Perhaps because kittens are so very appealing, adult cats have the lowest adoption rate of all pets at many shelters. While prospective adopters head straight for the kitten section, the adult cats purr hopefully in their enclosures and thrust their soft paws beseechingly through the bars as if they understand the importance of catching someone's attention.
Too many never get a second chance at a good home, and that's just plain wrong.
Being overlooked at the shelter is bad news for the cats, of course, but it's also unfortunate for many people who don't realize that an adult cat may, in many cases, be a better choice than a kitten. Sure, kittens are cute, but they also can be a bit of a trial as they grow up. They need extra time, extra training and extra tolerance for all those crazy things that kittens do on the way to cathood.
An adult cat can slide quickly into your life with little fuss and muss. You know pretty well what you're getting with a grown cat -- activity level, sociability and health. Given time in a loving environment, a grown cat forms just as tight a bond with his new people as any kitten can. I believe that many animals who are adopted as adults are more appreciative, somehow, of their special person's role in saving their lives.
With adult cats, knowing a little of the animal's background is important, especially if your family has children or dogs. (A cat who has never experienced them may have a more difficult time adjusting to a new family that includes either or both.) You can ask your questions about background directly if adopting from the cat's original owner, but most shelters or rescue groups also try to provide some basic information, which they ask of the people giving up their pets.
What if the information isn't flattering to the cat? For example, what if he became available for adoption because of his failure to use a litter box? Give the cat the benefit of the doubt, if you have the time and patience to work on solving the problem. And remember, too, that you don't know the contributing factors. Maybe the litter box was never cleaned or was left in a spot that was convenient for the owner but disconcerting for the cat.
If at all possible, take each adult cat you're considering away from the caging area of the adoption center. Sit down with the animal in your lap, alone in a quiet place, and try to get a feel for the cat as an individual. Shelters are stressful places, so the cat may need a few quiet minutes to collect herself. A calm, confident and outgoing cat will respond pretty readily to your attention, relaxing in your lap, pushing for strokes and purring.
No matter how promising the initial meeting, remember that cats don't react well to change, so be prepared to give your new pet time to adjust to new surroundings once you take her home. Experts advise starting out your cat in a small, enclosed area -- a spare bathroom or small bedroom equipped with food and water, litter box, toys and a scratching post. A few days of quiet seclusion with frequent visits from you will relax your new pet and re-establish good litter-box habits.
This is the time of year when kittens become scarce, so you may have little choice but to consider an adult if you're itching to add a cat to your family. The lack of competition allows the adult cats to shine a little extra and gives you a chance to bring home a pet you'll adore for years to come.
PETS ON THE WEB
I guess Elizabeth Cusulas has given up on her plan to add more songs to her Talewaggers Doggie Carols Web site (www.ddc.com/waggers/carols.html), since the last entry promises new carols for last year -- which never materialized.
No matter. The 14 songs from previous years are more than enough to make this page a must-visit at this time of year. "The Twelve Days of Puppy" takes a humorous turn on an old favorite, with each passing day revealing a new spot where the Christmas puppy left a puddle. Perhaps because I have a house full of dogs who live for tennis balls, her puppyfied version of "Silver Bells" is still my favorite, with its catchy reprise: "Tennis balls, tennis balls/Perfection round and inviting/Roll and play, all the day/Please, Santa, toss some our way."
The promise of a puppy is much better than the real thing come Christmas Day. Puppies need training and socialization, both of which are difficult to accomplish in the short, cold days of winter. As a result, a lot of Christmas puppies are Christmas memories by summertime, when their puppy cuteness has given way to gawky adolescence and their lack of manners has become intolerable.
There is no demand for ill-behaved former Christmas puppies, and many of these youngsters will never get a chance to grow old as a beloved family pet. It's a tragedy that's completely avoidable. If you want a puppy, wait until spring or summer, when it's more likely you'll have the time you need to raise your puppy right. For Christmas, wrap up a dog book and a collar and leash, and tell the kids the pup of their dreams will be theirs soon.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: Our golden retriever is the best dog we have ever had, except for one problem we can't seem to solve. Butterball seems to think our cat's litter box is some kind of puppy buffet. We have yelled at her. We have smacked her. She knows it's wrong and tries to sneak her snack when we're not looking. This is a dog who loves to kiss, and I can't stand the idea of her kissing the kids, knowing where her mouth has been. Help us with this disgusting problem. -- B.G., via e-mail
A: 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. When faced with a constant supply of litter "munchies" and ready access to them, 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, which you can accomplish in many ways. Here are a few suggestions:
-- Try covered litter boxes. Some cats don't like them, and cats with asthma can't use them because the concentration of dust inside the boxes can trigger an attack. If your cat falls into either category, this solution isn't going to work for you; otherwise, it may do the trick.
-- Change the litter box's location. You must be careful not to upset your cats. But experimenting with such ploys as gradually moving the litter box to a location above the dog's reach usually doesn't hurt.
-- Provide barriers. One way is to 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 door to the litter-box room if your dog is medium-sized or larger. For small dogs, try a baby gate -- the cat can jump it, but the dog can't.
-- Keep it clean. Don't forget to keep the box scooped: A dog can't eat what a dog can't find.
Experiment with any or all of these strategies, and stop yelling at and swatting your dog -- it's not an effective technique for problem-solving, as you've discovered. And it doesn't do much for the relationship with your cherished Butterball.
Q: I've read (maybe in your column) that the perches that come with a birdcage aren't good for my Pionus parrot, Petey. Is that true? And what should I be using instead? - T.F., via e-mail
A: There's nothing dangerous about the smooth pine dowels that come with most birdcages, but a more varied selection of perches is better for your bird's physical and mental health. Think variety -- rope, cement and wood perches should all find a place in your bird's cage. Natural wood perches, in particular, are wonderful because they feel good under your bird's feet and because they give him something to chew on.
Most fruit and nut trees (almond, apple, prune and all citrus) are fine to use, as are ash, elm, dogwood and magnolia. If you can get your pruners on some manzanita, go for it. It's a hard wood that can stand up to a lot of abuse. Try grapevines, too. And leave the bark on for your bird to peel off.
Cut the branches to a length to fit in your cage. Scrub and clean them well with detergent, rinse, and dry them in the sun. Check for insect egg pods; if you find them, just break them off and discard them before putting the branch in your pet's cage. (If you don't, you may find a zillion little buglets thinking it's spring in your home.) Think of perches as replaceable cage furnishings. Tearing them up is good for your bird, providing both exercise and entertainment.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com.
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