You’ve wondered, you’ve pondered, you’ve weighed up the pros and cons, and now you have decided – what your house needs is a cat. Congratulations! Exciting times await you!
Breeder, Animal Shelter or Adoption – Where to Find Your Dream Cat?
© Dwight Smith / stock.adobe.com
There are a wealth of reasons to love cats, many of which you have no doubt already dreamed of – cuddling up on the sofa together, playing games and having a lifelong companion. You’ve probably even popped into your local pet store and couldn’t resist an accessory or two. Who can resist a cute toy mouse, an innovative cat dangler or an adorable food bowl that fits perfectly into your home? You will have imagined what your dream cat looks like, thought about its individual features and even wondered whether you wouldn’t like to offer a home to two new pets, rather than just one…
But where to find this dream cat of yours? When is an animal shelter the best choice and when should you turn to a breeder? Or maybe your cat is waiting for you in the classifieds of your local paper? What about in a pet shop? Where will you stumble across the newest four-legged member of your family?
A few quick questions before we start…
Don’t worry – there is no “right way” to look for a cat and, correspondingly, no “wrong way”. How and where you look for your new feline friend depends almost entirely upon your own preferences and wishes. A constant battle rages on between those that believe breeders are justified and those that think there are plenty of cats in animal shelters just waiting for a loving home, without the need for breeders. If you do not have a specific breed in mind, then an animal shelter could indeed be the perfect place to find an adult cat with a great character. However, if you are looking to begin breeding yourself, this is not the place to look.
That is why it is important to know exactly what you are looking for before you begin your search. Are you looking for a pedigree, or are you hoping to offer a much-needed home to a poorly treated rescue cat? Is your dream cat calm and world-wise with a well-established personality, or do you want to watch your cat grow from kitten to adult? Perhaps you’re looking for a companion for a cat that is already part of the family.
Rescue cats from animal shelters
Every year, thousands of unwanted cats end up in animal shelters. Not all of these cats have been abandoned to fend for themselves – many are handed over directly from their owners or are left there after their previous owners have died. Especially in the spring and autumn, as well as shortly after Christmas, the number of feline inhabitants in animal shelters rises drastically. You can find a real mix of characters, ages and breeds – old and young, pedigree and former stray, longhaired and shorthaired, stoic and sensitive. Take a stroll around an animal shelter and there is hardly anything that you won’t find!
Contrary to popular opinion, not all cats from shelters are “crazy” or “broken”. Of course, there will be the odd one or two that is nervous and fearful, or that is particularly aggressive towards other cats. As a rule, however, cats from animal shelters can be described with just one word: normal. It is just a life of trials and tribulations that has led them to end up in a shelter. Living here is only a transitional phase, but most animal shelters try to ensure the cats they are caring for live as comfortable a life as possible while they are there. Small, cramped cages are rare, with cats generally living together in groups and often even enjoying trips outside. Employees and volunteers take time and effort with every animal, pampering them with strokes and cuddles and offering regular playtimes. They get to know these cats extremely well and are often able to provide information about character, temperament and preferences. Health care is always key, so rescue cats should be vaccinated, wormed and neutered. Sometimes young cats are offered on the condition that they are sterilised once they reach a certain age. Although this may seem like an unnecessary and controlling condition, there is in fact a good reason; two cats can produce about twelve kittens in one year. After two years, 66 kittens, after three years increasing to 350 and after four years 2200. Once you reach ten years, there are hypothetically over 80 million cats! Castrating or neutering your cat is in itself a form of animal protection.
Of course, everything costs money. Cats from animal shelters are generally not just given away but require some kind of fee, to ensure that they are going to serious, loving homes. This amount is often under £100 and does not even cover the cost of the cat’s stay at the shelter, but it stops people from making spontaneous decisions then abandoning the cat later, as well as allowing the shelter to purchase food, medicines and other necessary equipment for the remaining cats.
Something to bear in mind: many animal protection services do not have a physical shelter you can visit. Many work with caring households that offer a temporary home, rather than having their own shelter on site. You may need to arrange to visit one of these “foster families” in order to meet your potential dream cat. It is a little more complicated, therefore, than simply visiting a shelter, but it is a great way to rescue a cat if you are interested. These cats are used to living in a family group and the carers have a close relationship with them, meaning they can report on character and behaviour as well as offering advice. Don’t be afraid to call one of these animal protection services that do not have their own shelters!
Pedigree cats with papers
If you are interested in a particular breed of cat or if you are looking to become a breeder yourself in the long term, then your first port of call is a cat breeder. Here you know exactly what you are getting, as pedigree cats are much more distinguishable by their appearance. The breeder will not only have bred a certain appearance, but also certain character traits. For example, oriental cats tend to be lively and communicative, while British shorthairs, for example, are calm souls.
