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Do You Ever Worry About the Shy Cats at the Shelter?

When we're looking to adopt a cat, the outgoing cats always seem to win while the quiet ones languish. What can we do to change that?

 |  Jul 23rd 2014  |   16 Contributions


Remember the last time you went to the shelter to adopt a cat?

It was a bright and probably kind of noisy place, wasn’t it? Maybe lots of people were there looking for their next feline friend, including a number of families with small children, who only added to the noise level in the cat rooms.

My Belladonna was -- and is -- the quintessential outgoing and confident cat. It was obvious from the moment I met her at the shelter a year and a half ago.

In that environment, some cats just seemed to shine. Maybe there was that unforgettable “creamsicle” cat who greeted everyone who entered with a meow and a headbutt. Perhaps there was a calico lady who wandered around the room exuding confidence, her tail held high as she deftly avoided the grabby hands of kindergarten-age kids. And who could forget that darling tabby with the great big head, who sat calmly on a shelf and allowed people to crowd around and adore him?

But what about the cats who just don’t fare so well in the middle of the hustle and bustle?

This little guy would rather stay out of the way when the cat room fills up with people. Photo CC-BY Rocky Mountain Feline Rescue

Every shelter has its share of shy cats who would just as soon hang back in their covered beds or high atop an unreachable cat tower while potential adopters mill around the room. Some of them might run away when they’re approached, or even growl and hiss at a person who approaches them to say hi.

And sometimes even when a shy cat lets herself be approached by a calm person, there always seems to be an attention-hog cat who runs interference and demands the affection that quiet person is ready to lavish on the quiet cat who caught her eye.

Peanut was the biggest attention hog of all the cats I met while volunteering at HART of Maine. I couldn't pet any other cats in that room without Peanut running interference and blocking love rays left and right.

I’ve spent plenty of time volunteering at animal shelters, and I’ve seen this dynamic in action more times than I’d care to admit. In fact, I’ve had the same experience. My baby Belladonna was a ham from the moment I met her. She gazed on me with her gorgeous green eyes, and as soon as I reached out to pet her, she flopped over on her side and started squirming and purring with glee. Sure, I had plenty of love for all the cats in the sugar-kitty room, but Bella and a tortie named Wilma demanded 99 percent of the attention of anyone who set foot in that room.

Denny, Angus, Linus, Hamlet, and Claire, being more laid-back cats, didn’t stand a chance in the face of kitten energy and “tortitude.”

Linus was one of the quiet cats in the diabetic room at HART. He liked affection, but he never went out of his way to solicit it. How could he? Wilma and Bella were happy to get in the way!

Would I have noticed my beloved boy, Thomas, if I hadn’t met him when he was the only cat in the isolation room at the shelter? His adoption papers characterized him as “shy but friendly,” but by the time I met him he was heartbroken and very sick with an upper respiratory infection.

Even if he had recovered before I met him, would he have been too depressed to “show well” if he’d gone into the general shelter population?

These days when I go into shelters, I seek out cats who are shy or who seem sort of sad. I’m a sucker, I guess, but I can’t stand the idea of a cat not finding a home because he’s shy or maybe just mellower than the other cats in his room.

If I hadn't had the chance to meet Thomas one-on-one, I may never have gotten to see beautiful moments like this. Thomas loved to snuggle with Dahlia, and he loves snuggling with Belladonna, too. Photo by JaneA Kelley

What can be done to help quiet cats find forever homes? Here’s one idea: If a shelter has separate rooms, why not separate the cat populations by their personalities? Maybe have a room for quieter cats looking for quieter people, and another room of cats who are outgoing and energetic? Given that many shelters use the ASPCA’s Meet Your Match system to help people find a cat who is a good personality match for them, it shouldn’t be terribly difficult to put kindred spirits together.

I know I'd look for my cats in the library rather than the gym.

What about you? Do you think it’s a good idea to put cats with similar personalities together? Have you seen this done before? What was the outcome? Let’s talk!

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About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.

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