Are You Ready for a Cat?

Before adopting a cat, take this test. You’ve decided to get a new pet because:

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.

The Cost

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 and often more. 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 $5 to $20 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.