Cat Adoption Tips From a Shelter Expert

Happy Tabby by Susan Daffron

Whether you've had kitties all your life or are bringing home your first kitten, it helps to review a few cat adoption tips to make the transition smoother for you and your new pet. Find out how to choose a cat that will fit in with your family and how to make her feel at home.

Kitten and Cat Adoption Tips From an Expert

Animal shelters are often full of cats and kittens looking for a good home. Adopting a feline from a shelter is an extremely rewarding experience, and these animals can make lovely pets. Susan Daffron has a wealth of experience in cat adoption. She is the author of Happy Tabby: Develop a Great Relationship with Your Adopted Cat or Kitten. This book focuses on selecting, adopting and caring for cats from animal shelters and rescue groups. Susan is also the founder of the National Association of Pet Rescue Professionals.

Susan, when did your involvement with animal shelters begin?

I started volunteering at the animal shelter in my town about two weeks after we moved into our house in 1996. After moving here, I decided to become more active in volunteer work, plus I wanted to get a dog. The second day I volunteered, I got a dog, which isn't unusual. Most people involved in any type of humane organization, end up with pets. It's sort of an "occupational hazard".

What made you decide to write your book Happy Tabby?

When I was volunteering at the shelter, I saw many people bring in animals (both cats and dogs) for behavior problems that were easily solved. The shelter manager I worked with encouraged me to start writing public service columns for the local newspaper on pet care because we fielded the same questions over and over at the shelter. Happy Tabby is the result of about nine years of writing about pets and answering questions.

What concerns do people have about adopting a cat, and do you have any cat adoption tips?

Most people seem to worry that either there is something "wrong" with the cat or kitten, or that there is something wrong with the Humane Society or rescue group itself.

The reality is that most cats at shelters are there through no fault of their own. The return to owner statistics for cats are abysmal, so many cats arrive at shelters as strays. (You can avoid that fate for your own kitty by putting identification on your cat.) Generally, cats at shelters aren't mean or sick in any way. Their only "crime" is that they are unwanted and unlucky.

Most shelters either offer a free visit to a local veterinarian or have an in-house vet who does a health check on all of the animals. Shelters also routinely vaccinate every animal they receive for common illnesses. Cats may come in with treatable maladies like ear mites, but odds are good that the cats either will be in treatment and on the mend or completely healthy by the time you meet them.

As for worrying about the shelter itself, here are a few tips for evaluating an animal shelter or humane group:

  • Go with your instincts: If a place "feels wrong" to you, odds are good that it's poorly managed. Animals pick up on human emotions. If the humans running the place are miserable, the critters know. You'll know too.
  • Watch for "cage crazy" animals: Some humane societies keep animals for literally years in small cages. If you see animals lunging against the cage and snarling, odds are good the shelter/rescue isn't doing any behavior testing at all. Ask about their techniques.
  • Avoid "feeling sorry" for animals in poor conditions: A clean shelter is a good shelter. A filthy shelter is often a sign of things gone very wrong. In fact, filthy conditions can indicate a situation that is really an animal hoarder using a "shelter" as a way to collect more animals. Contact the Humane Society of the United States if you see animals in dirty, inhumane conditions.

How does someone go about adopting a cat or kitten? What does the shelter look for from adopting families?

Although it depends somewhat on the rescue group or shelter, when you adopt a cat from a shelter, they will probably ask you questions about your home life to make sure you and the cat are compatible. Some cats aren't good with small children or are afraid of dogs, for example. Be very honest about your lifestyle and the type of personality you are looking for in a cat. The goal is for the adoption to work out well for everyone. Plus, if the kitten isn't already spayed or neutered, you also will have to either sign a contract to say you agree to have the cat sterilized or that you will pick him up from the vet after the surgery is done. Ideal homes are those where the cat will remain inside, receive good food and veterinary care, and be lavished with love and attention for the rest of his life.

How does adopting a cat from a shelter differ from buying a cat from a breeder?

Unless you plan to get into cat showing, there's rarely a good reason to buy a cat from a breeder. Most people want a cat simply for companionship, not to show. Staggering numbers of cats are euthanized in shelters every year, and when you adopt a cat you not only save a life, you do a good deed for your community. Shelter cats are always "fixed" so you also do your part to lower the pet overpopulation problem and lower the costs associated with impounding and sheltering cats.

