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Seen At 11: Exotic, But In Some Places Illegal, Designer Cats

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Some animal lovers are saying designer pets are the new cat's meow.

However, as CBS 2's Dana Tyler reported Thursday, as beautiful and exotic as these not-so-ordinary house cats are, they're also illegal in many states.

The cats might look like Asian leopard cats or other wild felids, but they are actually house cats.

"What people are trying to do is replicate a wild cat look in a smaller cat," said animal behaviorist Dr. Stephen Zawistowski. "Through several generations of back-crossing through the domestic cat, you can sort of dilute the wildness out of that line of cats, but try and keep that physical appearance."

The cats have a physical appearance that includes stripes from the top of the head down the neck, which transition into spots, and has people spending up to $30,000 just to own one, Tyler reported.

Phyllis Reichelt breeds hybrid cats and says consumer demand is high. 

"It is very surprising how many people want them," she said.

The trend is especially surprising, Tyler reported, since hybrid cats are not even legal in most states -- including New York. But that is not stopping people.

"There are people who are -- at 2 o'clock in the morning on the Upper West Side -- they're walking one of these cats on a harness," Dr. Zawistowski told Tyler.

And while their killer instinct may be gone, Reichelt says these hybrids are much more wild than your average house cat.

"It's a whole different world to have a cat like this," she said. "But you have to know what you're getting into and be prepared for it."

Dr. Zawistowski said he's received many calls for help from frustrated hybrid cat owners.

"These domestic-wild crosses are much, much, more active; much more curious; much more potentially destructive; and much, much more likely to mark in your house," he said.

The added responsibility has left some of the hybrid cats abandoned by their owners, Tyler reported.

"A lot of people unfortunately get them for the wrong reasons in that they're beautiful cats, but they're so active," said cat behaviorist Marilyn Krieger.

Krieger said while some of the exotic cats may end up at wildlife sanctuaries, many who are abandoned wind up being euthanized.

Experts say hybrid cats can be trained, but they need a lot of mental stimulation, a large space to roam, and are not recommended for families with small children, Tyler reported.

"People want to have them because they're different," Zawistowski said. "But because they're different and they're not legal, it's not as if you can really show them off."

Hybrid cats are often bigger than typical domestic cats, and can weigh as much as 25 pounds.

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