If a stray turns up on your back porch and you can't find an owner, or if you inherit an older cat from a relative or friend who has passed on, or if you end up with an extra cat for any other reason, you want to find the best home you can. And that can be difficult.
Adult cats can be very hard to place. They have the lowest rates of adoption for all animals at shelters. If you're patient and persistent, however, you may find a home. Here are some tips to follow:
-- Do everything you can to make the animal more adoptable. The pet has a better chance for adoption if her vaccinations are current, she uses her litter box reliably, and she's altered.
-- Ask a price. People show more respect for something they've paid for, and a price tag dampens the interest of profiteers, such as those who collect "free to good home" pets for sale to research labs or to people who train dogs for fighting. A good rule of thumb: Charge an amount sufficient to cover the cost of the spaying/neutering and vaccinations.
-- Don't lie about the pet's problems or why she's being placed. Although finding a new home for a pet with problems takes longer, you can usually still do so. But the person who gets such a pet without warning is likely to bring her back, take her to a shelter or give her away -- maybe to a horrible situation.
-- Spread the news. Make up fliers, and take out an ad in your newspaper and on the Internet. Post the fliers everywhere you can: bulletin boards at work, pet-supply stores and your veterinarian's office. Give some to your friends and family to post where they work, too. Talk up the cat (at least briefly) with everyone you know. Even people who don't like cats (or don't want one) may know someone who is looking for a pet. The more exposure you can get, the better. If a thousand people hear or read about the animal, you probably will get no interest from 999, but you need only one person to provide a good home for the cat. And that's the one you need to reach.
-- Ask lots of questions and verify that the answers are true. Don't forget to ask prospective adopters whether they've had pets before and what happened to them. Make sure you're dealing with people who realize that owning a pet is a long-term commitment. The person who has had a lot of pets who disappeared, died young or were given away is probably not your best choice. My favorite question: Who's your veterinarian? Someone who cannot at least name a vet or a veterinary hospital may have pets who don't go there very often.
-- Set a reasonable time limit for yourself to place the animal, and do everything you can during that time. If you cannot find a home, do not turn out the cat. Do not take the animal "to the country" or otherwise turn him loose to fend for himself. People who live in the country can't care for all the pets who are dumped there. The kinder folks take them to a shelter; others shoot them, poison them or drown them. Even in the "wilderness," the lives of feral cats are full of suffering, shortened by disease or accident. Don't put a cat through this horror: Take her to a shelter if you cannot keep her or find her a new home.
PETS ON THE WEB
Want a great way to get both you and your dog in shape and have a marvelous time doing it? Take up agility. Based loosely on English show-jumping, the sport won't stop growing, with more enthusiastic dog-handler teams in training than ever before. Dogs of all sizes and shapes, purebred and not, enjoy heading over and through the various obstacles, and they benefit from the time spent with their owners. One of the best spots on the Web to learn about agility is the Dog Patch agility page (www.dogpatch.org/agility). Clean and well-organized, the site offers articles, discussion groups and graphics of various courses, as well as links to other sites on agility and agility-trained dogs.
The "s" hooks given out with some pet ID tags are a royal pain. The hooks are hard to fasten correctly, even using pliers, and they always seem to be falling off the collar, giving up the tag or catching on something. A better choice for fastening tags is the split-ring. Many tag makers offer you a choice of fasteners, but if that's not the case, ditch the "s" hooks and head to the hardware store. Split-rings are available cheaply there, in the key section. (I like split-rings made for keys better, in fact, because they're generally sturdier than the ones that come with tags.) You don't have to break your nails to get tags (or keys) on these rings. Use a staple remover to pull them wide enough to slide on the tags.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: We adopted a dog recently from the local shelter, and she's a sweetie. We do have one problem, though, and we need help because it's so disgusting. She eats out of the litter box. We've yelled at her and smacked her, but she just gets more crafty. What can we do to stop this? Yuck! --D.C., via the Internet
A: You're not alone in your disgust. Litter-munching dogs are a top-10 reader complaint, year in and year out. As incredible as the thought seems to humans, many dogs do indeed consider cat feces to be every bit as wonderful as dog biscuits -- they're drawn to the undigested protein.
Faced with constant supply and ready access, no dog can resist for long, which is why efforts to train a dog to leave the litter box alone are rarely successful. The better plan is to restrict access. You can do this in a several ways, and it doesn't hurt to experiment. What deters one dog may not stop another.
Changing the litter box location is probably the easiest and least expensive solution. It may be possible to find a spot too high for your dog to cruise. Barriers are another strategy. You can rig the door to the room containing the litter box so that it stays open wide enough for the cat but not for the dog. Another possibility is to install a cat-sized door in the bottom of the door to the litter-box room if your dog is medium-sized or larger. For small dogs, try a baby gate -- a cat can jump it, but a small dog can't. You can also try a covered litter box.
Whatever you do, make sure your cat is comfortable with the change, or chances are you'll end up with another equally disturbing problem: a cat who avoids the litter box.
Q: Our blue-and-gold macaw loves to fly. Since he's never out of the house, we don't see the problem in letting him fly. It's cruel to deny birds flight, and we hope more bird lovers will realize that. Will you spread the word? -- F.H., via the Internet
A: I'm afraid I can't. Even inside the house the dangers are too many for a flighted bird.
Flying is one of those things that adds to the incredible appeal of birds, their mystique and their wonder. We envy them, for only recently in human experience have we been able to fly. And let's be honest, blasting place-to-place inside a jet-propelled metal tube hardly has the same panache.
Not all pet birds should have their flight feathers kept short, just those who come out of their cages to interact with their owners. Finches and canaries are happier if not handled or allowed out, and their feathers should be left alone so they can fly in their cages for exercise.
But when it comes to most parrots, our homes are not safe for flighted birds. Any avian veterinarian can tell you about birds who have slammed into windows, or have landed in sizzling frying pans or boiling pots of water. Some have even flown into an open toilet and drowned.
Another problem with a flighted bird: Losing your pet is just one open window or door away.
Your bird can indeed have a happy, healthy life without ever taking to the air. Your bird's veterinarian or a reputable bird shop will be happy to show you how to trim wings, or do it for you if you'd rather not try it on your own.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies" and "Cats for Dummies," and is the editorial director of the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or e-mail to Write2Gina(at)aol.com.
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