When You’re Thinking Adoption

It’s a lot more involved than choosing a pretty face

June is “Adopt a Cat” Month, a special month started by the American Humane Association in 1974 to bring attention to homeless cats. In June, many shelters and humane societies offer specials on cat adoption.

But before checking photos on internet sites or visiting a shelter—and falling in love with a furry face—consider whether you want to add another cat to your family permanently or you simply want to foster and help a cat in need.

Try to Foster

Most rescues, shelters, and humane societies desperately need foster homes. A foster home provides a temporary haven for cats that aren’t immediately available for adoption or when there is no space to house another cat. Cats often put on the foster-home list can include those recovering from surgery, a mother with kittens who are too young to be separated, or a cat that simply can’t handle the stress of a shelter.

Depending on the organization, fostering usually comes with financial support. For a litter of kittens, it may mean deworming medications and vaccinations are covered. For an injured cat, veterinary appointments and possibly rehab appointments would be covered. For most agencies, routine expenses like food and litter may be up to you.

When the kittens are old enough, the injured cat is well, or space opens up in the facility, the cat returns to the shelter to be adopted. Admittedly, some foster families end up “foster failures,” which is a funny name for a foster parent who decides to provide the cat a permanent loving home. (We think it should be called “foster success”!)

How Many Is Too Many?

Going from a dedicated cat lover with five cats to an overwhelmed owner with 20 cats is all too easy. While it can be hard to say no to a cat in need, think about your current pets. Adding another pet means taking at least some time and attention away from the animal(s) you already share your life with. If you’re too stressed for time, it can take away some of the pleasure—grooming can become a chore or buying quality food and paying for veterinary care can strap your finances.

Adoption Decisions

When adopting a shelter cat, be sure you ask the right questions:

  • Has the cat or kitten received routine veterinary care?
  • Was she tested for FELV (feline leukemia virus) and FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus)?
  • Are her vaccinations up to date?
  • Has she been checked for internal and external parasites?

While many shelters provide these services, an animal-control office may not. If that is the case, schedule a veterinary visit to take place on your drive home, before you bring her into your home. Note: It is not unusual for a shelter cat to have a mild upper respiratory infection. If so, set up an isolation room at home to protect your other cats.

Which Cat?

Consider the sex of the cat you’re considering. If you have a spayed female, a neutered male might be your best choice and vice versa.

Think about coat care. A shorthaired cat requires minimal grooming, like once a week, with a quick nail trim every other week. Longhaired cats need a thorough combing once or twice a week with daily checking for mats. You may also end up doing daily sanitary grooming for urine, stool, or litter that gets on the long hair around the rectum and tail.

If you work full time, an adult cat may be best. While adult cats can be playful, they aren’t as likely to have wild zoomies or climb drapes while you are away. Many cats live into their late teens or longer, so even a 10-year-old cat likely has plenty of great years to share with you. (Yes, we’re making a pitch on behalf of adult shelter cats, as they have trouble competing with cute kittens at adoption sites.)

If you hope to add a kitten, think about the cat(s) already in your home. A cranky senior cat may find an energetic kitten annoying. On the other hand, some cats are more accepting of a kitten than another adult cat. Consider setting up a large dog crate to keep the kitten and your home safe while you work.

While cats have a reputation for being antisocial, two adult cats can be double the fun. Remember, though, that it is also double the expense.

It’s a wonderful thing to rescue a deserving cat and make her part of your family. You just need to get all your ducks in a row, which may take a little planning.

To find out more about the wonders and responsibilities of cat adoption, check out the Cornell Feline Health Center’s new informational brochure, “What to Expect When Adopting a Feline Friend” at tinyurl.com/Cornelladoptacat.

You Should Know

Sometimes would-be adopters become frustrated with all the “red tape” they need to go through to adopt a kitty. But shelters need to be careful. Their goal is to find forever homes for the cats. The shelter may need to meet all household members to be sure the incoming feline will be welcomed by all. They may require a visit, including with pets, to help ensure everyone will get along.

You can expect to fill out an extensive questionnaire and/or do an interview. Some shelters will ask for periodic updates or if they can stop in to check on the cat. Most adoption groups require that you keep your new cat indoors (something we also recommend). The exception is for semiferal cats who get “working adoptions” as barn cats.