Looking for Your Dream Kitten in Shelter

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kitten in shelter

There is a wide range of shelter options from which to choose. Nearly every part of the country has access to some type of facility that handles unwanted, excess dogs and cats. They go by many names, from Rescue Leagues, Animal Control or City Pound, to Humane Society and SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals).

Some shelters are very large and have paid staff and a variety of services. Many are private facilities, others are city-run operations, and some are quite small. There are even shelters for cats only.

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I’ve traveled a great deal and visited shelter facilities all across the country. Most are run by dedicated pet lovers who want to help the animals and the people they serve. Visit your local shelters to see how the kittens are housed, handled, and treated. The best situations will have clean, sanitary-appearing facilities with staff eager and willing to answer your questions.

Some cage the cats and kittens individually to help prevent illness, often in a room segregated from barking dogs. Other house pairs or litters of kittens together. Still more provide play areas or house groups of cats or kittens in cageless environments that allow them to interact with each other, climb cat trees, and play. This more natural setting can be healthier for the emotional life of the cats but does risk exposure to communicable illnesses if they don’t receive proper health screenings.

Kitten from shelter

Visit with the staff and find out their adoption policies. Although most shelters are not for profit, they must charge adoption fees to offset the cost of vetting the animals and running the facility. Often, the adoption fee includes to-date vaccinations, veterinary health exams and worm treatments, and spay/neuter surgeries.

Depending on the facility, kittens may be spayed or neutered prior to you taking them home, or you may be required to schedule an appointment at a later date. Often they will either have a veterinarian on staff, or a group of dedicated local veterinarians who offer lower-cost spay/neuter services. And because those adopted together often do best, sometimes shelters offer incentives to adopt two littermates together.

Shelter staff often require that you complete a questionnaire, or be interviewed about your pet history to determine what you want in a pet. That helps them match you to the perfect kitten. In some instances, a shelter may refuse to allow a person to adopt a pet if they don’t feel the home environment is appropriate, or if the applicant’s pet history is less than ideal.

For instance, some shelters won’t adopt out kittens unless they are assured the pet will remain exclusively inside, or won’t be declawed. They may also deny an application if the person plans to give the pet as a gift to a third party but even then, some shelters may not be comfortable adopting very young kittens into homes with youngsters who may not know how to properly and safely handle a pet. Finally, some shelters may actually require a home visit to be sure you have an adequate place for the kitten. In the case of apartment dwellers, often shelters require a letter from the landlord that grants permission to keep a pet.


Prior to the 1960s, dogs won the pet popularity contest paws-down. All that changed with the innovation of Kitty Litter that offered convenient indoor cat bathroom facilities. Once litter products become common, kittens traveled from the barnyard into the family room, and they’ve never left.

At about the same time, two-income families became more common, as well as apartment living. Pet lovers unable to schedule a time for dog walks or without room for the large dogs, they’d loved as kids, discovered cats suited their situations just fine. That resulted in an enormous surge in feline popularity during the 1970s. By the late 1980s, cats had arguably surpassed dogs as the number one pet of choice among Americans.

Today, modern dogs and cats are nearly equal in their popularity, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association 2009-2010 National Pet Owner’s Survey. More households (39 percent) keep dogs—a total of 77.5 million—but because many people share their lives with multiple felines, there are more pet cats than dogs.
There are 93.6 million owned cats in the United States—that’s about 33 percent of U.S. households. In addition, 56 percent of owners have more than one cat (on average, they own two) and 22 percent were adopted from shelters.

Breeder Sources

Maybe you got your heart set on a regal Russian Blue like Great Aunt Gretchen’s or fell in love with the Japanese Bobtail a cat show. Shelters rarely have purebred cats or kittens available. The only exceptions might be the non-registered pointed-pattern Siamese look-alike or the Persian that became too much of a grooming problem for an unprepared owner.

There may be kittens that look similar to some of the purebred kitties, of course–but long fur doesn’t make a cat a Persian, and a missing tail doesn’t make him a Manx.

The best place to find a purebred kitten is from a reputable shelter cattery in your area. Many of the specialty cat magazines, like Kittens USA, and Cat Fancy list cat breeders and catteries in the back of their publications. Not every breed will have a shelter or cattery near you, and not all catteries will be listed in these breeder directories, but this is a good place to start.