Are kittens available from shelters, and are they easier to bond with than adult cats?

A tremendous number of kittens are available from shelters. In fact, every year shelters brace themselves for the onset of "kitten season" in the spring. The reproductive rate of cats is 30 times that of humans and one cat and her offspring can result in about 200 kittens in a year. That's a lot of kittens, so it's easy to see why shelters are overflowing.

It may be easier to bond with a kitten, since her personality is still forming. However, with an adult cat, you can more easily evaluate her temperament. You'll know from the outset if the cat is shy and aloof, or outgoing and friendly. Plus, kittens require a lot more supervision and time to keep them out of trouble. Kittens are incredibly adorable, but they get into everything!

What is the mission of the National Association of Pet Rescue Professionals. What made you decide to start this organization?

The mission of the National Association of Pet Rescue Professionals is to provide the knowledge, tools and connections that rescue professionals need to save more pets.The shelter manager I used to work with always used to say that she'd love to see the day when her job was obsolete and every pet had a home. We're a long way from that dream, but I'm hoping that by doing what I can to help rescuers work together, more animals will be saved.

I decided to start the organization after years of working and volunteering at an animal shelter and working at a spay/neuter clinic. Later, I started consulting and helping out other groups and realized that they were (and still are) struggling with the same problems we had struggled with years before. With my background in animal sheltering, fund raising, public relations, graphic and Web design, I realized I could use my knowledge and skills to help people who are "in the trenches" every day working with animals.

Many times, people involved in rescue and humane work simply don't have time to figure out how to create marketing materials like a newsletter, or know where to look to find out about great new programs. So I decided I could take a whole lot of materials that I already have, combine them with some new information and recruit other experts to give rescuers the tools and information they need to save more lives. Right now we are in our "prelaunch" phase while we work on the private membership side of the Web site so people can join at a reduced rate until March 20 2008.

The private area of the Web site will be full of materials like forms, worksheets, articles and templates that members can log in and download. Plus, we'll have a moderated discussion forum and teleseminar recordings. So far, we are in the process of lining up teleseminars with a grant-writing expert, an expert in managing employee and volunteer relationships, the Humane Society of the United States, the ASPCA and Best Friends. In the meantime, people can download our "101 Fundraising Tips for Rescues, Shelters, and Humane Organizations" for free.

Do you have a favorite cat or kitten story that you would share?

Okay, here's a sort of embarrassing cat story that is in Happy Tabby and features the "cover model" Troi.

One night, I heard our cat Troi cavorting around our bedroom. I figured she was chasing her favorite kitty toy: a round sparkily ball. This activity can be very cute in a kittenish kind of way, but not at 2:00 a.m. So, I got up to get the ball and hide it somewhere. Troi ran out of our bedroom and headed down the stairs. I followed her, intent on confiscating the annoying toy. On the stairs, I found the cat and reached down to grab the ball. I discovered that it wasn't a ball, but actually a little mouse!

I screamed and ran upstairs. I was going to hide, but instead decided to be brave and find some slippers. (No one likes rodents crawling on bare feet...eww!) I went back down armed with an empty yogurt container and lid to catch the mousie. The cat was non-plussed, but I did capture the rodent and placed the yogurt container in the hall closet where he could rest for the remainder of the evening. Four dogs, one cat, and one husband slept through this entire escapade, by the way.

The next morning, I noticed that both of the cats were staring at the closet. It turned out there was a reason for that. The rodent had apparently managed to move the container, so it fell off the shelf. It landed on its side and the mousie chewed his way to freedom. Later, my husband James decided to deal with the situation and began pulling the junk out of the closet. He pulled out stuff and the mousie hid behind more stuff. This went on, and as James got to the last box, it was clear the mousie was going to make a break for it. So, instead of pulling the box out, he grabbed Troi and tossed her into the closet!

The cat grabbed the mouse and James took it from the cat. The mouse is now vacationing somewhere in the forest over on the next ridge, and I still don't like rodents.

More Information

More information about Susan and her work can be found at her websites:

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Cat Adoption Tips From a Shelter Expert