Five Ways To Make Your Shelter Cat Feel at Home

Adopting a cat from a shelter can be one of the most fun and rewarding adventures. And while you’re probably feeling joyful and excited, it’s important to keep in mind that your new furry friend may have had some tough life experiences before you found each other. Though you may never know if they were living as a stray on the street, or in a chaotic, or even abusive environment, it’s very important to make the transition into your home as calm and smooth as possible.

Here we have five tips to make sure Felix feels that mi casa es su casa.                      

1. For the most part, car rides aren’t fun for cats, so try to make them quick and calm. When driving your cat home, keep her in a carrying case or crate. The confined space will make her feel safer and less stressed. Don’t play loud music, and ask the kids not to bother their new friend during the ride. It’s not a good idea to let the cat roam around during the trip either. You might think they would enjoy that, but what they really want is to feel safe and secure.

2. Give them time to acclimate. During the first few weeks keep the cat indoors so that she starts to think of your house as his home. You will want her to associate being there with positive feelings, as well as the place where he gets food, water and shelter. This way, if you do decide to allow your cat outside, she’ll know to always come back and not run away.

3. Don’t be surprised if your cat hides from you. If your cat hides for the first few days you bring her home, don’t be offended. It doesn’t mean she’s unhappy with you or your home. Cats can be quite nervous after a move, and they calm those nerves by finding a quiet and contained space. She may hide for several days under a bed or couch, or even in a closet. While this can be hard on owners—especially excited kids who have a new adorable pet!—if she’s safe, don’t remove your new cat from that space. Allow her time to gather her courage and come out on her own. But be sure that while she’s hiding, she has access to water, food and her litter box close by. 

4. Baby Steps. It can take cats one to two weeks to get comfortable in a new home. During that time, the best way to ease the transition is by creating a calm environment, which means keeping away children and other pets. Not only will this help your cat feel safe in your house, the less stressed your cat is when she meets your kids, or her new animal siblings, the better that meeting will likely go. In fact, it’s recommended that you find a quiet, safe room in your house and keep your cat contained there until he’s acting a bit more comfortable.

5. Cats need their sleep. Kind of like a teenager, cats do best when they are given ample alone time and can get lots of sleep. Often, they’ll find several favorite spots to catch a snooze. They like dark, quiet, non-drafty spaces. By providing your new cat with a soft bed, you can sometimes guide her to a particular location, but by nature cats are independent, so don’t be surprised if she ends up sleeping on your couch, or even between some books on a bookshelf. Try not to wake your cat when she’s sleeping, and remind your kids to do the same.

Keep these few simple steps in mind when you bring home your shelter cat, and your family will enjoy their new family member in no time at all!

Cat Volunteers Who Are Saving Lives

Each year, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals honors outstanding people -- and even cats -- who have made a significant impact on the lives of animals. Let’s meet some of the recent winners:

Mittens, ASPCA’s Reigning Cat of the Year
On a cold night in Baltimore, two teenage boys trapped a young mother cat in a milk crate while she was nursing her kittens, doused her in lighter fluid and struck a match. “The brave cat managed to escape from the crate, extinguish the fire and return to tend to her newborn kittens,” says Mallory Kerley, media coordinator for the ASPCA. “Mittens, as she was named, was rescued by local police as well as Baltimore City Animal Control officers. She was brought to the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter (BARCS) with her kittens, where she slowly recovered from the loss of her ears as well as third- and fourth-degree burns covering 70 percent of her body.”

In spite of her injuries, Mittens continued to care for her kittens during recovery and was very affectionate toward the BARCS staff. Her inspiring story resulted in extensive media coverage, and she became the unofficial face of the fight for animal protection laws in the state. “Due in part to Mittens, the 2011 Maryland Congressional Session achieved unprecedented success as new laws were passed that had previously failed, finally giving a stronger voice to animals in need across Maryland,” says Kerley. “She now resides in the loving home of Cindy Wright, while the primary perpetrator in the case pled guilty to felony animal cruelty.”

Stevie Nelson: ASPCA Kid of the Year
Just before turning 5, Stevie Nelson lost his two beloved black Labradors. He and his family were devastated. Their search extended over five states, and they hired a private investigator and offered a sizable cash reward for their dogs’ return. Unfortunately, they never came home.

