Seven years later, Morgan is still living happily with Ruki and her first cat, Mashy. But John Van Zante, spokesman for the Helen Woodward Animal Center in Rancho Sante Fe, Calif., doesn’t recommend the way Morgan went about things. "Adopting a pet is a lifetime commitment," he says. "It’s a big decision that is best not made on a whim." Below, Van Zante, who is also one of the organizers of the upcoming annual international pet adoption fair, Home 4 the Holidays, offers would-be-cat-adopters advice on the steps that should precede that commitment.
Step One: Think Lifetime
"Make sure you and your family are willing to make a lifetime commitment," says Van Zante, who has seen his share of "surrendered" cats during 17 years at Helen Woodward. "It’s like going into a marriage – you don’t want to be someone who tells himself ‘if it doesn’t work out I can always get a divorce.’" Van Zante suggests talking it out, either among family members who live in the household, or with close friends who know your lifestyle and may have thoughts on whether it can become animal friendly. Part of the discussion should also include economics: Can you realistically afford the upkeep, veterinary bills and feeding of an animal over the long haul?
Step Two: Debate the Merits of Cats
Cats are not the only house pet on the block. Birds, dogs, rabbits, snakes and more are other possibilities, so consider what you and your housemates (if you have them) might truly desire. "I’ve seen it before," says Van Zante. "Mom, Dad, three kids come in. Two of the kids want a cat and suddenly the third has to have a dog." He adds, "What should be the fun part – picking out a pet – ends up in a huge fight." He suggests including discussions about all pet options into the lifetime commitment powwow.
Step Three: Cat Options
Do you want a cat or a kitten? How many do you want? Both of these are questions to pose before you head out to the adoption facility. "What are you or your family capable of?" asks Van Zante. "Do you want a mature cat that already knows the couch is not a scratching post, or will you be able to teach a kitten that yourself?" Van Zante adds that two kittens may be better than one for households whose members are often out. "Two does not mean twice the trouble. They amuse each other."
Step Four: Where to Go
Animal shelters, rescues and breeders all offer cats and kittens, though breeders come at a higher cost. Van Zante recommends shelters and rescues, and not only because of his employee affiliation. "At a shelter, the goal is to make a match, not a profit," he explains. Shelter and rescue workers will work with you and your family to determine which of their felines will be a good match. "You tell them about your lifestyle and let them find you a pet that is right for you. If you have two little dogs at home, they won’t let you make the mistake of taking home a 16-pound cat that’s a bully." Local animal shelters and rescues can be found on the Internet and in the yellow pages.
Step Five: Spend Time With the Cat
If you are hanging out near the cat’s crate in the shelter and your eyes start watering, and not for emotional reasons, pay attention. "If you have to surrender a cat you’ve fallen in love with a week after adoption because of allergies, it’s heartbreaking," says Van Zante, who is allergic to his own short-haired furball, but puts up with the symptoms.
Make sure all the members of your household – including your other pets – spend time around the cat before the adoption is complete. If you already have a cat at home, for example, you need to know if it will even accept a new cat. For dog owners, does your canine feel comfortable around cats? If the shelter does home visits in preparation for the adoption, ask them to bring the adoptee.
Step Six: Before Bringing Home Baby
Invest in at least a weeklong supply of food. Shelter workers, or your breeder, can recommend a kitten or cat chow. Also have on hand a set of ceramic food and water bowls and a few starter toys. Decide on some basic cat rules with everyone in the household, such as whether or not the cat will have the full run of the house and who will take care of the feeding and litter box maintenance.
Hundreds of thousands of cats are in need of a good home. In six, pre-adoption steps, your own home can fit the bill. A lifetime of purring companionship will be your reward.