Several years ago, I began my adoption quest to find a kitten filled with confidence and curiosity. I met several felines at a number of animal shelters, but each came with a deal breaker: too shy or terrified of dogs or diagnosed with a chronic health condition. Then I discovered a spunky ginger kitten at a mobile adoption event at a local Petco hosted by the San Diego Humane Society.
At four months of age, Casey entertained onlookers with his gymnastic moves inside his modular housing unit. He came when I called, rubbed his cheek against my extended index finger and relaxed in my arms even when a d-o-g walked past to attend a canine obedience class at the store. I knew in an instant that he was The One.
Now 7, Casey still loves learning new tricks and traveling to meet anyone, anywhere. Known as Pet Safety Cat Casey, he accompanies me in my pet first-aid and pet behavior classes as well as our visits to see kids, seniors and others in need of a friendly feline visit in his role as a certified therapy cat. Casey was definitely worth my long search. He is my BFF (that’s Best Feline Friend).
A look back at adoptions
Curious as, say, a cat to know when and where the first animal welfare society was created in the world? Historic records identify the first began in England on June 16, 1824 when a group of people wanting to protect animals from cruelty created what would become the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. By the turn of the century, similar animal protection societies emerged in neighboring Austria, Belgium, France, Germany and Holland. Today, the RSPCA ranks as the world’s largest and oldest animal welfare charity.
In the United States, bragging rights for the first American society goes to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1866. Credit a New Yorker named Henry Bergh, who intervened and stopped a carriage driver in 1863 from beating his fallen horse. It made such a major impact on Henry that he quit his job as a foreign diplomat to create the ASPCA.
In the West, the Dumb Friends League in Denver is growing and evolving, more than a century after being founded in 1910 by Jean Milne Gower and a group of friends. The “dumb friends” moniker was done in respect by these women who wanted to help animals “who could not speak for themselves.” The shelter’s humble beginnings consisted of makeshift sheds and barns. Today, the DFL offers a comprehensive list of services, from behavior training to adoptions to wellness services to full-service veterinary clinics.
Honors for the country’s largest no-kill animal sanctuary goes to Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah, that was founded in 1984. Today, Best Friends Network Partners (shelters, rescue groups, spay/neuter organizations and animal welfare organizations) are united in making the United States a no-kill nation by 2025.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are nonprofit groups that intentionally narrow their adoption focus. In Maple Grove, Minnesota, you will find the Bitty Kitty Brigade, an all-volunteer group bottle feeding and caring for neonatal kittens.
“Neonates are incredibly fragile and can decline very quickly when they are not provided the medical care they need,” says co-founder Mandy Dwyer. “Our foster caregivers need to be willing to dedicate the time required to care for these kittens, which can be a lot. BKB also requires that you must adopt in pairs or have another young companion at home for your new kitten.”
Young kittens now have a better chance at surviving, thriving and landing in loving homes thanks to such nationally recognized programs, including the National Kitten Coalition and the kitten nursery program at San Diego Humane Society.
“We are seeing more adoptions of kittens and cats, who, in previous years, may not have been given the chance to get adopted, such as those with special medical or dietary needs, missing limbs, FIV or FeLV positive, geriatric cats,” notes Rosemarie Crawford, who co-founded the NKC with Susan Spaulding in 2008. “We are starting to see more shelters and rescues working together for the benefit of the animals. So many more lives are being saved.”
The SDHS created several game-changing programs to boost adoptions in recent years and share their knowledge with other shelters. These programs include the Adoption Ambassador Program (AAP) to help shelter animals get adopted directly from their foster homes; the Working Cat Adoption Program for cats who do not thrive in a shelter setting; and the Kitten Nursery for underaged kittens.
“There weren’t enough foster homes available to help these at-risk kittens to survive and grow, so the Kitten Nursery was developed in 2009 to be a safety net for those kittens where foster homes could not be found,” says Jackie Noble, SDHS director of nursery and placement. “We have developed a lot of resources that are shared with other shelters around the country.”
Today’s adoption options
Ready to adopt a kitten or cat? You now have many options, which all have different adoption processes, so make sure to research:
➤ Book an appointment at your local animal shelter. A shelter houses homeless animals, is typically a nonprofit and independently run, although may be affiliated with a larger organization like the ASPCA, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) or Best Friends Animal Society.
➤ Contact a cat rescue group. Rescue groups take in homeless pets and work to find new forever homes for them. Many specialize — some do cats only, senior cats or kittens. Rescue groups are also typically independent, nonprofit organizations that may be affiliated with a larger organization. The cats are not necessarily housed at an animal shelter but rather with a network of volunteer fosterers.
