NEW YORK – Most folks would sniff at the idea of paying $7,000 for a kitten.

But it’s precisely because this kitty won’t make you sniff (or sneeze) that die-hard pet fans say price doesn’t matter.

Scientists claim to have bred the world’s first hypoallergenic cats using the latest genetic techniques, and already New Yorkers are lining up to buy the cuddly kittens.

The cats are guaranteed not to cause asthma-like symptoms such as hives, difficulty in breathing and swollen eyes.

“We are thrilled because people with allergies who have been unable to own cats can now enjoy a pet of their own,” said Megan Young, chief executive officer of Allerca, the company behind the breakthrough. “New Yorkers love cats and many of our clients are from the city.”

One of the first families to acquire one of the kittens will be Nina Greenberg of Greenwich Village and her daughters, Lauren, 13, and Nicolette, 8.

All three suffer severe allergic reactions to cats, but are desperate to have one.

“It will be wonderful to finally care for a pet,” said Greenberg, 44, who works in sports marketing. “We’ve had fish before but they’re not much fun.

“The girls have already named it Atchoo because it sounds like a sneeze.”

Allerca created the cats using a technique known as genetic divergence after analyzing their genes. Allergies are caused by a protein found in the animals’ fur and saliva.

Researchers identified the genes of kittens with proteins that provoke less of a reaction in humans and made an allergy-free “super cat” by breeding the litters over several generations.

Preliminary tests on human volunteers have proved successful.

“An added bonus is that all our cats have been sweet and friendly,” said Young. “They make ideal family pets.”

“We’d prefer to be able to pick out our own kitten but it is not allowed,” explained Greenberg, who signed up two years ago before the technology was perfected. “My friends think I’m off my rocker because it’s so expensive.

“But my ex-husband is paying for it as part of his divorce settlement. I didn’t get the car but I got the cat.”

The ASPCA has cautiously welcomed the development.

“We hope that the investment of time and money that the new guardians of these cats are willing to make might be a model for anyone thinking about acquiring a pet,” said spokesman Eric Rayvid. “There is a huge demand for hypoallergenic pets,” adds Young. “By 2009 we expect to be breeding 10,000 every year.”

The $7,000 price tag includes a $2,000 expediency fee and the mandatory $1,000 shipping and insurance charges.

“We will refund the purchase price of the kitten if the owner continues to suffer allergy symptoms,” assures Young. “But this is the worst-case scenario.”

(c) 2006, New York Daily News.

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-06-09-06 0609EDT

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