Shelter cat
I am always in favor of pet adoption; there are so many wonderful animals currently in shelters who need loving homes. As a trainer, however, I’m adamant that people not adopt on a whim. This comes from firsthand experience witnessing the problems that can arise when a pet is adopted without proper planning.

During college, I volunteered at a local shelter. The community had notoriously high rates of surrender and abandonment of animals, especially in the spring when school ended and students packed up to leave. They would be unable to take their pet home with them or would be starting a job that made it impossible to care for the pet or moving into a new apartment where pets weren’t permitted. Because they failed to think through the commitment they were making when they adopted, their pet found its way back to the shelter again.

If you are thinking about getting a cat, I would encourage you to adopt. But understand this: Adoption is a permanent commitment. There are a number of things to consider before you make the choice to bring a cat home from the shelter. The first step is to make an honest assessment of whether a feline is a good fit for your current living and family situation.

Investing in Your Cat

It is important to consider the financial commitment you will be making by adopting a cat. The ASPCA estimates the cost of the first year of owning a cat to be $1,035. Costs may be much higher if your cat has health problems or other issues. You will also need to plan for ongoing health care for your cat. Your veterinary care budget should include the cost of annual vet exams, as well as an emergency fund or pet insurance plan to cover unanticipated costs.

Adopting a cat also means rearranging your living space to make it more feline friendly and investing in toys and cat furniture to keep your kitty busy and happy. You will need to devote some areas of your home to the cat, for structures like climbing spaces and scratching posts. And, of course, you will need to create a space for a litterbox. And while you are thinking about how to make your current living space work, consider any future changes to your housing situation. If you are likely to find yourself sharing space with roommates who may have allergies or may not love cats as much as you do, or if you are moving into an apartment or house that doesn’t allow pets, it may be better to postpone adoption until you are able to guarantee your cat a permanent, stable home.

The financial and physical investments are just the first step though; you will also need to commit time and effort to help your cat settle into his new home and bond with you and your family. Cats don’t automatically know the rules; you will be responsible for teaching your cat what behaviors are and are not allowed, including the proper place to potty, where to scratch and how to interact with people or other animals in the home.

Despite the myth that they are self-sustaining, independent creatures, all cats require time and attention. In fact, many felines crave social interaction and may become stressed and anxious if not given enough attention. Even if a cat is okay with being alone during the day, it’s important their family spends quality time with them when they are home, otherwise problem behavior may occur. Even the more aloof felines need devoted time from their humans to set up their environment in a way that helps them feel relaxed and safe.

Certain cats may demand an even bigger time commitment. If you adopt a kitten, he will need to be socialized, which is a big job. Cats with special needs may require consistent, patient interactions and a predictable, controlled home environment to help them settle in. High-energy cats require creative physical outlets and lots of playtime.

When to Adopt — And When to Wait

If your life is unpredictable, or resources are slim, or other barriers stand in the way, sometimes it is best to wait to adopt a pet. I know how frustrating it can be when now isn’t the best time for a cat. I was desperately lonely for my own animal during my first two years of college, but I lived in housing where animals weren’t permitted. My solution was to volunteer at shelters to get in needed time with dogs and cats. They sustained me until I was in a living situation that made it possible for me to adopt my own pet.

Another option is to consider fostering a feline. Fostering is a great way to give back to a cat in need while also having a companion to share a home with. A college friend of mine planned on working overseas after graduation; she knew she could not make the long-term commitment to a pet, but she still wanted a cat. Her solution was to take in a foster cat on a short-term basis. She was paired with a feline who was overwhelmed with the shelter environment and needed a quieter home. Both my friend and the cat benefited from this temporary situation.

Careful planning is crucial to a successful adoption — even if this means delaying the adoption until later. Your cat will be with you for a lifetime; take the time to prepare before you bring him home.

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