Are You Ready for a Cat?
Before adopting a cat, take this test. You've decided to get a new pet because: Do you have the patience and commitment to understand your cat's needs and ways of communication? Some cats seem aloof, but they bond with you for security and company.
A) The kids' whining has finally worn you down.
B) You feel terrible for all the homeless pets in the shelter.
C) That purebred kitten in the pet store window is cute AND orange, which happens to be THE fashion color this fall.
D) You've been thinking about welcoming an animal companion into your home for quite awhile, and finally everything is in place. Your heart opens all the way, and you know that it's time.
Although people have taken in pets for all of the above reasons, the right answer, of course, must be "D." It is crucially important to consider the impact a new pet will have on your family, as well as the feelings of the animal, before you adopt.
This Time for Keeps
A visit to an animal shelter will prove that acting on impulse or appearance is not the way to welcome a pet into your home. The 8 to 12 million homeless cats and dogs that arrive in shelters each year – 25 percent of them purebreds – attest to that. Celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker, Isabella Rossellini and Fabio have adopted animals from shelters, but not because it's trendy. They wanted to save a life, just like you do.
You stroll past kennels filled with hopeful animals, young and old, purebred and mixed breed, and must choose just one pet who'll depend on you the rest of her life. Cards on each cage door tell their stories: This 2-year-old Burmese was brought to a veterinarian to be treated for a broken leg, but his owner never came back to claim him. That tiny, longhaired kitten was abandoned with three brothers.
They've already seen bad luck. They are all intensely appealing. Do your homework before deciding.
Will Your Home and Life Accommodate a Cat?
First, you, your kids and all the adults in your household should agree that you want a cat. Look down the road for the life of the animal, which could be 10, even 20 years.
How old are your children? If they're under 6, pet shelter experts recommend that you wait a few years. Kittens have extra-sharp teeth and claws, and strike back when teased. Some breeds are high-strung.
Is anyone in the house allergic? Different species and breeds elicit different reactions. Spend time with a similar pet at a friend's house before choosing yours.
Is an adult willing to shoulder ultimate responsibility for the animal's care? Pets can teach a child about loyalty and responsibility, but you can't expect a child to do all the work of feeding and changing the kitty litter.
How much time does your family spend at home? Animals like regular schedules. Do you know who'll take care of your pet when you go on a trip?
Does your lease or condo board allow pets?
Can you tolerate some damage to furniture and floors until your new pet becomes accustomed to your home? Will you take accidents, even flea infestations, in stride?
Do you have the financial means to support a pet? Shelter adoption fees are usually minimal, compared to prices paid to a breeder or pet store. But the costs of medical care, food, grooming, toys, kitty litter and other supplies add up.
Both purebred kittens and shelter kittens need some initial care. Whether you do it privately or it is done by the shelter before adoption, your cat will need spaying and neutering, vaccinating and licensing. These charges will add up to at least $100. You must also be able to pay the costs of weekly food and litter bills and yearly vaccination boosters, in addition to occasional unplanned trips to the veterinarian for illness or injury.
Food, alone, can cost as much as $1 a day adding up to $365 dollars a year. Litter, depending on the type and quality will run anywhere from $2 to $10 a week. In preparation for the new kitten you will also need to purchase other materials for your cat's comfort such as food and water bowls, a litter pan, comb, brush, shampoo, toys and bedding.
What Kind of Pet Do You Prefer?
In addition to being a vehicle for rescuing animals, shelter adoptions offer potential pet owners the opportunity to choose from a variety of types and ages. Remember that kittens must be taught how to learn, says Stephanie Frommer, Shelter Operations Coordinator at the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Adult animals already know how to learn and have developed personalities.
If you think you prefer a certain breed, read up on it before making the commitment. Ask the shelter about local rescue groups dedicated to that breed. Mixed breeds generally have a better, varied gene pool and a sturdier constitution, but there's never a guarantee. Shelter personnel may be able to conjecture which breed is dominant in a mix by color, coat or face.
Purebred or mixed, the average adult cat ranges from 6 to 16 pounds. Although cats have a different way of communicating their temperaments than dogs, reading up on breeds will give you common tendencies: Ragdolls are placid and playful; Siamese, gentle to children and seniors alike; Turkish Angoras, quick-witted and quick-tempered; Maine coons, easy-going.
Time to Visit the Shelter
Before you bring the kids, make sure the shelter meets high standards in staff and cleanliness. Also, consider how your child may react if she ends up leaving the shelter without "rescuing" at least one little creature. The sight of animals in need will be tough to bear. That's why you prepare yourself with the facts.
Are personnel knowledgeable? Observe the professionalism and sensitivity of shelter staff. Do they consult with animal behavior professionals and veterinarians?
Are you willing to answer questions? You may be asked for proof of identity and residence; the name of your landlord or condo board to verify that pets are allowed; the number of children and pets in the household; a history of pets you've owned; the name of your veterinarian; if you have screens on apartment windows to prevent cats from chasing birds out the window. Your work and travel schedule help determine if you could manage a kitten that needs socialization.
Will you agree to have your pet spayed or neutered? Most shelters won't allow you to adopt unless you do, and the low cost is factored into the adoption fee.
Shelters try to provide a background on every animal that comes in. In the case of a stray, a trainer or behaviorist interacts with the cat to evaluate his personality. Is he used to people in general? To children? How does he react to other cats and dogs? If a shelter advisor recommends against placing an animal with children or an inexperienced owner, don't argue.
Notice how the shelter assesses the health of its animals. Are there veterinary records on the pet? Did he receive his shots? Some shelters provide a list of veterinarians who provide introductory discount services to their patrons.
Everyone in the household should meet the animal before he goes home. Ask the shelter workers to show you a limited number of animals, to prevent the kids from instantly "bonding" with an inappropriate animal. "Test drive" a few. Hold and play with a few cats before making a final decision.