by Timothy Brill
When Jack and Debi Roney of Vienna, Va., decided to get a kitten, they set their sights on a lively, energetic animal. But that was before they met Minnalouche, a calico that a local humane society fostered. "She seemed to need a lot of love and warmth," Debi recalls. "When I picked her up, she snuggled under my sweater. She seemed to really need me."
Feeling needed appealed to the Roneys then, just as it has in the 13 years since they adopted Minnalouche. Steve Aiken, an animal behaviorist from Wichita, Kan., understands why. Adopting from a shelter, humane society or rescue group "means helping a cat who's already there and needs the love of an owner," he says.
The Joy of Adopting
When you adopt a cat, there's the obvious benefit that you're providing a home for the animal. But there are more advantages, including:
Many shelter cats were previously owned and socialized, so they're more likely than strays to make a happy adjustment to your household.
The staffs at animal shelters can help take the guesswork out of choosing the right pet. Since they interact daily with the kittens and cats, they have a feel for their moods.
Adopting a cat is less expensive than buying one. You can save money in medical costs too. Many cats have already been spayed or neutered and if they haven't, shelters usually reimburse a portion of the cost when a spay or neuter is requested.
Despite the advantages, shelter animals can have higher stress levels. "Shelter cats have been in another home, snatched up and brought to a shelter with the strange sights and sounds of many other animals, and then snatched up again and brought to their new home," says Aiken.
But that's no reason to look down upon the animal. "The idea that a shelter cat has something wrong with it is outdated," says Nancy Peterson, Human-Animal Bond Specialist for The Humane Society of the United States in Washington, D.C. "It's more likely something was wrong with the previous owners -- maybe they weren't as committed to the animal as they should have been."
Making the Match
To make the adoption work, here's what experts suggest:
Do your research
Find out as much information as possible about adoptions. Check out the Humane Society of the United States' Web site and local humane societies and animal shelters.
Find out everything you can about the kitten or cat. Is it good around kids? Has it ever lived in a multi-cat or multi-pet household? How does it get along with the other animals at the shelter?
Take your time
Peterson compares the adoption process to dating. "You just don't meet your soul mate the first time you go out with someone," she says. "You shouldn't have those expectations when picking a cat either. It's worth the wait to find exactly the right animal."
Talk to cat owners and read books so you know what to expect. "If you've never had a cat before, some of their habits, such as shedding or scratching, may surprise you or may annoy you," Peterson says.
Both you and your pet need time to get to know each other. If you have problems adjusting, call the shelter for advice. "The nice thing about adoptions is that the staff is committed to a lifetime match," Peterson says.
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