Another resource is websites that feature various breeds. Many of the cat registry association homepages offer a list of breeders and catteries that are available in different parts of the country. Some of the best-purebred kitten sites are listed in 11 Fun Feline Facts – Explained –.

Purebred kittens are not cheap. You can expect to pay in the hundreds of dollars for one of these selectively-bred babies. But unless you plan to compete in cat shows, a “pet quality” kitten can be the perfect and more economical choice for you. These babies that for one reason or another—perhaps the kitten has the wrong color eyes or less-than-perfect markings—are not judged by the breeder to be a good show or breeding prospects. Often the shelter or cattery reduces the price on these pet quality kittens.

Once you have narrowed your search to nearby catteries, call and talk with the owner/breeder and arrange for a visit. Kittens won’t be available all the time, and you may need to place your name on a waiting list. More important than cost or getting on a waiting list, you want to evaluate the shelter or cattery facilities where your potential new kitten family member is born and raised. It should be clean, the cats should look healthy and happy, and the breeder should be interested in you and willing to answer any questions you have.

In fact, you should expect to be interviewed thoroughly by the breeder. These folks invest a great deal of time, money, and emotion into their kittens and won’t sell to just anybody.

Just like you, they want kittens to go to a forever home. One that will love and take care of the kitten in a responsible way. A good relationship with your kitten’s breeder not only offers a good resource for answering any kitten questions that may arise down the road, but they can also turn into lasting friendships. And if you are at all interested in showing your kitten, you can’t do better than the friendship and mentoring relationship with an experienced responsible breeder.

At least some of the cats should have run of the household—raised underfoot in other words, which means they are treated and handled like pets and family members. The boy cats likely will be confined to certain areas to cut down on spraying, and very young kittens may also be segregated for their protection.

But if the facilities aren’t clean; the cats are all caged; the kittens and adults appear ill, unkempt, very shy or frightened; and the breeder seems more interested in getting your money than the well-being of the kitten. RUN, DO NOT WALK, AWAY FROM THIS CATTERY!
Sadly, there are bad apples in most any barrel, including cat breeders. Often, these establishments referred to as “back-yard breeders” and the folks involved typically care more about making money on their furry livestock than furthering the welfare of the kittens.

It can be hard to tell the good from the bad or ugly simply from browsing an Internet or magazine listing. That’s why it’s so important to actually visit the site and personally choose your kitten and visit with the breeder.

Breeders do, upon occasion, ship kittens across the country. That’s not something I’d recommend, even from a reputable shelter or cattery. Kittens easily stressed and traveling as cargo on a plane puts them at risk. If your perfect breed isn’t available locally, and you’d like to pursue this option, be sure to receive strong personal recommendations from people you trust about the shelter or cattery in question.

Pet Stores—Be Informed!

Many years ago when I still worked as a veterinary technician, a new client arrived, proud-as-punch over her brand-new $400 kitten purchased from a local pet store. As I filled out the history card, she corrected me from calling her kitten a DSH. “My kitten,” she told me, “is a registered Patio Cat. I have the registration papers right here.”

I didn’t argue with her—the $400 piece of paper made her happy. But there is no such breed as a Patio Cat. She was fortunate in that her baby was healthy, and her little random-bred kitten was lucky to have found a loving home. The take-away message here is, buyer beware!

Reputable breeders of purebred kittens–and of purebred puppies, for that matter–recognize the importance of screening the new owners. Reputable breeders do not sell through pet stores. Period.

WARNING! If reputable breeders won’t supply them, then where do pet store purebred kittens come from? To be blunt, some come from the Back-Yard Breeders mentioned above.

Substitute “kitten” for puppy and the same information applies. It is shameful that such facilities exist to serve as little more than factories for producing fuzzy cute babies for impulse-buy markets. By its very nature, kitten mills have little regard for the animal’s health, comfort, safety, or wellbeing.

Yes, some pet stores do offer purebred kittens for sale, and it can be hard to resist that big-eyed fuzzy face in the window. The store may even have legitimate registration papers available. A few offer some type of health guarantee that could help defray veterinary costs in case the purchased kitten gets sick or dies shortly after you bring her home. These generated kittens have a much higher chance of developing health problems due to less-than-ideal breeding and hygiene practices. And as the kitten matures, behavior problems are also likely because they have not been socialized. Buying a kitten-mill kitten, no matter how altruistic, supports the industry.

