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So You Want to Adopt; Should You Choose a Kitten or Cat?

Adult cats or so-called special-needs animals can be great fits for certain people and homes.

Marci Kladnik  |  Mar 3rd 2016


If you want to adopt a new feline friend, here are some things you should consider before you start looking. Do you want a kitten or an older cat? Must your adopted cat be perfect, or would you consider a cat that isn’t? Are there already animals in your home? What is your lifestyle?

Kitten season has already begun in the warmer states, and it will soon follow in the rest of the lower 48. I agonize about our too-full shelters, wondering what will happen to all those left over from last year, grown now into adults. Will they be euthanized to make room for the incoming kittens, or will they be lucky and get adopted? What about the ones who have only three legs or one eye?

Four beautiful unwanted kittens born on the street.

Four beautiful unwanted kittens born on the street.

Kittens, of course, are adorable and instantly push the “must have” button for many people. If you find those little furry faces irresistible, you adopt one, take it home — and then find out just how much work is involved with one tiny being. You find yourself looking forward to a time when you can safely leave your cell phone charging and not return to find the cord severed by tiny teeth.

If you are set on a kitten, I suggest adopting two at the same time. It is the same amount of work, more than twice the fun, and emotionally healthier for the animals. The two entertain each other and are therefore less destructive. It is often easier to introduce a single or pair of kittens into a household where there is already a cat or dog; apparently the appeal of babyhood is universal.

Certified animal behavior consultant and author of Complete Kitten Care, Amy Shojai advises, “Kittens have no off-switch, and adopting a pair gives them permission to play-attack each other rather than your ankles. Other cats and kittens are the best equipped to teach bite-inhibition.”

I would adore kitten season were it not for the heartache attached to the rescue/foster end of it. The success stories are what keep us sane and plugging away at our spay/neuter efforts. We have little problem finding homes for the little ones, but not so the older cats.

This tame mom's kittens were all adopted out, leaving mom behind.

This tame mom’s kittens were all adopted out, leaving mom behind.

Before I began fostering feral kittens, I had always adopted adult neutered male cats. I never had any trouble introducing them into the family, even if another cat was already in residence.

Adult felines come with benefits and can be equally as endearing as a kitten. They are definitely much less work. They arrive “trained” for laps, litter boxes, “here kitty, kitty,” and the sound of a can opener.

“Previously owned” cats, though, languish in our shelters. They want someone to love them again and give them a home. Cage life is tough and lonely. Pairs of older cats often come in together; such cats need to stay together, in case you have room in your home and heart for more than one. Unless the cat is still very young, the average adult feline will be sedate and easy to care for, ideal for an older person or an active, on-the-go household.

Then there are so-called special-needs cats. I applaud those who bypass the kitten cages and ask about imperfect cats or those on the euthanize list who might be available.

This is Uno, one of my one-eyed former foster kittens.

This is Uno, one of my one-eyed former foster kittens.

A friend had two three-legged pets who managed just fine, including a Dachshund named Teddy who was not only missing a back leg but also was paralyzed from the hips down. He dragged himself around the room and up the low stairs to the couch, and even jumped to the floor unless caught in time. My dog, Maggie, didn’t treat him any differently than any other dog.

The other family pet was a cat, also missing a rear leg. Mr. Fluffy was very depressed in the beginning, not knowing how to navigate his environment following surgery. After Teddy taught his feline brother how it worked, you couldn’t keep the cat down. He even scaled the six-foot fence in the backyard, appearing on the front porch asking to be let back inside.

Mary Shafer, editor and contributor to Almost Perfect: Disabled Pets and the People Who Love Them, states, “It’s easier for an animal to deal with a disability if they’ve always had it from birth. Just like humans, it may take a pet a while to adjust to a new lack of mobility or the loss of a sense if it’s a new loss. But they do tend to move forward quite a bit faster than we do. From what I’ve seen, fear isn’t as much of a factor for them as it is for us.”

I visited one of my former foster kittens who has one eye. His adopter told me how Stitch insists on being outside,where he is an avid hunter, during daylight hours, leaving daily presents on the doorstep to prove his prowess. His remaining eye has an obvious corneal scar that blocks his peripheral vision leaving him with only about 30 percent total vision.

Stitch on adoption day

Stitch on adoption day

I was gratified to find that Stitch remembered me, trotting into the house at the sound of my voice. He jumped into my lap, curled up and purred. His owner says he has not done that with anyone else.

Amelia was another foster kitten of mine who needed both eyes removed at 10 weeks of age. She was a marvel as she played soccer with noisy toys and tore around the house like any sighted kitten. Successfully adopted out, she is thriving still after four years.

Amelia frequently climbs this tall shelving unit to snooze within the display.

Amelia frequently climbs this tall shelving unit to snooze within the display.

Many years ago I had an old toothless cat who was still able to hunt. I once watched in awe as he swallowed a mouse whole. Later when he went blind from cataracts, he continued to roam the house with ease for several more years.

One must marvel at nature’s adaptability and the burning will to survive exhibited by these animals. They don’t view themselves as “disabled,” so why should we? We label these animals as “special needs” pets, but are they really? Only a little extra care to be sure they are kept safe is usually all that is required. In the matter of being good companions, none come close, in my experience. They are certainly just as worthy of a good home as any other companion animal.

Shafer suggests, “The best thing humans can do to accommodate a pet who has a disability is to take a good look around their shared living space and do whatever it takes to make it as safe as possible for the pet. It’s really just about common sense and trying to anticipate issues.”

The most important consideration is of course where to get your new pet. My first stop will always be a shelter. Where will yours be?

All photos by the author.

About the author: Marci Kladnik, her four rescue cats, and one rescue dog live in a small town with no stoplights or mail delivery. A retired graphic designer and technical writer, she turned her talents to championing feral cats in 2007. Involved in TNR and feral rescue, she sat on the board of directors of Catalyst for Cats from 2007-2013 while trapping and fostering local feral cats and kittens. Her award-winning biweekly cat column ran for seven years in three newspapers. She is an award-winning photographer, and president of the Cat Writers’ Association. Past columns appear on www.catalystforcats.org.