send her. He would let me know. I kept emailing him about once a week, asking what was going on, and HE DIDN'T EVEN REPLY for 8 weeks. Finally I had my HUSBAND email him, and Simon did reply to him and say that there wouldn't be more until October. I couldn't believe he knew this and just left me hanging, despite me asking him every week and telling him how worried the kids were. So all summer my kids were asking me every day where was the kitten, was she better yet, etc. I would have never lied to the kids if Simon hadn't sounded so caring and helpful and promised the cat would be there within the week and definitely not to upset them with the tragedy. What a horrible, agonizing summer.
So once I found out that the cat wouldn't come until October, I put it out of my mind and focused on school starting, etc. My vet suggested we try borrowing my mother's cat for awhile to see if my 6 year old and husband could tolerate the allergy while we waited. We borrowed the cat for one night, and he howled all night for my mother and pooped all over the bed and walked in it because he was so upset at being away from her. So the next day my mom came to get him and we had to just wait and see.
Shortly after, my mom tried to have her male neutered. The vet opened up the cat and found that he was infertile, no sex organs, just an empty s*****m. I emailed Simon to ask about it and he replied, "That's never happened before. How strange." This makes sense now that I am sure it was a savannah cat, because as I learned online, "Savannah males are typically sterile until the 5th (F5) generation."
October came and went and you guessed it, NO WORD FROM SIMON. Absolutely none about the replacement kitten. So I started calling the company, telling my story in parts on the answering machines, asking anyone to please call me. Simon called (I really think there is nobody else with him in this except the breeders at the savannah place) and said the cats were available later than he thought, but he would send one in November. November came and went, but finally in December he did send a cat - a male. Not a female, like the one who was supposedly coming home.
When this cat arrived, all the paperwork was completely different than the first time. The first time, everything had been from Allerca Pet, no indication of anyone else being involved, and the "vet" who signed off was supposedly with the company. Well THIS time, a mistake must have been made. Thank you Lord, because now I am 100% sure Simon is a liar. (Yes, I wanted to believe that much!) The cat was sent directly from A1 Savannahs in Oklahoma. I called the vet that signed off on the kitten before transport. She was VERY reluctant to talk to me and said I needed to call "Stucki" myself. Turns out they are the breeders of the A1 Savannahs. I just went along, pretending I knew what she was saying, and said I bought the kitten through a third party and couldn't get information on the vaccinations he had had. She confirmed that it was a regular savannah cat and that they are typically infertile at the generation I had been shipped so I wouldn't need to get him neutered.
Then I called A1 Savannah directly to inquire whether or not they were breeding cats for Allerca, etc. She hung up on me and wouldn't answer the phone after that. I wrote to Simon, who had been super secret about where the cats came from up until this point, where now I had proof. He wrote:
On Dec 13, 2012, at 4:58 PM, LIFESTYLE PETS wrote:
A1 Savannahs breeds cats for us and have done so for years. With their helpwe crossed our original cats with some of their stock specifically to ensurethat males were infertile and we maintain control of what it sold to ourclients. It is not their role to talk with our clients directly;furthermore. if we had anything to hide we wouldn't put our breeder'sdetails on the paperwork.
As for fertility, I'm not sure why this is relevant unless someone intendedto breed our cats which although not possible is also prohibited in ourterms.
So all of a sudden he doesn't need to be super secretive? He was pretending there was no mistake, and he still maintains that the cats are hypoallergenic (of course, what was he going to do, admit he had stolen all my money in a scam??? ) Whatever. We tried living with the replacement cat, now in the winter, so no pollen to confuse the issue. We lasted two weeks. My husband ended up in the emergency room one night because he couldn't breathe, and I was nebulizing my 6 year old several times a day. We were keeping the cat isolated and wiping it down several times a day, as instructed. My family was too sick; we had to stop trying. So now my mother has two Savannahs, and we can't visit her because he house is so allergenic to my family. Everyone got better once the cat was gone. No more breathing problems.
I went on the A1 Savannah website, and all the photos of their cats were the same photos that Simon had sent to me before the delivery of the first two kittens, so I could choose which ones I wanted. They were the same photos. So it's all a big scam. Some people are less allergic to savannas, but the point is, HE IS NOT SELLING HYPOALLERGENIC CATS, AND HE IS CHARGING OVER $6,000 FOR SAVANNAHS THAT A1 CHARGES $1,200 FOR!!! HENCE THE REPLACEMENT KITTEN'S PRICE WAS EXACTLY THE ACTUAL REPLACEMENT COST. At least the man didn't make a profit on the accidental death. And his Ashera cats at $27,950 are just the big Savannahs.
F1 $12,000-$22,000 F2 $9,000-$16,000F3 $3,500-$6,000F4 $1,200-$3,000F5 $1,200-$9,000SBT $1,200-$9,000Females:
F1 $12,000-$35,000F2 $9,000-$16,000F3 $3,500-$6,000F4 $1,200-$4,500F5 $1,200-$3,800SBT $1,200-$3,800
I contacted the FBI, as suggested in a blog someone else had posted. Here is the reply:
I would contact your local District Attorney's consumer protection division and make a complaint. The problem is trying to find where Mr. Brodie is residing. Without that information it has been difficult to prosecute him.
Kelly J. Walker
Assistant District Attorney
Santa Cruz County
Before buying the first two kittens, I emailed him a bunch of questions. Here are my questions with his responses. Note that he addresses that I will need to neuter or spay the cats, because his reply later is a contradiction, exposing his lie:
Sorry for not getting back to you sooner.
Please see my answers in CAPS
Sent: Sunday, February 12, 2012 4:30 AM
To: Lifestyle Pets
Subject: Re: Hypoallergenic Pet Inquiry Continues...
Spoke to Allyn tonight she's a fan, as you know. Thank you!
I do have some more questions. Just trying to cover all the bases. If it easier to chat we can schedule a phone call.
1. How are these kittens brought up from birth to adoption? Meaning, what are the conditions? I read online that:The LIFESTYLE PETS kittens and puppies remain with their mother until at least 12 weeks of age, at which time they are dispatched to their new owner. I know it can't be right but I am picturing a stark white laboratory where the cats live. What is it like where they live until the come to us? THE KITTENS ARE BROUGHT UP IN A QUIET ROOM ATTACHED TO A QUIET FARMHOUSE. THEY HAVE SOMEONE WATCHING OVER THEM AT ALL TIMES. THE REASON TO HAVE THEM SEPARATED IS THAT IT ENSURES THAT NOT ONLY ARE THE MOTHERS NOT DISTURBED WHEN THEY HAVE KITTENS (WHICH WOULD HAPPEN IN A HOUSE) BUT THAT NOT JUST ANYONE CAN COME IN AND START PLAYING WITH THE MOTHERS OR YOUNG KITTENS WHICH RISKS ALL SORTS OF INFECTIONS. ONCE THE KITTENS ARE OLD ENOUGH TO LEAVE THEIR MOTHER THEY ARE BROUGHT INTO THE HOUSE AND SPEND THE NEXT FEW WEEKS SURROUNDED BY MEN, WOMEN, KIDS, DOGS, OTHER CATS, ETC WHICH IN TURN LEADS TO VERY SOCIABLE AND CONFIDENT KITTENS.
2. Also online:The LIFESTYLE PETS kittens and puppies receive many hours of human socialization every day from numerous trained personnel in addition to constant on-site veterinary monitoring.
Why are they monitored constantly by a vet? Is there a health vulnerability that you are looking for? Secondly, is there a person with the group coming available in April that would be a great judge of the relative personalities of the available cats? Of course they change a bit as they mature, but certain characteristics seem to linger. This kind of information is equally if not more important than the look of the cat to me. WHEN WE SAY CONSTANTLY, OUR VET COMES BY ON A REGULAR BASIS TO CHECK OUT THE MOTHERS AND KITTENS WHICH IS MUCH SAFER THAN TAKING KITTENS OT THE VET WHERE IN TURN THEY COULD PICK UP A DISEASE OR INFECTION. AS FOR TEMPERAMENT, WE JUST NEVER PRODUCE SHY OR SKITTISH KITTENS WHICH IS WHY WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE TESTIMONIALS EVERYONE STATES THAT THEY HAVE SUPER FRIENDLY KITTENS, SO DONT WORRY ON THAT FRONT.
*** HERE IS THE LIE*** 3. How old are the cats when they are neutered and spayed? Is it safe to neuter and spay so young? Some vets suggest waiting until 6 months of age or 5 pounds of weight. What are your considerations, besides protecting your research investment? WE DONT NEUTER OR SPAY AS WE DONT WANT TO STRESS THE KITTENS BEFORE TRAVEL; WHEN TO NEUTER OR SPAY IS UP TO YOUR OWN VET WHO WILL ADVISE ONCE YOU GET THE KITTENS AND REGISTER THEM WITH A LOCAL CLINIC. WE HAVE NO PROBLEM WITH PROTECTING OUT INVESTMENT AS A KITTENS THAT BREEDS WITH ANOTHER CAT WONT PRODUCE HYPOALLERGENIC KITTENS. ****(- He says in his December email, which I copied and pasted above - that they make them infertile on purpose. So why on earth would he tell me to get the cat neutered and spayed? Put the cat through surgery when he knows full well it isn't fertile because it is an F5 savannah???)
4. What does the proof of vaccinations look like, as in, is it something that will be convincing beyond a doubt to my vet so she doesn't repeat vaccines? If my vet has questions on the cat's health history, can she contact your vet? One of the customers you allowed me to contact said she did not tell her vet 'the truth' about where her cat came from. My mom's vet had no idea what she was talking about and said, "there is no hypoallergenic cat." I understand the misunderstanding, but what do I tell my vet? I don't want her to think I am nuts for spending $7K on a pet. I mean, this is a lot of money. We are choosing this over taking a vacation this year and next because a cat can provide 15-20 years of enjoyment where a vacation is just a week. MANY OF OUR CLIENTS TELL THEIR VETS WHAT THEY HAVE AND WE EVEN GET VET REFERRALS, BUT THIS IS UP TO YOU. AS FAR AS THE VET IS CONCERNED, ITS JUST ANOTHER CAT AND THE VACCINATION INFORMATION IS MORE THAN DETAILED SO THAT YOUR VET WILL NOT VACCINATE TWICE. NOTE THAT WHEN THE KITTEN COMES BACK FROM THE VET YOU SHOULD WIPE THE KITTENS COAT WITH BABY WIPES TO CLEAN UP ANY ALLERGENS IT MIGHT COLLECT AT THE VETS.
5. Also, if my cat had to stay with the vet at some point, would I want her kept away from other cats because they are covered in allergens? I have a college degree in chemistry and I used to work in research for Pfizer, so I believe I 'know' the answer to this question, but I want to ask anyway. Is there any chance that my cat's DNA might mutate a couple years down the road and start producing Fel d 1 at the more common molecular weight? If you say no, then why not? Our DNA mutates over time to cause cancer and lots of undesirable problems, how can we be sure? WE HAVE NEVER HAD THE MUTATION CHANGE IN OUR CATS AND WE TEST ALL OF THEM, SO I DONT THINK THIS IS AN ISSUE. SEE MY NOTE ABOUT WIPING DOWN THE CAT IF IT SPENDS TIME AT THE VET.
5. Have you noticed any health differences between Allerca's cats and 'regular' cats? Is there any health guarantee for congenital defects beyond the one year? WE HAVE NEVER HAD ANY CONGENITAL ISSUES WITH OUR KITTENS AND GIVEN THAT THE FOUNDER CATS WERE MUTT CATS THEY DO NOT HAVE THE ISSUES THAT FULL BLOWN PEDIGREE CATS HAVE. WE ARE ALSO VERY CAREFUL AND MONITOR OUR BREEDING TO ENSURE THERE IS NO INBREEDING OF ANY TYPE.
6. I know you don't let people visit the cats before they buy one because of threats. Do you share photos of videos of where the cats are raised for customers, before or after purchase? Do you allow people who have already purchased a pet to visit later on? AS YOU HAVE SEEN WE ARE GUARDED ABOUT OUR CLIENTS BUT HAPPY TO SHARE CONTACT INFORMATION WITH SOMEONE LIKE YOU WHO HAS PLACED AN ORDER. ONCE YOU HAVE A KITTEN YOU ARE WELCOME TO KEEP IN TOUCH WITH THESE CLIENTS AND OR SHARE ANY DETAILS YOU WISH.
Here is a question - how do you go about finding other cats with the same genetic mutation? Just collect some hairs and analyze? Did you check to see that this genetic characteristic isn't linked to another genetic characteristic, like a congenital disease? AGAIN, WE HAVE NOT HAD ANY ISSUES WITH CONGENITAL DISEASES AND WE HAVE HAD CATS NOW FOR 10 YEARS. BECAUSE WE CAREFULLY MANAGE BREEDING AND ONLY USE FEMALES FOR 2-3 LITTERS (ONE LITTER PER YEAR) WE ARE CONSTANTLY ADDING NEW GENETIC DIVERSITY INTO OUR BREEDING POOL.
Thank you. It would be great if we could talk about these questions or if you wrote back before Tuesday, the day I was hoping to go to Bank of America to make the arrangements.
I HOPE I HAVE ANSWERED YOUR DETAILED QUESTIONS BUT PLEASE GET BACK TO ME IF I HAVE LEFT ANYTHING INCOMPLETE.
On Feb 11, 2012, at 4:35 PM, Lifestyle Pets wrote:
Please see Allyn Lindemann copied on this email who is happy to talk with you. Allyn took delivery of one of our first kittens some years ago and then took delivery of a second kitten just a few months ago.
Please contact Allyn to work out how best to communicate with her.
Anyway, I have shared my pathetic story online so that you will PLEASE not purchase a cat from Allerca pet. If you want a Savannah go through a Savannah breeder directly. Simon Brodie isn't selling anything but snake oil. I will never get my money back but I can try to help others save theirs. What a hoax. I tried contacting Rachel Ray to get her to have him take down her show from his website - no luck yet.