There is good news about pet stores, however. A number of the most progressive establishments have taken steps to set a new standard for their industry. Instead of selling kittens and cats (or puppies and dogs). They have formed partnerships with local shelters to showcase adoptable animals in their facilities.

These liaisons offer a great opportunity for shelters, pet stores, and prospective owners to make educated choices, and have pet product resources available. Of course, the kitten benefits the most.

Know the Score—Kitten Source Check List

There are many places to find your dream kitten, and some are clearly better options than others. Of course, your heart can reject logic if you are bewitched by a needy baby. Take a minute to ask the breeder or shelter staff these questions. That will give you an idea of the potential risk involved in adopting or buying from that establishment. For each question below, a yes answer receives one point, and a no response gets zero points. Record the score when you finish to see how the kitten source rates a higher score is better.

  1. Can you tell me about the temperament of at least one parent (the mother)?
  2. Can you tell me about the temperament of my kitten?
  3. Has the kitten been “raised underfoot” and handled, so she’s socialized to people?
  4. Will you let me visit the facilities and see where my kitten has been raised?
  5. If she’s a purebred, is registration information available?
  6. Can you provide a medical history of to-date vaccinations or other care is given?
  7. Does the purchase price/adoption fee include a health guarantee?
  8. Do you provide a list of references/testimonials from satisfied adopters/purchasers?
  9. Have you ever turn down a potential purchase/adopter?
  10. Will you be available to offer help and advice as my kitten grows?

IDEAL = SCORES of 8 to 10
FAIR to GOOD = SCORES of 5 to 7

Friends and Neighbors

There are always neighbors, friends of friends, and family members who have rescued a pregnant cat or abandoned kittens. During the spring kitten season, your local newspaper will be filled with advertisements for kittens “free to a good home.”

When the kitten comes from someone you know, you have the advantage of finding out more about the baby and even making several visits to be sure which one strikes the chord in your heart. You also will know your family and friends’ background and how well they’ve cared for your prospective pet.

Advertisements in newspapers may also offer good options but you should evaluate the environment like you would shelter or cattery. Are the animals clean? Well-fed? Loved? Have the kittens been “raised underfoot?” Or do they live under the house with their feral mother, with no people contact?

Some people will want to ask you questions and interview your potential as a prospective pet parent—that’s a very positive sign. More often, though, people are simply anxious to unburden themselves and you will have free choice of the babies, no questions asked.

Remember, too, that such situations have hidden costs involved. That “free kitten” probably has had no veterinary health care. That may mean extra expense down the road, in addition to routine vaccinations and other preventative attention. You’ll find tips and information on how to evaluate kitten personality and health status in Choosing the Purr-fect Match, “Pick of the Litter.”

Bonus: The Waif on the Doorstep

In many instances, the kitten finds you rather than the other way around. A friend of mine has rescued, raised, and placed countless furry waifs who appear on her front porch. She says the cats have marked her house as a safe place, and drop off their babies for her care.
Sometimes kittens just show up at your door. These foundlings can become wonderful, rewarding pets despite a rough start in life.

That’s what happened to me—Seren showed up in a flower pot on the back porch. But rather than her Mom-cat, I strongly suspect a human breeder dumped her thereafter unsuccessful attempts to sell her.

I wouldn’t trade Seren for anything. She has become an outstanding companion and family member–but the odds were against that happening. Adopting a stray kitten offers the most potential for problems for several reasons.

These kittens often have been on their own for days to weeks without any type of preventative health care. They therefore often stressed, or already sick, when you find them.

Stray kittens likely have not had the benefit of handling by humans. That can make it difficult for the baby to bond closely with you. Behavior problems could develop down the road as a result of missing this important socialization. Also, you can be prepared in advance before bringing home your furry wonder.

Adopting an ill, needy kitten will require a much greater investment of your time, money, and emotions. You must be prepared where the best of intentions and veterinary care will not save the kitten’s fragile life.

But when it works, it’s magic. Rescuing a lost kitten, and watching her thrive, is incredibly rewarding. The found kitten can be a viable place to meet your perfect kitten.

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