My Personal Shelter Tips
by Elisa Black-Taylor
Gizzy was a shelter cat on death row
This article about my personal shelter tips concerns cats but the same principles will naturally apply to all animals. I realized that the best advice of choosing a shelter pet and shelter tips comes from my own experiences and not online research. The only research I would recommend a future cat owner to do is to decide which breed they would like and whether to adopt a cat or a kitten. Other than that, just trust your instinct and ask a few questions when you get to the shelter.
Call Shelter: The first thing I would do the day before adopting a cat or kitten (besides having food bowls and a litter box set up) is to call the shelter. I would ask what time of day is best to visit the shelter. This way I won't be arriving during staff meetings or at a time that's inconvenient due to volunteer shortages, cleaning or exercising the dogs. I want to come when someone has time to assist me should I need help.
I always take a carrier with me when adopting a cat. No matter how calm a cat may appear in a cage, this is not the time to give it freedom. The last thing you want is to have a cat go beserk in your car or escape as soon as you arrive home and open the car door. If possible, strap the carrier into the front seat of your cat with the cat facing you, but not so close the claws could scratch you while driving. This discourages you from trying to keep a visual on your new baby by looking in the back seat.
Shelter Rules: Most of the shelters I've dealt with for adoption had no problem with me going into the adoption room alone. Make sure you know the rules and don't break them. Many shelters now have a playroom where the cat can be taken from the cage. Some may forbid any contact other than petting the cat through the cage. Personally, I've been scolded on many occasions for opening the cage and cradling the cat just to see the reaction I get. I've often found I'm the only one the cat has ever allowed this close.
Cat Behavior: The first thing I look for when I get into the adoption room is friendliness. I either want the cat to come up to the front of the cage to be petted, or at least be alert if laying in the back of the cage. Don't disregard a cat just because it's laying near the back of the cage. Invite the cat to come forward for a neck rub. Some cats are just shy. I find it very easy to choose an adult cat. The cat should be calm or at least only a minimum of bad behavior such as hissing or growling. It depends a lot on whether the new cat will be around young children as to how much distress I'm willing to manage.
My rescue Gizzy was the queen of bad behavior. She could spit, slap, hiss and growl at the same time. After spending several months teaching her love and trust, she's one of the best cats I've ever adopted. Kittens are a bit more difficult to choose. Do I get the calm quiet one sleeping in the back of the cage or the one having a fit to be let out of the cage? That's a difficult decision. A calm kitten may just be sleepy or it may be ill. An active kitten may be super hyper or have a lot of feral in it. I would recommend you hold a kitten to get a better idea of its temperament.
Cat Health: Most kittens put up for adoption are in fairly good health. They are tested for FIV/FeLV before being put up for adoption in most trustworthy shelters and this will be printed on their cage information card. If a cat isn't tested before being put on the adoption floor and tests positive for either condition you have a decision to make.
If you have no other cats at home it is all right to adopt a positive animal. Just keep in mind the life of that cat may be shortened by the disease and you may be spending a lot on vet bills. Most pet insurance will not cover a cat with a positive diagnosis for any future illnesses the disease may cause.
Test: My biggest test in choosing which cat I want to adopt is to actually hold the cat. I cradle it in my arms (natural position please-NOT the time to give a belly rub!). My perfect cat will lay there and purr and allow me to stroke it from the back of its neck down its back, stopping a few inches from the tail. I pay close attention to the eyes. They should be bright and clear with no discharge. The nose should also be clean. I'm usually brave enough to check the gums to be sure they are a bright pink. If they are gray or almost white, that's a sign of anemia.
Again, this can be dealt with at home, but you should be aware of the health issues before you adopt. Eye or nose discharge may be a simple URI or it may be panleuk (feline distemper) and your new kitty could be dead by morning. Anemic kittens may also die suddenly. Also check for missing patches of hair. This could signal anything from flea dermatitis to ringworm. Ringworm is VERY common in shelters these days. Be aware of any type of limp. The kitty may have a fractured bone or other condition which may mean big vet bills down the road.
