Should people with certain illnesses or backgrounds be prevented from adopting shelter cats?

This is a discussion on whether certain human diseases, health conditions or backgrounds should determine whether a cat should be adopted out to that person.

Should sick people be allowed to adopt shelter cats?
Should sick people be allowed to adopt shelter cats? Photo: Pixabay
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

As we get older, most of us suffer from one condition or another. Some are due to lifestyle choices and others are hereditary. We all know people who are reducing their lifespan because of bad choices in food or behavior. They think it’s allowed and that “a pill” will undo any harmful effects.

Type II diabetes is perhaps the classic, most prevalent example of a self-imposed illness through allowing oneself to become obese and simply being unable to restrict food intake or increase the burning of energy to lose weight. We are all human and we have to be sympathetic towards people who don’t have the self-discipline to even save their lives when they are, in truth, dying of a serious illness such as type II diabetes which damages kidneys, liver and the heart. And more: the retinas of the eyes are damaged and the nerves in the legs which can cause ulcers, which in turn can cause amputations of the legs.

People with type II diabetes caused by obesity appear to believe that they can manage the illness through self-administered insulin but they deteriorate and die before their time. And they create a financial burden for themselves in managing the illness.

  • Diabetic (which is both lifestyles as well as heredity) – take a pill and continue to eat and/or gain weight. Note: there is such a thing as a skinny diabetic so I’m not judging, being diabetic myself.
  • Heart disease (including high blood pressure) – take a pill yet continue to smoke (which is horrible for not only the smoker but to any animals who breathe in second-hand smoke).
  • On dialysis for bad kidneys? Mood stabilizing drugs? Should this REALLY be an issue? How far should we take it concerning what a potential adopter has or takes?
photo credit: vox.com

Overweight? According to stateofobesity.org:

“Around 45 percent of adults are not sufficiently active to achieve health benefits. In 2011-2014, middle-aged Americans (ages 40-59) had the highest obesity rate of any age group at 41.0 percent, followed by seniors (ages 60 and older) at 38.5 percent, and then young adults (ages 20-39) at 34.3 percent.”

Should a rescue or shelter deny adoption due to any of the above or other conditions? Should they even be able to ask for disclosure on adoption paperwork?

Some thoughts from Michael on the above

Response from Michael, the person who owns this website. Eliza wrote the above piece (which I have added to myself) around four years ago. I chose it to amend slightly and republish because I think it’s a good discussion point. Does the health of a person who wishes to adopt a rescue cat affect their application? I have added their general background to the criteria to be examined.

The answer must be YES. For example, if an applicant to adopt a cat has lost their mobility which forces them to sit in a chair most of the day, they are not going to be able to do a very good job looking after their cat. They’re are going to be immobile and if they are obese and diabetic, they will be less inclined to be active when interacting with their cat or to commence play sessions.

And if their cat is an indoor/outdoor cat allowed into the backyard a severely overweight person who is immobile is far less likely to go into the yard to interact with their cat. Therefore, their illness affects the quality of their cat’s lifestyle. However, there are two counterarguments: the lifestyle of a cat in the home an average-to-poor cat caregiver is probably better than that in an animal shelter. Also, a sick person might be a very good cat caregiver and so despite their illness they can still perform reasonably well.

The decision to allow adoption requires the intelligent use of discretion by the animal shelter worker using a carefully prepared application form combined with an interview.

The bottom line here is whether the illness suffered by the adopter impinges significantly on their ability to care for a domestic cat. There must be a threshold. I would hope the shelters have a known threshold regarding the health both physical and mental of adopters. Perhaps they don’t ask any questions. Perhaps it is too difficult to ask questions because they are private matters.

Dothan Animal Shelter
Dothan Animal Shelter. Photo: the shelter.

But there’s no doubt that the mental and physical health of an adopter should be taken into account when they apply to adopt a rescue cat. It just depends on the criteria and threshold. It is up to the rescue organisations to decide that.

I can think of two mental health issues which would certainly preclude an adopter: alcoholism and drug addiction of any kind. Jumping forward in time there is a story today – Oct 16th 2023 – from Oakville, USA of a man who killed his cat and seriously injured his dog while high on magic gummies. He was acting irrationally the day before according to those who knew him. A member of his family found his dead cat, Sophia; killed by blunt force trauma according to a pathology report. According to CT Insider, “Kontout is charged with two counts of first-degree animal cruelty…He is not allowed to possess a pet in the meantime and is expected to appear in Waterbury Superior Court on Nov. 7.” A good example of how drugs can impair cat caregiving profoundly to where the cat is seriously endangered.

And I’m sure that animal rescue organisations ban people with a criminal record for animal abuse from adopting one of their animals. Perhaps they don’t check but they should. Do rescue organisations check for convictions of animal cruelty and abuse? Do they do any criminal checks at all on adopters?

Animal shelter employee
Animal shelter employee. Photo in public domain.

Obviously, some crimes are almost irrelevant to how good a person as in looking after an animal. But all criminal behaviour is relevant to a certain extent. It tells people that convicted people are prepared to break the law, that they probably or possibly are rule breakers. Ideally you don’t want rule breakers looking after cats. You want the opposite. You want reliable, decent, run of the mill people who are at home a lot.

At the same time, of course, you don’t want to put off potentially excellent adopters. It’s a balancing act like most things in life.

It is probable that some shelters have tougher criteria than others. What should be available is the success rate in adoptions across various shelters using different criteria so that the information can be used to benefit all animal shelters.

21 thoughts on “Should people with certain illnesses or backgrounds be prevented from adopting shelter cats?”

  1. My rescue avoids the overreaching and offputting ruling out for illness and invasion of privacy issues of potential adoptees by asking on the application what would a potential adoptee do if they were unable to care for their pet. We know people lie and circumstances change, it is the best we can do. We also have a paragraph that states the adopter is to call us if for any reason they do not want to or cannot care for the cat and they can return the cat. Our rescue chips all list our rescue as the secondary contact as a safeguard in case the cat is lost or abandoned and the adoptee cannot be reached. We believe this encourages adoptees to call us as they will not be judged and they do not have to reveal personal illness and above all the welfare of the cats we adopt out. I believe it is successful as people have returned our cats for different reasons and then we put them up for adoption again. Every time that happened the next adoption for them was permanent. Seems like it was all for the best for all parties that the cat was returned.

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  2. The number one reason people are denied is failure to provide vet care on their previous pets.
    That is the ultimate definition of the home being offered.

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  3. I have seen posts on per websites where the owner dies for one reason or another and the pet or pets are left homeless.Often other family members are unable to take them or will not due to living circumstances ect.People buy life insurance to provide for their family, why not their pets?

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  4. We have had “comfort animal” placements even. Our first one, the adopter fully disclosed immediately and offered a letter from a doctor affirming she was fit to care for a child or animal if she chose to adopt. We keep in close contact and often receive and post pics or her and Her preciously loved kitty.

    We also adopted to a family for the kitty to be a beloved pet of an autistic boy who will always live with and have support of his mother. This was a match made in HEAVEN.

    BUT in both cases, the very strictly regimented screening we do was passed just like any other adoption. And yes, they have the offer to return the kitty to us in a time of need.

    But do I regret or think “maybe I should’ve”, hell no… these kitties are so loved, pampered, cared for, needed, healthy and most importantly HAPPY. We are free to visit and we are blessed to have these folks to have touched our lives. AND this is just the first TWO we approved in our comfort animal program…. we are working with nursing homes where the kitty remains ours and we will supply the food, litter, vet care, etc. and the residents get to have the kitty lovings that make them happy!

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