MIDWAY : The designer cat

Anyone with a big house, a big bank balance and a big Josephine Baker fantasy can now buy a big cat. The Ashera cat stands 120cm tall on its hind legs, weighs up to 14kg and looks like a small leopard. It can even be walked on a lead, just as the 1920s vaudeville star did with her pet leopard.

According to Lifestyle Pets, a company based in Delaware, United States, which breeds these fashionable felines (from an African serval and an Asian leopard cat), it doesn’t require special cat food though it will need an extralarge litter tray and likes a heated bed. Oh, and it

costs GBP10,600 and there’s a nine-month waiting list. From next year, for an extra GBP3,000, you can buy a hypoallergenic Ashera that won’t, apparently, make you sneeze.

An Ashera is hand-delivered to its new owners and comes with plastic “nail caps” on its claws to prevent damage to furniture. It also comes with 10 years of access to an animal behaviourist (probably necessary for a cat who is confused at its feline equivalent of false fingernails).

There have been other specially bred rare cats.

The California Spangled cat was bred in the 1980s to look like a small leopard, but is now extinct. The Toyger is a striped tabby bred to look like a small tiger.

Savannah cats, bred from a serval and a domestic cat, are large, leggy, can weigh up to 14kg and are expensive (some breeders say the Ashera is really just a Savannah with an inflated price tag).

The Ashera’s history isn’t quite as exotic as its quixotic inventor’s. Simon Brodie, a British entrepreneur, has had a string of failed businesses including a computer software company and a hot-air balloon business (when that failed, he was given a prison sentence for false accounting).

Brodie moved to United States and decided that there was money in genetically engineered animals in high demand. One of his ventures was to bank pet DNA so owners could clone their cats at their leisure in the future, another to create a glow-in-the-dark deer (implanted with a phosphorescent gene from a jellyfish. Fancy that!) to avoid accidents with motorists. Compared with that, the Ashera cat seems positively tame.