Let me put this right up front, fellow cat people: I am an aficionado of all animals, from farm to family room. I’d have a cow in my condo if I could, an agreeable companion: gentle, affectionate, doesn’t need a lot of exercise. Or maybe a sheep, one of the cuddliest critters on the planet, the luxurious fleece more comforting than a pillow. But ever since I left the country for suburbs and cities, I’ve had to downsize my desires. Hooves got the heave-ho in favor of a procession of paws across my floors and feelings, the majority of them feline. Which brings us to cat adoption.
The first cat of my adult life chose me. Shadow lived with a gaggle of children who often came to play in my yard. She’d follow them over and one afternoon declined to follow them home. Shadow became my walking companion. Soon after, she blessed me with kittens. So much for choosing the right pet for you. As Shakespeare observed, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them. And what’s greater than a coterie of contented cats in our homes, no matter who chooses whom?
Well, discontented cats, that’s what. They can make a fuss that sometimes surpasses "great."
Case in point: I considered myself a superb cat companion ÔÇô- a good provider, affectionate, wise in feline ways. Then one day Shadow’s son Brother — so named because I’d also kept his sibling Nia, born with a hernia, and I was clearly out of clever nomenclature — decided to thrust a claw into my self-deception. I’d discounted the emotional significance of my frequent road trips as a peripatetic reporter, until Brother jumped into and peed all over my fully packed suitcase, letting me know that what spelled adventure to me stunk of abandonment to him. (Taken aback as I was, I confess to some satisfaction that Brother preferred me to the pet sitter.) This skilled communicator also knew how to notify house-guests when he considered their visits over: poop outside their door. I didn’t argue with him too vigorously on this, as I frequently agreed.
Now that I do much of my work from home, separation anxiety is not the issue; it’s bargaining for space on my desk. Most of us are familiar with keyboard cats, those nudgers of fingers that are trying to type, those seekers of warmth that hums from the bowels of the laptop. (Wee Willie Winky, my rescue Shih Tzu, has decided that if cats can lie around on computers, he can too.) I’ll often delay a paragraph or even a page in order to provide petting on demand. When it comes to animals, you’ve got to have your priorities straight.
So, my haphazard selection of lifestyle-appropriate pets aside, here’s how I advise deliberative people on choosing the right companion animal for them:
- Consider your time. How much do you have to offer? Animals need time, touch and talking from us.
- Study your space. What creatures will fit comfortably in it? How much are you willing to share, and can you accept a little wear and tear?
- Assess your finances. You’ll need to cover acquisition costs, daily living needs, vet visits, the unexpected illness or emergency, and maybe more, such as pet sitting.
- Conduct an emotional interview with yourself. What do you want from an animal, what do you have to give? Companion animalship is not, "Me human, you pet." It’s a relationship, a two-way street.
Maybe you follow these steps and decide you want to spend for and on a pedigreed cat. Learn all you can about the breeds you’re intrigued by, their characteristics and care. Do this homework even more diligently if you’re thinking of showing the cat. Maybe you’re drawn to adoption and rescue. Seventy percent of all cats in shelters are euthanized. They need us. And if your heart is set on a certain type, 25 percent of shelter animals are purebreds, while rescue groups for particular breeds abound.
As for me, I’m a serial adopter. I like saving lives. The eldest of my current feline family poked his paws through the cage and meowed, "Take me! Take me!" My husband and stepdaughter did. They were selecting birthday gifts, among the best ever. Handsome, debonair Fred hasn’t stopped poking, pawing and talking since, while his reticent sibling Frisco, who huddled in the litter box while Fred made the adoption pitch, prefers a nice quiet spot and one-on-one attention, thank you. The two are testament to the fact that one litter of kittens can indeed come from multiple fathers with very different DNA.
And then there’s Lucy Miracle, the emaciated feral kitten who almost didn’t survive her Trap-Neuter-Return surgery. I took her home, nursed her back from the bridge, and courted her shamelessly for months, humbling and contorting myself in ways I would never have considered in order to win over a human. But it was worth it. Now, I immodestly assert that Lucy adores me. Plus she went on to narrate her own novel and accepts her celebrity with aplomb, gracefully accepting almost any kind of handling her fans dish out. A feral cat!! Who knew?
Which leads us to what just might be the best advice on finding the proper pet to suit a lifestyle. We can search and find one to fit the niche we have open right now. But I strongly recommend keeping our hearts, minds and eyes alert to the ones who unexpectedly enter our lives — and stick around to snuggle in.
Have you like to choose a pet or do pets choose you? Tell us in the comments.
About the author: Cathy Unruh is a former broadcast journalist and animal advocate. She lives in Tampa with her husband, Tom; cats Fred, Frisco, and Lucy; and Shih Tzu and puppy mill rescue Wee Willie Winky. Her novel about Lucy, Taming Me: Memoir of a Clever Island Cat, is available at good bookstores everywhere. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
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