Before you can choose the right cat for you, you need to make sure you have chosen the right breeder. You should try to avoid those that are focussing more on profit than animal welfare. They often advertise as “purebred cats without papers” and may be appealing because they are cheaper than a professional, responsible breeder – but choosing to cut costs in this way comes at a high price. After randomly mating potentially poorly matched pairs, health care, good nutrition and sufficient socialisation are often left out of the breeding and rearing process. Such cowboy breeders may also be working with more than one breed and more than one litter at a time. As there are so many more cats and kittens to deal with, the needs of each individual are often overlooked. As a result, there are many unwanted litters, hereditary diseases due to poor research into the gene pool, health problems and lack of socialisation, which can lead to extreme behavioural problems.
In stark contrast to this, a professional breeder has the animal’s health and welfare at heart, as well as the healthy continuation of the breed. As necessary vaccinations, veterinary care, optimum nutritious cat food and membership to breeding associations can be expensive in order to ensure quality control, a responsible breeder providing round the clock care for its animals will naturally be more expensive than an irresponsible breeder offering “purebreds without papers”. However, the cost is worth it to ensure the health, happiness and wellbeing of your newest family member!
So how do you recognise a responsible breeder from a cowboy? First of all, serious breeders should be members of one of the many breeding clubs, as these help to shape the breed. This may seem overly controlling to non-breeders, but it ensures that cat breeds survive through the years and remain as close to their original form as possible. Papers are the only real proof that you are purchasing a pedigree cat, as breeders can only apply for these as a member of the breeding association.
If the breeder is hoping to pay equal attention to each and every cat, kitten, parent and sterilised cat, then chances are they will have a limited number of breeding animals and litters, perhaps just one or two litters per year per cat to help keep them healthy. There may even be a stipulated recovery period before the breeder will hand over kittens. Although for you this may be bad news, meaning you have to wait a few weeks or months to get hold of your cat, it is important and good socialisation for the kittens. A lot of time, energy, heart and soul go into breeding cats, so many breeders choose to keep their kittens within the family group for a little while. It also helps to ensure that the kittens can build up a good relationship with both humans and other animals. A positive of this is that the breeder will already be able to tell you a great deal about your new cat’s personality. You can also get to know the mother and possibly the father, helping you to get an idea of how your cat will develop in the future.
Another option is to adopt a cat privately. Being a responsible cat owner means knowing when it is best to “let go”, for the good of the cat itself. Some owners give up their cats because they are moving far away, because they or a family member have developed an allergy or for professional reasons. Instead of giving their beloved felines to animal shelters, they often privately seek out a new owner to ensure their cat goes to a caring, loving home. They may advertise online or in the classifieds, in search of a cat lover who would be willing to offer a new, potentially better home to their cat. As an interested party, you will find out plenty about the cat’s habits, temperament and preferences. However, you may also be under scrutiny – after all, they want to ensure that their feline friend goes to a suitable home! Cats are often handed over in this way for a nominal fee and an agreement regarding toys and accessories.
Surplus cats from farms are also often privately sold. A single, non-castrated feline couple can produce 66 offspring within a year if left to their own devices, so if farm cats are not neutered or sterilised the number of kittens can quickly get out of hand. A litter of adorable, cuddly little kittens is a treat for the eyes and scarcely any cat lover could resist! However, this is not something to be entered into lightly. If the cat has not been sterilised, chances are the farmer may also not have bothered with worming, vaccinations, pest control or a proper diet. These sweet little kittens may already be suffering from malnutrition if the milk they are drinking is from a deficient mother. In many cases, these kittens will be barely 12 weeks old when they are put up for adoption. It is from this age onwards that kittens begin to be properly socialised and learn everything they need to from their mother and siblings. Keep in mind that little rascals may calm down with age but will probably never be ideal as house cats. Anyone choosing to get their cat from a farm should, therefore, be prepared to offer plenty of patience, a lot of space and, preferably, a kitten companion of the same sort of age!
It is also important to make sure that the seemingly above-board “elderly gentleman looking for a good home for five kittens as soon as possible”, for example, is not in fact a cowboy breeder!
A trip to the local pet shop
Depending on where you live, nipping down to your local pet store may be a simple, practical way to welcome a cat into your family.
Although these animals are often more expensive than taking on a rescue cat and yet do not always meet the high breed standards of a responsible breeder, it is a popular request. It is convenient and quick, without the need to wait for a new litter or fill out any kind of agreement – the kind of impulse buy that many people are programmed to love. However, this is rare in the UK, with many people believing it is cruel to have pets on display in shops, so you may be hard-pushed to find a pet store with kittens for sale near you!
It is also rarely in the best interests of the cats themselves. They are often bought from unknown sources and then sold on for a profit to non-vetted buyers. There is often little or no information about the origin of the cat or about its character. With each spontaneous purchase, more space opens up to sell more pets and make more profit, helping boost the kind of rapid animal trade that is not focussing on the individual cat’s wellbeing. Bear that in mind if this option appeals to you!
So which one is for you?
As you have seen, there are many ways to welcome a new cat into your family and offer it a loving, appropriate home. Think carefully about what you and your family are after and about the kind of life you can offer a future feline friend. Once you have made that decision, it’s all about getting to know your new four-legged family member! We wish you all the best!