July 7, 2010
Getting a Cat
Where will you find your new best friend–animal shelter, rescue group, breeder, pet store?
Now that you've decided to bring a feline into your life, one thing is certain: You won't have any trouble finding one.
Sources for cats and kittens are numerous—pet stores, breeders, animal shelters, newspaper ads, the Internet, a friend with an unwanted litter, a neighborhood stray, and on and on. What's the best choice?
We'll take a look at all the possibilities to help you make a decision. Wherever you get your new friend, make sure you've thought it through and are committed to caring for her for the rest of her life—which could be as long as 20 years or more!
Shelters are filled with healthy, affectionate cats and kittens of every color, shape, and size imaginable, including many purebreds for which you'd pay a breeder hundreds of dollars. Most shelter cats are mixed-breed, each of which has a unique look—a splash of color, a quartet of irregular "socks," a certain twinkle in the eye—all his or her own.
By adopting a shelter kitty, you're giving a homeless animal a second chance for a long and fulfilling life.
Consider adopting an adult or senior cat who is less likely to be noticed amid all the cages of frisky, playful kittens. With fully mature cats, "what you see is what you get." In other words, their size and temperament are known quantities. Such is not the case with their youthful shelter mates.
When you adopt from a well-run shelter, you are getting a pet that has been medically checked, evaluated for temperament, and often already spayed or neutered. You'll also get a thorough education from an adoption counselor who will cover all the ins and outs of cat care and is happy to answer every question you can come up with.
Adopting a cat from a shelter is a decision you will feel good about every time you look at your companion. No doubt, he'll feel good about it, too.
Yet another way to bring a cat into your life is to contact a rescue group, which is an organization devoted to placing cats into caring foster homes until a permanent placement can be found. Many groups take any type of cat; others are devoted to specific breeds.
There are cat rescue groups across the country. They typically accept cats from people who can't or don't want to care for them anymore, and then go to work finding good, "forever" homes for them. That might even include transporting cats across the country into the arms of their new owner.
Rescue groups also often cooperate with animal shelters, placing some of the shelter cats into foster homes to open up much-needed cage space for new arrivals.
It's easy to find rescue groups in your city or state by doing an Internet search, talking to the staff of your local animal shelter, or asking a few questions at veterinary clinics in your area.
Many pet store chains have stopped selling kittens and puppies; instead they have created cat adoption centers that use an adoption process similar to an animal shelter. You fill out an application, are interviewed by a counselor, and pay an adoption fee. These stores often invite local shelters and rescue groups to hold adoption fairs on weekends.
Some independent pet stores may still sell kittens, where you're likely to pay a steep price for popular breeds or mixed breed cats.
Those playful kittens in the pet store window are certainly appealing, but they could have come from a "kitten mill," a cat breeder whose focus is quantity, not quality. They are often raised in awful conditions and have congenital health problems or behavior issues that cost even more in money and frustration over time. The same pet store may also fill its cages with puppy mill puppies, supporting an inhumane industry. Learn more about puppy mills »
Pet store employees are not pet experts; they are trained to sell, not educate. You won't get the depth of information on caring for your pet as you would when you adopt from an animal shelter or rescue group. And buying from a store means one more shelter cat might be euthanized because she hasn't found a home.
Do your homework before choosing a breed; not all of them will be right for you. Some breeds of cat are known as noisy talkers, while others have soft voices and are not as chatty. Some breeds are frisky and endlessly inquisitive; others are known to be heavy-duty loungers, preferring time spent on your lap or a soft pillow. More on choosing the right cat for you »
All breeders are not created equal. They're running businesses, after all, and as with any business, you should research them thoroughly. Some will be better than others, and some you might reject outright after visiting their catteries and meeting their cats. Investigate their reputation and find out if they've had any complaints lodged against them by doing a search online.
That special look that you want won't come cheap. As with buying a pedigreed kitten at a pet store, you can expect to pay hundreds—or even thousands—of dollars, depending on the breed. As with pet stores, buying a purebred may mean taking away a home from a deserving shelter cat.
We've all seen them: classified ads proclaiming, "Free kittens to good home," or postings on community bulletin boards advertising pets that need new homes because their owners are "moving and can't take the pets."
You can certainly respond to a classified ad for free kittens or cats, or call a telephone number listed on a community bulletin board to inquire about an unwanted cat. Taking one of them into your home could mean one less kitten that's dumped on the street. Then again, it's one less home that's available for a cat or kitten awaiting adoption in an animal shelter.
Kittens offered "free to a good home" usually haven't been to a veterinarian; their health and temperament are a mystery. If you are privately adopting a cat or kitten, find out if she has any medical records and ask for copies from the owner or the veterinarian.
Many people begin looking for a new companion animal online, and this can be a great way to start your search. Lots of animal shelters and rescue groups have their own websites, where you can view their adoptable pets.
There are specialty websites, like PetFinder.com, that allow you to look for certain animals or breeds, or to do a broader search for adoptable animals in your area.
Breeders also sell kittens on the Internet, but it's never a good idea to buy a pet sight unseen. If the kitten is out of your area, she will have to be shipped to you by plane, exposing her to all sorts of danger and stress.
Many people become cat owners unexpectedly when a friendly or needy feline shows up on their doorstep, hanging around in search of an affectionate gesture or a bit of food.
Given the fact that our society is awash in unwanted cats, it's not surprising that this happens quite often. Almost every neighborhood seems to have a cat who no one "owns" but some are kind to, periodically providing food and shelter.
Many people have adopted strays off the street and enjoyed lasting, loving companionship provided by these cats. But before you take him in, it's important to try to determine if he is, in fact, a stray, or is just lost, with an owner frantically looking for him. Check for "lost cat" flyers in the neighborhood and call your local animal shelter to see if a lost report has been filed.
If you have other cats, be sure the newcomer is examined by a veterinarian before allowing him to interact with your cats. If you'decide to keep him, be sure to have the cat spayed or neutered and vaccinated. And, be sure to keep your cat indoors where it's safe and provide a safety collar with identification. With a collar and ID, you'll have a better chance of recovering your cat if he sneaks out the door or escapes his carrying case.