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Rare Savannah cat sitting pretty in Allegheny Township

| Monday, March 5, 2012

Saving for years, spending $3,000 and driving 12 hours round trip is an unusual way to adopt a pet kitten.

But then, Kiya is an unusual cat.

Kiya is a 10-week-old Savannah cat, a domesticated breed that owes its ancestry to a union between a serval -- a wild African cat -- and a house cat. A relatively new breed, Savannah cats first were bred in the 1980s and were recognized this year as a championship breed by the International Cat Association.

Abbey Goldstrom, 13, a student at Kiski Area Middle School, learned about Savannah cats a few years ago through programs on the television station Animal Planet.

"I love cheetahs," Goldstrom said of the wild cat that resembles a serval and a Savannah. Abbey's pink bedroom is accented with a poster, stuffed animal, robe and blankets that feature cheetahs or cheetah-print fabric.

"I like how wild they are," Abbey said as she watched Kiya zip around the Goldstroms' Allegheny Township living room.

At just over 2 pounds, Kiya looks like any other kitten except for her sandy colored coat with dark, spotted markings. As she grows, Kiya likely will be longer and leaner than a house cat, with bigger ears.

Savannahs are known to be very active and curious, according to The International Cat Association. They aren't lap cats, but they do bond strongly with their human families or with companion cats.

The association says Savannahs have some doglike characteristics -- they'll play fetch, walk on a leash and usually enjoy water.

"She's almost human," said Abbey's mother, Korinda Goldstrom.

Kiya has been in the Goldstroms' home for about a week. They're still learning her personality, but so far she seems much like any kitten -- exploring her surroundings, playing with her basket of toys and napping in her cat bed.

"She's very fast," said Jeff Goldstrom, Abbey's father. "She's pretty cool."

Abbey researched Savannah cats and found a breeder in Morrisville, just across the Delaware River from New Jersey.

After corresponding with the breeder for more than a year, Abbey received welcome news this past Christmas: one female kitten was born on Christmas Eve and would be available for adoption once she was weaned.

Abbey had saved her birthday and holiday money for years, and with a little help from her parents and a slight price break from the breeder, Abbey was ready to become a Savannah owner.

Kiya, who had a serval as a grandparent, cost $3,000. Korinda Goldstrom said Savannahs can cost as much as $30,000.

The Goldstroms are looking forward to learning whether Kiya will develop Savannah mannerisms such as opening doors and jumping to surfaces 8 feet in the air.

They also are waiting to see how the kitten will interact with existing pets, Moyra the Shetland sheepdog and Sammy the Maine coon cat.

Korinda Goldstrom said the Shelty has acted protective of the kitten. They are keeping Kiya separated from Sammy, an indoor-outdoor cat, until he can be seen by their veterinarian.

Given that Savannahs tend to live longer than the typical house cat, Goldstrom acknowledged that adopting Kiya was a long-term commitment for her daughter.

"Abbey's very responsible or I wouldn't have recommended it," Goldstrom said. "Abbey's very loving and patient."

On the web

For background about Savannah cats, visit the International Cat Association here

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