How many times will you be asked this question in your career as a cat breeder? Too many to count. How do you explain to the people looking for a kitten how to find the right breeder to purchase a kitten from? Learning to recognize a responsible breeder isn't easy... even for an experienced person.
I prefer not to make specific breeder referrals unless I know the individuals well and have visited their homes. Instead, to help the kitten buyer evaluate different breeders in general, I explain to them how I group breeders:
The Back Yard Breeders
Often referred to on the Internet as Back Yard Breeders or BYBs, these are folks who simply throw two cats together for money. The name BYB originated in the dog fancy, referring to breeders who just let their dogs stay in the back yard together.
The Backyard Breeder doesn't care if the kittens they produce eventually die prematurely of health defects - as long as they get paid up front. They don't care if the kittens they produce live two months or two years - because they already have their money. They don't care if a cat develops a hereditary disease from one of their breedings - they just keep right on breeding the same two cats over and over. Eventually, they'll dump the mother in a shelter or by the side of the road when she's too old to breed any more. These are also most often the folks that will sell you a kitten in $50 to $200 range.
The Kitchen or "Love" Breeders
Kitchen breeders are normally folks who love the breed and want another kitten for themselves. Some of them talk about their cats as 'brides and grooms' and have weddings because the cats are 'in love.' They don't see anything wrong with breeding their two cats for a new one and selling the rest of the litter.
They don't realize that it wouldn't matter to their male if it was the female in the kitchen or the one down the street - if he can get to her, he'll breed her!! These owners may have had a hard time finding a cat of their breed in their area and figure they're helping out by having a litter so that other people can have one, too. Their cats seem to be healthy and everyone wants to have one of their own, so why not?
These are well-meaning people, who normally simply don't know any better and don't see any harm in what they're doing. They can't tell if their cat is a good example of their breed, because they've never learned what a good one should look like. They have the pedigree that came with their cat when they bought it, but they don't know what it means. They've never seen any of the cats in the pedigree. Often they've never seen a good example of their breed the way it should look. By the time their breeding cats are five years old and starting to show any genetic problems, they've already bred four or five litters, just because they can. Kittens from them are probably in the $200 to $400 range depending on the breed.
The Responsible Breeders
Responsible breeders (and you'll note that a responsible breeder is NOT necessarily a show breeder) is someone who cares enough to know about the breed and who has a purpose in breeding a litter.
They are students of the breed. They try to learn all they can about the parents and lines of the cats they are breeding.
They don't breed for the market or the money. Normally they breed because they think they can produce a quality kitten and perhaps keep one for themselves. With that in mind, they breed for a sound, healthy cat of their own.
Kittens from responsible breeders are going to be in the $400 to $1000 range for kittens depending on the breed, simply because the care and health testing (that they can SHOW you - never take anyone's "word" when you're shopping) they do is expensive.
A responsible breeder who tests can still produce cats with genetic or medical conditions. That does not mean a breeder is irresponsible.
It is the response of the breeder when they find a problem in their bloodlines that will demonstrate their ethics. The purpose of breeding programs is to contribute to the betterment of the breed, and so each new cat and new generation of cats is a learning tool to be used for improving the next generation.
The Show Breeders
Show breeders can be any of the above groups. Just because someone shows doesn't make them either a good or a bad breeder. Don't let someone who advertises "all show quality" kittens fool you - NO ONE can guarantee that a litter will have all show quality kittens in it. Nor does a pedigree that is all Grand Champions and National Winners guarantee that a kitten will be show quality.
A "show breeder" should be checked out just as thoroughly as any other.