The problem with placing adult cats, says a friend of mine who has found homes for dozens of them, is that everyone who wants a cat usually has one already. And many of the people who are in the market for a cat would rather start with a kitten.
That's a shame on both counts. First, because cats often enjoy the company of others of their own kind, especially if left alone inside all day while the family is at work or school. As for kittens, well, what's not to love? But an adult cat can often ease into a household more quickly, and without the sometimes over-the-top behavior of an energetic youngster.
The first step to placing an adult cat may be convincing prospective owners that two cats are better than one, and better yet if the second is a loving adult. Is it a hard sell? It can be, as any shelter manager can attest: Adult cats have low adoption rates when compared to kittens and even to adult dogs. But if you've ended up with an extra adult cat -- a stray perhaps, or a cat left behind by the death of a friend or relative -- you don't have to write off the animal as a lost cause. If you're patient and persistent, you'll likely 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.
-- 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.
Above all, don't give up! It may take weeks to find the right home for a pet, but it's always worth the time it may take to get it right. The goal here is not to "get rid of" an animal, but to find a loving, caring and, most of all, permanent home for a pet who needs one. They're out there, and if you keep looking you'll likely find the home that's just right for the cat you're trying to help.
The Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, sprawled across a couple of thousand acres outside of the southern Utah town of Kanab, has done as much as any organization to change the way unwanted animals are handled. Best Friends harbors some 2,000 animals, not only dogs and cats but also horses, rabbits, raptors and more, and is a national leader in the so-called "no-kill" movement, which seeks the end to the euthanasia of any adoptable pets.
Want to learn more? Check out Samantha Glen's "Best Friends: The True Story of the World's Most Beloved Animal Sanctuary" ($15; Kensington Publishing). The book is a wonderful read, combining the history of a small group of visionary people with the stories of the animals they've saved. If you can't go to Best Friends (and as someone who has been there, I can tell you it's well worth the trip), Glen's heartwarming book is the next best thing. You can also visit the group's Web site, at www.bestfriends.org.
PETS ON THE WEB
The College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University has put together a nifty site that explores the anatomy of dogs and cats. "Anatomy for the Pet Owner" (www.vetmed.wsu.edu/ClientED/anatomy/) offers fairly detailed drawings that show the skeletal and organ systems, with the ability to click on each separate area to gain access to more information. See the liver in all its detail, right down to the quadrate lobe! The site is easy to navigate and fun to play with. For any parent with a budding veterinarian in the family, this site is certainly one to share.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: We have two cats, 6 years old. We are expecting our first child in about three months. Our cats are primarily indoor cats. We let them outside during the daytime on the weekends when we are home.
We will be purchasing and assembling a crib in a couple of months, and I am hoping that you will have some suggestions for training our cats to stay out of the crib. -- P.S., via e-mail
A: Congratulations on the addition to your family. And good for you for not following the too-common advice to find new homes for your pets when you became pregnant. Too many pets become homeless on the recommendations of well-meaning but misinformed friends, relatives and even physicians.
The good news is that in most cases cats and children will co-exist happily, but getting to that point does require a modicum of common sense on your part. Cats don't smother babies, despite old wives' tales to the contrary, but it's still essential to keep your pets and your infant child apart unless you're supervising.
You cannot really train a cat to stay out of the crib, so it's better to put up a barrier to keep your pets out if you're not watching. A common bit of advice is to replace the nursery door with a screen door. It's not hard to do, and will allow you to hear your baby while keeping the cats away from the crib.
Cats sometimes forget their house manners at times of household stress or change. If your cats start forgetting where the litter box is once the baby arrives, don't punish them. Stressing them further will only make the situation worse. Instead, ease them into new routines by keeping them in a room away from all the hubbub for a couple of weeks -- a spare bedroom is ideal. Be sure to provide them with clean litter boxes, food, water, and a scratching post or cat tree, and don't forget to carve some time out of your new routine to reassure them with praise, petting and play.
Pets are good for children! If you gently introduce your pets to the idea of having a new "sibling," your child will be well-positioned to learn the lessons of responsibility and compassion that pets are so good at teaching.
Q: Would you please remind dog owners that having your dog run with you on your bike or inline skates in 90-degree heat puts a strain on the animals? I see many dogs running alongside a bicyclist who is staying cool by moving, while the dogs are panting and looking very hot. -- M.B., via e-mail
A: Thank you for the excellent reminder. I find that spring and fall are often more of a heat hazard to dogs than summer is. That's because people understand not to run their dogs in extreme heat, but often don't see the danger in the warmth of a lovely spring or fall day.
Most dogs need more exercise then they get, and walking, running, biking or skating with a pet is a great way to go. Be sure, though, to restrict such activities to the cool hours of early morning, and watch your pet for signs of heat stress, including glassy eyes and rapid panting. At the first sign of a problem, end the outing and get your pet into a cool place to rest, with plenty of water.
Another safety tip involves not the dogs, but the people. I've seen quite a few people skating with dogs who could generously be described as being barely under control. Before you get up to speed with your dog, be sure his leash manners are solid (get a trainer's help if necessary), and don't forget protective gear for yourself -- helmet and pads are a must. A big dog can pull someone on inline skates along at a very fast clip, and a fall at such a speed can be very nasty indeed.
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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