You Want Another Shelter Cat?

How to discipline yourself against choosing strictly on impulse.


“The primary reason cats are given up to animal shelters is unfulfilled expectations,” reports the American Veterinary Medical Association. You may have wanted a lap cat and instead brought home one that prefers to prowl, or hide. Or you may have fancied a retiring cat who pretty much just likes to lounge, but got a boisterous one instead. That’s why you really want to make an informed decision when deciding on a new feline. Choosing completely on impulse rather than on some knowledge of the cat’s temperament won’t serve you, and it definitely won’t serve your pet.

For that reason, when you go to a shelter, you should speak to the volunteers who work there. They know the personalities of the cats available — which ones are stretchy lap cats, which are playful, which don’t mind kids, and which should be with adults in a quiet environment. Likewise, you know yourself and your household. For instance, as a reader of this newsletter, you’ve already no doubt got a cat or two (or three) in your home, so the personality of your current cat(s) will play into your decision-making.

For instance, if the cat you already own is a shy miss who doesn’t like a lot of hubbub, you don’t want to go for a frisky kitten or a super outgoing adult cat that’s socially assertive. And if your current feline is a fairly forward male cat who feels he rules the roost, you don’t want to bring home a similarly “chest-thumping” male.

You also want to think about a kitten versus an adult cat. If everyone in your house is out all day, a kitten is probably not the way to go. A young cat needs time with her human family to learn to socialize as well as to toilet herself properly, and needs more supervision in general.

Deciding on a long-haired cat requires some consideration as well. Are you going to have time for the frequent brushing she will require and the extra cleaning your home will need? Yes, she may be beautiful, but does she like to be brushed, or is grooming always going to be a battle of wills?

Getting to know you

Even after getting a read on various cats and their ages from shelter personnel, you need to spend a little time with the potential adoptee, maybe even coming back for two or three visits. Many shelters have a room where you can interact with a cat quietly rather than simply observe the animal in a cage. You won’t get a full read because a cat is apt to act somewhat differently under the stress of being in the presence of a stranger in a shelter, but you’ll get at least some sense of who you’re dealing with.

See if the cat comes over to you on her own or just shuts down and doesn’t move, or stays as far away as possible. How does she respond when you extend your hand? Will she play with a toy you offer? Does she come up on her own and rub against you? A very timid cat might not be the best pick for a home with two other cats, a dog, and a couple of noisy, fast-moving children. A more forward cat who likes interaction could be a better fit in a house bursting with children and other pets.


Sometimes, the cat who captures your imagination might surprise you. Perhaps you walk into a shelter knowing you want a very outgoing and confident calico who will enjoy chasing toys on strings and will be very up front about wanting attention, yet you end up drawn to the midnight black runt of a litter who seems shell shocked and will likely spend a lot of time hiding under the bed. That’s okay. Your heart, as well as your head, is entitled to a say.

But at least if you speak with a shelter volunteer, consider your own household’s rhythm and busyness, and spend some time with the cat you think you have fallen in love with, you’ll have a good sense of whether you can accommodate her needs given your own personality and your own lifestyle and whether she truly is the pet you should be bringing home.


  1. What a great article!! I’m sure it covers a number of ideas that potential cat parents hadn’t thought of yet.
    Thanks for the insight; makes for happier homes!!


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