When a long-time friend of our family bought a home, she was surprised to find out that it came with a friendly outdoor cat. The previous owner of the home had died, and the heirs either didn't know about the cat or didn't care.
The family friend, who had never kept a pet and so wasn't really up on such issues as animal overpopulation, figured there was someone she could call, who'd pick up the cat, find her a new home and that would be that. No muss, no fuss.
Much as I hated to burst her bubble, I told the woman there was no solution quite so simple. Shelters and rescue groups do the best they can to find new homes for pets, but there just aren't enough homes, especially for adult cats. And I suggested that before she picked up that phone and made more work for an already overwhelmed rescue group or shelter, she try to find a home for the cat herself.
Are you in a similar situation, with a cat for whom you need to find a home? A stray who just turned up, or the cherished pet of a relative or friend who has passed on? While adult cats can be very hard to place -- they have the lowest rates of adoption for all animals at shelters -- it's not impossible to find a good home. Be patient and persistent, and follow these tips:
-- Spread the news. Make up fliers, take out an ad in your newspaper and use the Internet to spread the word. Post the fliers everywhere you can: bulletin boards at work, pet-supply stores and your veterinarian's office.
-- Ask a price. Asking for money stops 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 you'll have done before placement, and promote the convenience for the new owner, who'll have the pet "ready to go."
-- 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. Some people love taking in pets who have "sob stories" attached to them, or who are physically or emotionally damaged. But the person who gets such a pet without warning is likely to bring her back, give her away or dump her.
-- Look for someone who understands that a pet is a commitment. Ask prospective adopters whether they've had pets before and what happened to them. The person who has had a lot of pets who disappeared, died young or were given away is probably not your best choice. Never forget that the pet is counting on you to find her a home where she'll be taken care of for the rest of her life.
If you cannot find a home in a reasonable amount of time, don't expect the cat to fend for herself by dumping her in the "country." People who live in rural areas 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, predation or accident.
Take the cat to a shelter or rescue group if you cannot find her a new home so she can get another chance at being chosen by someone who'll care for her.
Our family friend found a wonderful home for the cat - her own! And since then, she has found homes for two more half-wild strays who turned up on her property. All the cats are loved and cared for now.
PETS ON THE WEB
Is there nothing a Labrador retriever can't do? They serve as law-enforcement dogs, searching out everything from smuggled fruit to drugs to signs of arson. They're popular in programs that train dogs to work as helpers to people with disabilities, and a great many of them still perform their breed's original function, retrieving birds in all kinds of conditions for hunters. Despite all the things Labs can do, most of them serve as family pets, a job at which they also excel.
Is a Labrador right for you? Before you bring one into your life, check out Labrador Resources (www.labrador-resources.com). This well-designed and well-organized Web site offers page after page of fantastic advice for anyone who's thinking about getting a Lab, or already has one.
Chances are getting better all the time that when you take your pet to see a veterinarian, you'll be dealing with a woman. The New York Times recently reported that the number of female veterinarians has more than doubled in the last decade, while the number of men in the profession has fallen 15 percent. Men are still in the majority - 33,461 to 24,356 - but likely not for long, considering that three-quarters of veterinary students are women. The biggest reason for the change, according to many analysts, is that profession doesn't pay well considering the money and years invested in education, and certainly not when compared to human medical professionals.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: What do you do with a 17-pound monster cat who goes ballistic when he's at the veterinarian's? We've tried tranquilizers and taking him to the all-cats hospital, but when our 98-pound veterinarian touches him, he hisses, bites, scratches, and generally loses it!
This same cat has to be in your lap whenever you sit down, and his favorite place to sleep is on your pillow (and of course, he has to lick your face to make sure you notice him). Can you help? - C.L., via e-mail
A: The problem is more common than you know, and it always seems to be the sweetest cats who are such raging tigers at the vet.
Veterinarians (even 98-pound ones) and their staffs are quite capable of dealing with an angry or frightened kitty, although it won't be the highlight of their day. Work with your veterinarian to come up with a strategy to make the visit easier for you all, and realize that the staff will have to handle your pet firmly to prevent injuries to the cat and the people around him. Be sure you're using a hard-sided carrier for these trips -- never try to hold an angry cat in your arms, or transport him in something that lends very little protection, like a pillowcase.
You might also consider using a mobile veterinarian. Although your cat won't be any more pleased to see a veterinarian who makes house calls, at least he'll be spared the trauma of travel.
The temptation when you have a cat who hates the veterinarian is to avoid routine preventive veterinary care entirely. It's not uncommon for cats like these to never see a veterinarian after that first visit has gone so horribly wrong. If you go this route -- and I'm not recommending it, just acknowledging it as a choice many cat-lovers make -- the responsibility for spotting illness falls heavily on your shoulders. Be aware of changes in your cat's body, attitude or behavior, all of which can indicate illness and necessitate a trip to the veterinarian's, whether your cat likes it or not.
Q: My cat has a funny and somewhat embarrassing tendency to turn his back to me when I'm stroking him so that what I'm left looking at is his fanny. Is this a sign of affection, annoyance, or is my cat just plain quirky? -- C.O., via e-mail
A: It's not an insult, and you shouldn't be embarrassed. One of the most pleasurable ways of being petted (from a cat's point of view) is along the back, a scratch at the base of the tail and a caress up the tail. He's probably just turning his back to you so he can make sure you hit his favorite spots.
The base of the tail isn't the only place cats like to be petted. Although most cats would prefer to avoid a belly rub, they usually like to get a nice scratch at the base of the ears and along the jaw line. If you work on those magic spots, you might see a little more of your cat's pretty face, too.
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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