Vaccinations and spaying and neutering: Once you've chosen your new cat, be sure to find out what vaccinations were given and when a booster is needed. If your new cat has just been spayed/neutered, you'll received a sheet with post op instructions. Males recover much faster than females. Females must be kept in a place when they cannot climb for several days or they could damage the incision area.
I would like to give a little personal advice on cats who have been spayed just before adoption. Most of the time a long acting pain injection is given before you take kitty home. There is a lot of controversy on whether a cat should be sent home with additional pain medication. Many vets will explain the lack of pain meds will deter the female from being too active because she will be in pain. I've never had pain medication sent home and that's with over 60 cats now.
My advice is this. This shelter tip refers mainly to female cats. If a cat has staples instead of the glue, which seems the preferred method to close the incision, ASK FOR PAIN MEDS! This is a much more traumatic operation. So is a glued or sutured incision more than 1 1/2 inches. Most of the time it results from the mother cat being pregnant or in heat at the time of the surgery. These cats are in VERY serious pain. If the shelter refuses, contact your personal vet and explain the situation.
Should the incision begin to separate, drain or bleed-contact a vet or the shelter immediately. Our cat Lola had a very small incision, which started to open three weeks after surgery. We called the clinic that performed the operation and took her in for a simple re-glueing.
You may also be given a round of antibiotics if your cat has a fever after the spay/neuter. Make sure to give the entire round as antibiotics, especially Clavamox, go bad within a week or so. A cat needs to finish all medication just as a human would. Male cats recover almost immediately and rarely have complications. Your cat may be sent home with a cone head. Um...good luck with that one. Cats hate them and you're going to feel sorry for the cat. Use good judgment in removing it. It's been put there for a reason. To prevent injury to the incision.
At Home: So now you've gotten home with your new cat. If recovering from surgery, I suggest you set up a box in a bathroom. Have food, water and litter box close by. I usually keep a cat penned in at least three days to give it time to heal and recover from the shelter experience in general. If you have other cats at home, please keep the new cat quarantined at least 10-14 days just in case it has some illness that hasn't shown up. Panleuk can kill a cat overnight and if you expose other cats to it, there's a chance even with vaccination they can catch it and become very ill or even die. I do have a different method than many in handling a new arrival who doesn't have medical restrictions and doesn't need to be quarantined since this is your only cat.
I like to use a bedroom. Set the litter box and food and water up in a room corner near the head of the bed. This is because should you awaken during the night and see the cat, it may be frightened of you. Some of our new cats have called under the bed "home" for several weeks as they became accustomed to things. Even if your new cat purred in your arms at the shelter, it may decide to live under the bed for several days. Do NOT force this issue. Running from one side of the bed to the other isn't going to speed up the process. I truly believe many cats are returned to the shelter prematurely due to the impatience of the new owner. Sometimes we wake up in amazement to find the new kitty in the bed the day we bring it home! My best shelter tip-everything must be done on the cats timetable.
A new cat should be given a minimum of several months to adjust to a new home. Some cats are very slow to trust. Think of what your cat may have gone through before you brought it home.
This article on my personal shelter tips covers from the shelter to the first days at home. Does anyone have anything to add? I know we've all had different experiences and it would be good to educate those who want to adopt a shelter cat, but have little or no experience with cats. I realize I didn't go into safety issues and general hazards. That would have taken up quite a bit of time. Enough to write a book, actually.
NOTE: The photograph above showing Lola's incision illustrates how something that may seem minor requires a vet visit. I emailed this photo to the clinic and they got back to me right away to bring her in. Keep the idea of digital photography in mind in case you need to contact your vet with something similar.
Note: this is a copy of the article supporting the page that maps 4,000 rescue organisations in the USA. It is here as well to allow people to comment if they wish...Michael