By Meg McIntire
There may be as many as half a million feral cats padding around NYC, according to a startling New York Times article published in May. The pandemic boom in pet adoption gave way to pet abandonments as expenses went up and people could no longer afford their cats.
Compounding the problems is they couldn’t afford to get them spayed or neutered either as procedures can exceed $500.
This astonishing situation underscores the fact that if you’re thinking about giving a cat a forever home, it is crucial to spay and neuter your new family member if the rescue you’re adopting from hasn’t already. Kittens may be darling, but the best way to prevent millions of cats and dogs from suffering a life and eventual death on the streets is to spay and neuter. Friends of Animals offers a reduced cost spay and neuter program—it costs $180 for a female cat and $132 for a male cat. To locate veterinarians participating in our program, visit friendsofanimals.org.
If you are certain you can provide a feline lifelong care, rescuing a cat can result in a truly special bond. Unlike dogs who require daily walks or trips to parks to exercise and socialize with other animals, cats are more independent. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have individual needs.
Because they have different personalities and temperaments, how to meet those needs can vary. To ensure a successful adoption, you must ask yourself what kind of relationship you want with your new family member and what personality type fits your expectations.
Who’s the right fit?
Kittens bring undeniable cuteness and playfulness into your life, but they also require a great deal of attention, stimulation and training. So, if you are a busy person and not home a lot, consider adopting an adult cat. They require much less attention than a kitten and are more likely to be mellow and willing to simply curl up on your bed or couch while you’re reading a book or watching TV.
Senior cats can also make wonderful additions to a household, but it’s important to understand that they often prefer a peaceful environment without a lot of noise and commotion. Additionally, older cats may have specific health needs that require regular visits to the veterinarian.
Don’t be in a rush to get acquainted
Mieshelle Nagelschneider, cat behaviorist and author of the Cat Whisperer, points out that it can be difficult to determine a cat’s true personality and temperament when it’s in a shelter cage. So, if the shelter has a visitation room, ask to spend at least 30 minutes with the cat that you’re interested in adopting.
The visitation rooms are the closest you will come to learning what the cat will be like when he or she is in your home, Nagelschneider wrote in an article for Modern Cat magazine.
“It’s a very good response if the cat readily plays with a wand toy that you maneuver in the visitation room. A cat that is too fearful may not play, and this can mean they may need more time adjusting to a new home or may do better in a calmer home instead of one with a lot of activity.”
What to expect in the first few days
Cecilia, the first cat my husband and I adopted, was about one year old when she moved into our apartment; she adjusted quickly to her surroundings. We adopted our second cat, Stevie, as a tiny kitten after she was found abandoned in a box by the side of the road. And her journey was an entirely different story.
At first, we slept on the floor next to her because she was too small to be in a bed. Then we discovered we had to kitten-proof our home after Stevie crawled under the dishwasher one morning. We had to cover every small opening in our kitchen. Not to mention everything is fair game to sharpen their “hunting” skills.
We also kept our dogs on a leash in the house while everyone was getting used to each other. It was quite a lot more effort, to say the least.
When you first bring your cat home, experts recommend minimizing your cat’s space so it’s less overwhelmed by the new environment. Many cats spook easily. You might confine your cat to one or two rooms for the first week or so, placing everything your cat will need in this space. Make sure you’re spending quality time with your cat during this time to get them acquainted with you, your scent and your habits.
If you have other animals in your household, remember that the introduction of a new pet will require adjustments from everyone. Keep any dog on a leash during the first few introductions so it doesn’t overwhelm or lunge at the cat from excitement.
When we brought Stevie home, we set up child-proof gates at the doors so that the dogs and cats could see each other and smell each other for the first few days without any physical contact. We also let the cats make the first move when it came to approaching the dogs and didn’t force any interactions. Don’t forget to give your other animals extra love and attention during this time so none of them feel slighted.
Speaking of love, showering your cat with love is crucial. Most cats naturally seek physical affection and sharing a cuddle is a win-win for you too. According to studies, just petting a cat can have remarkable effects like reducing blood pressure, lowering heart rate and triggering the release of brain chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, which help elevate your mood.
And don’t skimp on the playtime. Playtime not only provides essential exercise for indoor cats but also strengthens the bond between you and your cat and builds their confidence.
“Activating your cat’s animated play state is their most confident fear-free mood state and is the fast track to helping them become confident in their new home,” Nagelschneider writes. “Instead of hiding under the bed for a week, the new cat can be out playing confidently like they own the place that same evening.”
The outdoors are anything but great for cats
Outdoor cats face risks that can jeopardize their lives including contagious diseases—many of which are fatal; getting hit by a car and exposure to pesticides and rodenticides and pet theft.
Plus, cats are predators and kill birds, chipmunks and other wildlife. The American Bird Conservancy estimates out door cats kill 2.4 billion birds annually.
By providing a stimulating, welcoming environment indoors, we can ensure the well-being of our beloved cats while also safeguarding the wildlife who we share our neighborhoods with.