So, you’ve made the excellent decision to adopt a cat from an animal shelter or rescue group. Yay, you, and yay for the kitty or kitties gaining a home! But before you fall in love with those huge Puss in Boots eyes, make sure you ask the shelter these important questions.
1. ASK ABOUT THE CAT’S HISTORY
One of the first things you should do after meeting a cat at a shelter is to investigate their backstory - that’s right, backstories aren’t just for characters on TV shows! Many shelters help contextualize their cats with little tags on their enclosures showing their name and a synopsis of their history. This is how we know that our giant, friendly orange tabby Tiger Jack spent his early kittenhood in the parking lot of a trucker motel - and he’s got the outgoing attitude with strangers to prove it.
Sometimes, though, those synopses aren’t detailed enough or include details that require some clarification. For example, if “owner surrender,” is part of their history, you might want to ask more questions about the circumstances of that surrender or what sort of environment they lived in beforehand.
2. ASK ABOUT THE CAT’S TEMPERAMENT
This one really piggybacks on asking about a cat’s history, since understanding the cat’s pre-shelter circumstances - and a reason for being in the shelter- can often give you the 411 on a cat’s attitude. Find out from shelter workers how the cat gets along with other animals (cats, dogs, chinchilla, whatever you got at home).
Ask how the cat responds to people, and especially the miniature grabby people if you’ve got kids. You don’t want to rescue a kitty just to put her in a home that’ll make her anxious or unhappy! And you might discover the cat’s pair-bonded to another cat at this stage, and want to adopt a duo together.
3. ASK ABOUT MEDICAL CONDITIONS
This one’s probably a no-brainer, but still: ask about any medical conditions. Ask for any vet records the shelter may have, and make sure to investigate any serious medical conditions they mention - or any accidents that might have happened before or during their stay at the shelter.
Your investigation should include asking for as many details on the condition or accident as possible, getting details on treatment provided, and discovering what treatment may still be required. Now, the hard part: be honest with yourself about whether you can afford any regular medical treatment they might require.
4. ASK ABOUT BEHAVIORAL ISSUES
Some cats - especially those that have been abandoned by a long-term owner or who don’t cope well at a shelter - may turn into scaredy cats, or develop other behavioral issues. Who can blame them? Anxious kitties or those who feel threatened will often pee outside the litter box to mark their territory. Or they may act aggressively, swiping and hissing when people try to approach them. That doesn’t mean you can’t love these kitties or shouldn’t rescue them!
But you should ask about any behavioral issues, so you know what to expect - and so you can combine this information with their backstory, figure out the "why" of their behavior, and fix it by helping them feel safe and secure.
5. ASK WHAT CARE THEY NEED RIGHT AWAY
Kittens need shots - it’s the one downside to kittenhood! Both kittens and cats will need to be spayed or neutered if they’re not already. Cats with medical conditions may need regular vet appointments. Make sure you ask the shelter what vet care is required in the short term so you can make appointments right away; if you don’t have a regular veterinarian, they may even be able to recommend one to you.
Sometimes, something unforeseen can happen - a known illness gets suddenly worse, or a hidden illness may pop up shortly after you adopt. Some shelters include provisions for this in their adoption contracts or offer some kind of pet insurance at the time of adoption. Either way, if your cat becomes terribly ill after adoption - or, Bast forbid, if your cat dies - try reaching out to the shelter to see if they can help you. They may be able to offer advice or discounted veterinary care.
There you have it - a short checklist of things to ask at any shelter before adopting. This should help prevent any surprises, and ensure you make a confident and informed adoption. It’s hard to think critically when you just want to rescue and love a cat - but thinking objectively is also radically important. It’s your responsibility to adopt only when you’re certain you can care for that cat. It’s like Patty Smyth once sang - sometimes, love just ain’t enough. Make sure you can back your love up.
Written by Deborah Brannon