Adopting a Shelter Cat – Before you bring your New Kitty Home

Adopting a Shelter cat

Cat Adoption / July 27, 2017

cages of cats in a shelterAnimal shelters can be a good source of many different types of fine quality pets. Most shelters accept cats and dogs, and some also accept birds, small mammals, and even horses.

Types of shelters

Not all shelters are alike. Some shelters are actually part of your local government, supported by your tax dollars. Animal Control Officers or the police may be responsible for bringing abandoned or free-roaming animals to the shelter (or 'pound'). Some shelters are independent, and rely on charitable contributions. Some may be associated with national groups such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals who can provide them with guidelines on operating the shelter, and educational materials for new pet owners and the community. Finally, some may be totally independent non-profit organizations. In our area, for example, we have an organization called 'Critter Rescue.' They help to provide homes for pets whose owners may not be able to take care of them, either on a temporary or permanent basis.

Shelters may differ in the services they provide, which is often associated with their operating budgets. Many tax-supported shelters have lower budgets than those who operate through contributions. Regardless of budget, in every shelter there are staff who are dedicated to their work and the animals in their care.

Reasons animals are in shelters

Many animals in shelters are pets whose owners can no longer care for them for a variety of reasons. This may be because their owners:

  • Are moving and cannot take their pet with them
  • Have health problems
  • Have become incapacitated or died
  • Do not have time for the pet because of changes in their lifestyle, e.g.; new baby, ill family member
  • Have other pets who do not get along with this one
  • Realize they should never have gotten a pet

Other animals are brought to shelters because they are homeless or come from abusive situations.

Animal evaluation by the shelter

girl petting a Siamese kittenWhat is included in the evaluation of an animal surrendered to a shelter depends on the shelter. Some shelters provide an in-depth evaluation which includes obtaining a good history of the animal's health and behavior in his prior home, a veterinary exam, screening for various diseases such as heartworm or feline leukemia virus, and an assessment of the animal's temperament and behavior in the shelter. Other shelters, often because of budget constraints, provide only a minimal evaluation. Ask the people at the shelter how they evaluate the animals that come to them. If possible, get a written copy of the evaluation and any veterinary care to keep as part of the animal's medical record.

Before you go to a shelter

Having a pet is a big commitment. This animal will be spending years of her life with you. So, before you go to a shelter, it is important to ask yourself several questions:

  • Am I emotionally, financially, and personally ready to take the responsibility of having a new pet?
  • Do I understand the nutritional, housing, and health requirements of this pet?
  • Have I acquired the necessary items needed to take care of this pet, and have I 'pet-proofed' my house?
  • Do I know what type of pet I want, e.g.; species, breed, or size, temperament, gender, age, energy level? Write down the characteristics you are looking for. We have heard many stories of people who went to a shelter with one type of pet in mind, and 'fell in love' with an entirely different type of animal, and adopted him. Sometimes this worked out fine; other times, the owner regretted the on-the-spur-of-the-moment decision. Be sure to think carefully about what type of pet you are looking for.
  • Are all of the family members in agreement about getting a new pet?
  • Have guidelines been set for the feeding, grooming, discipline and training, and cleaning up after the pet?
The adoption process

To adopt an animal from a shelter, there are usually several steps, including:

  • Filling out an application
  • Choosing your new pet
  • Experiencing a waiting period (usually 24 hours)
  • Signing a contract and paying a fee
  • Undergoing a trial period

Application: When adopting a pet from a shelter, you will be asked to fill out an application form which may ask for:

  • Proof of age and permanent residence
  • Pet ownership history including veterinarian records,
  • Proof of vaccination and licensing of other pets
  • You may also need to provide a photo id

Choosing a pet: It may be overwhelming to see the number of animals you have to choose from. Take your list of desired characteristics with you to remind you of any limitations you have on your choice of animal. Remember size, temperament, sex, age, and coat.

The behavior of a caged animal is not always the same as the behavior the animal would have in a home environment. Do not necessarily overlook the animals which may appear quiet, scared, or overly excited. Talk to the staff regarding the animal's temperament, and remove the animal to a quiet place where you may better observe his personality.

It is important that the whole family meet the pet, including children and other pets. The meeting should take place in a quiet, neutral environment with the shelter staff present.

Waiting period: Many shelters will require a waiting period of 24 hours or more before you can take the animal home. This is to give you the time to think about your decision and talk over any concerns with the other family members. During the waiting period, the shelter will put a 'hold' on the animal so no one else can adopt her while you are waiting.