When You Adopt a Kitten, You Make a Promise -- Keep It
Adopting a kitten from any shelter, rescue group, or breeder involves signing an agreement that you will care for the animal for as long as that animal lives. Adoption is like a marriage, “for better or for worse, until death do us part,” not just until the cat scratches your furniture. I’m sad to say that some people forget that promise when having a pet becomes, shall we say, “inconvenient.”
Of cats who are adopted, the lucky ones find themselves in posh environments filled with good food, soft places to nap, lots of toys, and sometimes other four-legged step-siblings to play with. They also find love, human companionship, and health care.
Others are not so fortunate. Some are given as gifts or adopted on a whim. These cats are eventually forgotten about and neglected when they’ve outgrown their newness or kitten stage. In the worst of cases, abuse is involved. It is not surprising to find at that point a pet who is becoming difficult to handle.
Some unwanted cats are relinquished to a shelter, where they often spend months in a cage before being adopted again or killed to make room for more desirable kittens. Others are merely tossed outside on the city streets or, worse, driven to a rural placed and dumped.
Each time a friendly cat shows up at a feeding station set up by Catalyst for Cats Inc., a feral cat trap-neuter-return group in Santa Barbara, CA, we wonder how the poor pet came to be on the streets. We know they have experienced human companionship because they are friendly, and many have thankfully been spayed or neutered. Not used to fending for themselves, the animals arrive frightened, skinny, and starving. Some have injuries and are covered with fleas, yet here they come looking for food and love.
I have held more than one purring former pet in my arms as it was put to sleep, too injured or ill to save. Each death brought me to tears and left another paw-print scar on my heart. These poor animals should have died in their own homes, surrounded by those who adopted them years ago, not turned out on the streets alone and in poor health.
To abandon an animal is considered abuse and is against the law in many states, but that does not stop some people from doing it. No pet should ever be turned out, to end up dying on the streets or in a stranger’s arms. I did not realize this was part of the job I signed up for more than five years ago when I volunteered at Catalyst for Cats.
We know that the general consensus of relinquishment to a shelter is a death sentence for any pet. While this might be true in some cases, it is not a certainty. Even if the animal is put down, it is a kinder fate than suffering alone on the streets, especially during cold weather. Turing them out of the house or driving them out into the country for release is even worse, for the animals will not know where to go to for shelter or water and will most likely succumb to predation, starvation, or exposure. I can only think that someone who dumps their pet in this way soothes their own soul by remaining ignorant of the animal’s fate.
Before adopting a cat or kitten, carefully consider the pledge you are making. Ask yourself whether you can afford the food, litter and veterinary bills. Are you in this for the long run, even if it becomes inconvenient? Do you have a plan in place if you are no longer able to care for the animal?
An enriched environment for a cat will go a long way to alleviate boredom that often results in undesirable or destructive behavior. Be patient, remembering that the "kitten crazies" last only a few months. Cats do mellow out eventually.
Here are tips for welcoming a new cat or kitten by making a cat-friendly environment:
• Consider adopting two kittens at the same time. Being social animals, they will play and sleep together, comforting each other while you are away. They are also fun to watch as they interact.
• Invest in a cat tree, the taller the better. See that at least part of it is wrapped with sisal, a favorite and irresistible scratching surface for most cats.
• Buy or make lots of toys. If your new pet is a kitten, no need to include catnip until the kitten is six months or older.
• Remove or block anything that might be a tempting target, such as breakable knick-knacks and power cords.
• Get an extra litter box or two. Put them in different rooms rather than all in one area, because when a kitten has to go, it is often an urgent need.
• Shower the animal with lots of love. The two of you will form a bond, and you'll get love in return.
Adopting a pet is a serious commitment. If you make one, please honor it.
Here are other stories about cat adoption: