By Grace Dickinson
When Tozlu entered Old City’s Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society centre, the long-haired, gray-and-white cat immediately dozed off in the arms of a volunteer. He purred in peace, belly and feet flopped toward the ceiling, warmed by the human body cradling him. “He’s all about the belly rubs,” said PAWS adoption counsellor Lauren Campagnini. “He knows what it’s like out there on the streets, where it’s cold and food is hard to come by.”
Strays like Tozlu are abundant in the Philadelphia area. And as spring shifts into summer – prime cat-mating season – shelters are flooded with new-borns. (Cats have a three-month gestation, so kitten season tapers off around October.)
“By July, we’ll be swimming in kittens,” said PAWS executive director Melissa Levy.
Before adopting, there are a few factors to consider, such as if a cat fits into your lifestyle, whether to get a kitten or an older cat, and how to welcome your new feline to the family.
Consider the commitment – and the costs
When deciding whether to adopt a cat, first and foremost, determine if you’re ready to take on a long-term commitment. “A cat can mean 20 years of daily care,” Levy said.
While lower-maintenance than most dogs, cats do require socialization, said Morris Animal Refuge director of operations Carolyn Fitzgerald. “Daily petting and playtime is crucial to fostering a happy cat that will engage with your family.”
At least 15 minutes of interaction per day is recommended for any cat; some will need more for mental stimulation and energy release, especially in a small apartment.
Cats are relatively budget-friendly. Expect to spend $30-$40 a month on food and litter, at minimum. Don’t forget to factor in money for a scratching post and a few toys.
Aside from the upfront investment and monthly maintenance, the next major expense is health care. Fitzgerald estimates general wellness visits totalling $100-$400 a year.
Application basics: Once you’re sure about adopting, the application process is typically quick and straightforward. Shelters generally require a government-issued photo ID, veterinarian contact information if you own or previously owned pets, and a description of what you’re looking for in your new adoptee.
Most rescue centres aren’t going to dive too deep into your details. “We’re just looking for individuals who have a relatively stable life,” Levy said. If your housing and job are secure, it’s likely you’ll be accepted.
Pick for personality (and age)
“Cats are like humans – there are all sorts of personality types,” said Karen O’Rourke, the president of Stray Cat Relief Fund and owner of six cats. “Some just want to chill in your lap all day. Others are high-energy and want to play nonstop, which can be great for families with kids or other playful kitties.” Some are more affectionate, and others are timid, requiring a patient person to gain their trust.
If you prefer owning one cat at a time, Levy advises opting for an adult, since kittens need to socialise. Shelters often provide personality clues, and their staff is trained to help you find the right fit, too.
Choose a kitten, and you’ll need to be prepared for any personality outcome.
“It’s virtually impossible to know how a kitten will turn out – but you should be ready for a lot of energy and a bit of mischief at the beginning,” Levy said. “Kittens are like kids. They’re going to want to play and explore every nook of your house.”
Prepare your home
Before bringing a new cat home, pet-proof your house. Do a quick scan of your furniture. If a cat hops onto a shelf of your bookcase, will the entire unit fall down? Make sure your window screens are secure, too, and that window blind strings are tied up. Put away fragile items, as well as plastic bags.
Household plants can pose danger, too; some common varieties, including peace lilies and aloe, are toxic to cats. Refer to the ASPCA’s site for an exhaustive list. Likewise, toxic household products, including medications and cleaning products, should be placed out of reach.
Once your house is in gear, identify a room to serve as the cat’s home for the first week after adoption.
“Change can cause cats to easily become stressed out. They should have a small, quiet space – even if it’s just a bathroom – where they can slowly adapt,” Levy said.
When a cat shows signs of comfort, like perked ears and a prance in its step, it’s ready to nose its way through other parts of the house. At this point, it’s time to prep the rest of the family.
If you have other pets, ask the staff at your place of adoption about getting all parties acclimated. Rescue centres offer resources and tips, and sometimes even know a cat’s pet-exposure history. If a dog is involved, keep it leashed while introducing the cat – and don’t give up hope if it’s not love at first sight. Multiple introductions may be necessary.
“Take a slow and staged approach,” O’Rourke said. “By placing the new cat in a separate room, they can use the sounds and smells to get to know other pets, and vice versa, before meeting face to face.”
Kids should also be introduced with care. “Children need to be counselled on how to pet so that the cat doesn’t end up getting manhandled,” Fitzgerald said.
“A little coaching, like instructing them not to grip a cat around the neck or pull on its tail, is generally all it takes.” New strays are picked up every day, and kitten season is coming, so it’s a good time to find a furry addition to the family.
“All cats deserve a second chance, to have a home where they can find love and safety,” Levy said. “In return, they make us laugh, bring us comfort, make us feel needed – the companionship creates one of the most fulfilling experiences.” — Philly.com/ TNS
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