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How to Adopt Shelter Cats

Steps to Finding and Bringing Home Your New Best Friend

By Lauren Leonardi . April 16, 2013 | See Comments

How to Adopt Shelter Cats

If you're looking to adopt a cat, you may be wondering what to expect from the shelter and how it works. Take a look at our tips on adopting a cat.

There’s just about no difference between owning purebred cats and your average tabby, with the exception of a bit of panache, perhaps. Adopting a cat from a shelter, as opposed to buying a fancy cat breed from a pet shop or breeder, could save a creature’s life. When you consider all the strays and feral cats out there who will never know the warmth of a window seat, or the security of regular meals, it’s clear that adopting is the humane choice.

So how do you go about adopting a shelter cat?

What to Expect at the Animal Shelter

All animal shelters are different. Some have a room full of cats who wander free and interact with one another. Other shelters have small kennels stacked on top of one another. Being confined in a shelter can be a traumatic experience for a cat. They may become reclusive, anxious, or aggressive. Remember to give them some time to burn off steam and to get comfortable before making a final judgement, either way.

Shelter Tips

  • DO. Adopt a cat from a kill shelter whenever possible. You may save a life.

  • DO. Consider adopting an older cat. Kittens tend to be scooped up first, and older cats may be left to perish. Adopting older pets is a much needed kindness.

  • DO. Ask shelter staff about the history of an animal you’re interested in. In many cases it’s known whether the cat has health problems, if they have trouble using a litter box, or if they are or aren’t good with children or other animals. If the cat was a “surrender” -- given up by a previous owner -- ask why.

  • DO. Ask the shelter to provide you with some one-on-one time to get to know a kitty you may like. Many shelters will have isolated spaces where you and your future cat can get to know one another.

  • DO. In your one-on-one time, check out the kitty’s eyes, ears, and nose. There should be nothing gloppy anywhere. Eyes should be clear, and not runny. Ears should be pink and clean. Nose should be slightly moist, and again, not runny. Keep an eye out for sneezing or coughing. If you observe any abnormalities, and you’re interested in adopting, see what the shelter has to say. They may offer to treat the cat (for ear mites or bordetella, for example) before you adopt.

  • DO. If you already have one pet, ask to bring them in to visit. You may want to see if your cat of choice will get along with your dog, for example. Most shelters will try to accommodate requests like this.

  • DO. Visit a few times. Make sure you and your future pet “click” before bringing them home.

  • DON’T. Don’t ever return a cat to a shelter. Be absolutely sure you’re able to commit to the responsibilities of having a pet before you take them home. Bouncing around from place to place can be traumatic for a cat. Returning a cat to a shelter after bringing them into your home can create anxiety related behaviors that could ruin their chance for future adoption.

  • DON’T. Don’t adopt a cat until you’ve made a real heart-to-heart connection. Get to know the cat you like. Most adoptive pet parents say the same thing: you’ll know it when it happens. Don’t settle, and don’t feel as though there’s a rush.

What to Bring to the Shelter

Adoption requirements are different from shelter to shelter.

  • Some shelters require proof of age, so be sure to bring two forms of identification along.

  • In some areas, you may need to prove that pets are allowed in your place of residence. A letter from the landlord, or copy of the lease, should suffice.

  • Most shelters and rescue organizations will ask for a donation or adoption fee. These fees go toward food, medical care, and upkeep of the facilities. Most shelters operate on a shoestring budget, and rely on adoption fees and donations to remain operational.

Before Bringing Your New Cat Home

Many shelters will offer to spay or neuter your cat before you bring them home. This can save on expenses later on down the line, so inquire about your options. If your cat will be allowed to roam outdoors, spaying or neutering is a must.

Before you adopt, especially if your kitty was previously feral, you should ask if they’ve been tested for common illnesses, like feline HIV or feline leukemia. If your kitty does have one of these ailments, do your research to see what this will mean for your own future down the line. Feline illnesses can be expensive and challenging, and you should have all the information before you commit.

Bringing Your New Family Member Home

After adopting, get to a veterinarian as soon as possible. They’ll provide first stage vaccinations if the shelter didn’t already take care of that. They should also do a full workup to catch anything the shelter veterinarians may have missed.

When you first bring your kitty home, they’ll likely want some space of their own. You may wish to confine your cat at first, until they’re a bit more acclimated to their new environment. Some go for a sizable closet, a laundry room, or a bathroom. Be sure to introduce them to their litter box, their food, and their water. Leave a carrier box open nearby, with something comfy inside. They may wish to “hide” in there, or under the bed, until they’re more comfortable in their new home.

Gradually, over the next few days, allow your new cat to roam more freely. Introduce your cat to small children and other pets slowly, in a controlled environment. Before long, your new cat will be ruling the roost.

More on Bringing a Pet Home

9 Questions to Ask When Adopting a Cat
How to Choose a Litter Box and Kitty Litter
Make a Comfy Hideaway for Your Cat

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