➤ Visit your county animal care center. This is a local government-run animal shelter and can be found by looking on your city or county website.
➤ Attend a local pet adoption meet-and-greet event. These events are held by local rescues and shelters.
➤ Reach out to a breed-specific group. Each breed has an organization devoted to the continuation, education, care and welfare of that breed. This includes taking in cats of that breed that have found themselves homeless and finding a new home for them. You can find breed-specific organizations through the cat registry organization they are affiliated with such as The International Cat Association or the Cat Fanciers’ Association.
➤ Rescue a stray kitten or cat from the streets.
➤ Take in a cat from a family member or neighbor no longer able to care for this feline.
➤ Find a match online at various adoption sites all over the globe, such as adoptapet.com and petfinder.com.
➤ Foster fail/success. You can agree to foster a cat and assess how the both of you are bonding in your home before making that call to permanently adopt. People who do this often sheepishly describe themselves as “foster failures” but in reality, these are “foster successes” because they took the time to make sure that the match works for them and the cats.
Pack your patience — adoption is a process
At shelters and rescue groups, expect to fill out plenty of forms and answer questions about your cat history, current pets and children in your home, whether you rent or own and other areas. The organizations ask these questions to reduce the risk of the cat having to be returned back to the adoption center. Some steps that may be part of the process:
➤ Meet and greets: You may need to go to the home of the fosterer or to the shelter to meet the cat in person once or twice.
➤ Matching: Some rescues and shelters have a person whose job it is to help you make the best match, the cat whose health and age best match your current life circumstances (do you work from home, do you have children, are you looking for an active cat or is a lap cat more your style?).
➤ Home inspection: Some adoption processes include a home inspection. A home checker will come to your house for a “cat’s-eye view” of your home, looking for potential risks and proper preparation.
➤ Education: Sometimes you will be required to take a class or read educational materials on best cat-care practices.
➤ Vet check: You may be asked to provide your veterinarian’s name and phone number for a referral. This is just to make sure that you have given your current cats or past cats regular vet care. A wellness exam by your vet following the adoption may be part of the adoption agreement.
➤ Adoption contract: Often if you adopt from a shelter or rescue, you will have to sign an adoption contract or agreement. Some items included are agreeing to regularly take your cat to the veterinarian, not allow your cat to go outdoors, taking the cat immediately to the veterinarian for a wellness check, getting your cat microchipped if he hasn’t been already, agreeing to spay and neuter the cat if he/she isn’t already, and agreeing to return the cat to the organization if for some reason you are unable to keep the cat in the future.
➤ Fee: Keep in mind that there is no such thing as a free cat — even if you rescue a homeless stray. Animal shelters and rescue groups usually charge adoption fees, but they often have covered the spay or neuter surgery and first round of needed vaccinations. If you have rescued a homeless cat from the streets, your very first step should be to take the cat to your vet for a wellness exam.
Make sure you understand the group’s adoption process and adoption agreement expectations before starting down the adoption path.
During my adoption search for Casey, I kept the words of Marty Becker, DVM, known as America’s Family Veterinarian, in my head.
“Take your time. Pick with a purpose. Don’t choose a cat by looks alone. After all, you will probably have this cat longer than your current job, your current residence, your current car, and maybe, even your current relationship.”
Adoption Timeline in the U.S.
1866 – The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) begins its mission.
1910 – A group led by Jean Milne Gower creates the Denver Dumbs Friend League, now one of the largest and oldest animal shelters west of the Mississippi River.
1973 – The ASPCA recognizes the need to control pet population and begins its campaign to spay and neuter adopted cats and dogs.
1993 – The ASPCA is the first national animal-protection group to start implanting microchips for identification in its shelter animals up for adoption.
1994 – Maddie’s Fund is created in Pleasanton, CA, by Dave and Cheryl Duffield in memory of their dog, and the foundation has awarded about $250 million in grants for shelters and foster care groups.
1996 – Betsy Banks Saul and Jared Saul created a website called Petfinder.com as a way to match adoptable pets in shelters with people living in and around New Jersey. In 2000, Petfinder became national and in 2013, it joined Nestle Purina. Petfinder ranks as the largest adoption website on the internet with more than 25 million pet adoptions.
2014 – John Hussey, a National Football League referee and animal advocate, creates Cuddly.com. This Santa Monica, CA-based company has conducted more than 7,000 campaigns that have raised more than $20 million in donations to help more than 2,100 animal shelter and rescue groups.
2021 – The COVID pandemic has sparked a 3% increase in animal shelter adoptions in 2020 from 2019 with more than 750,000 cats and dogs adopted, according to Porch Research. And, slightly more cats were adopted from shelters than dogs in 2020, according to statistics gathered by Shelter Animals Count.