Stevie decided he wanted to help other needy animals find homes. “Instead of asking for toys and games for his 6th birthday, he set out to raise $6,000 for the Northeast Nebraska Humane Society (NNHS), which was launching a capital campaign to build a new animal shelter,” says Kerley. “By his birthday on March 16, Stevie had surpassed his initial goal, and to date, he has raised more than $28,000 for NNHS to continue to help even more animals in need.”

Caroline Griffin: ASPCA Presidential Service Award Winner

Fed up with horror stories describing cruel acts against animals, Caroline Griffin of Baltimore decided that enough was enough. She used her training as an attorney to devote her life to advocating for changes in her city’s policies and procedures to better protect animals and prosecute their abusers. She was appointed to chair a task force to examine the extent of animal abuse and neglect in the city and to develop ways to improve the coordination of all the agencies and individuals concerned about the problem. “Her leadership of the Mayor’s Anti-Animal Abuse Task Force led to heightened media and public awareness of animal issues and an unprecedented level of cooperation between groups,” says Kerley. “She has helped to create a dramatic change in the way the citizens and officials of Baltimore view our duties to protect animals.” As a result, Baltimore now serves as a model for other cities across the country.

ASPCA president and CEO, Ed Sayres, says each of the winners displayed tremendous commitment and compassion. “The distinguished achievements of these advocates are prime examples of the ASPCA’s mission of preventing cruelty to animals.”

Photo: ASPCA

Top 7 Ways to Help Homeless Cats This Holiday Season

Pumpkin, a 12-year-old abandoned cat, was given a new home and a new life after being cared for at the Helen Woodward Animal Center in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. Unfortunately, pumpkin is just one of millions of cats in need. According to the ASPCA, it’s impossible to determine how many stray cats and dogs live in the United States, but estimates for cats alone range up to 70 million.

This winter holiday season, help reduce that high number with one of these seven steps:

1. Adopt a cat. The No. 1 way to help is to open your home to a cat, even if you already have one or more in your family. Some shelters and organizations offer specials. For example, the Humane Society for Hamilton County in Noblesville, Ind., has operated a successful Purrsdays program, whereby all cats and kittens are 50 percent off on those special days. For a low fee, the owner gets a cat that’s been spayed/neutered, microchipped and vaccinated. Executive Director Rebecca Stevens points out that if conditions become overcrowded at her shelter, illnesses can more readily spread. “By reducing the number of cats in our care, our hope is to prevent the spread of illness and cramped quarters for the ones that remain.”

2. Foster a cat. If you haven’t lived with a cat before, or if you just don’t want to take on the long-term commitment of owning a pet now, fostering can be one option. “Fostering can be a great way to determine whether a pet fits into your lifestyle,” says Stevens.

3. Volunteer. During the holiday season, volunteering often takes on a new festive twist. For example, Macy’s and the San Francisco SPCA team up to create the much-anticipated Macy’s Holiday Windows, which feature kittens and puppies for adoption. The partnership has existed for 25 years now.

Says Jennifer Lu, communications manager for the San Francisco SPCA: “The holiday tradition is a wonderful expression of the holiday spirit in San Francisco. Volunteer with the San Francisco SPCA at Holiday Windows and be a part of the magic this season!” She explains that volunteers work over short shifts of about two hours, greeting the public, collecting donations and directing people to the SPCA adoption center inside Macy’s.

4. Donate. Consider making a one-time donation or a sustained financial contribution to your favorite shelter or animal organization. Most can usually inform you how your dollars will be spent to help cats in their charge.

5. Give the gift of adoption. If you know a friend or family member would like to adopt a cat, think about getting an adoption gift certificate instead of an actual kitty. Says Betsy McFarland, senior director of companion animals at The Humane Society of the United States: “The recipient of your furry gift may not be ready for the commitment involved with the lifetime care of a pet. Instead of a puppy (or kitten) among the presents, give the gift of adoption. Many shelters offer adoption gift certificates so the recipient can be actively involved in choosing the perfect pet who will share their home for years to come.”

6. Help via social media. Most major pet food companies have a strong presence at popular social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Sometimes just clicking “Like” or sharing content can help feed homeless cats, since the companies often track such activity and tie initiatives to it.

7. Purchase specially marked packages of pet food. This time of year, some pet food companies are also donating food or money based on sales of their own products. It can be a win-win situation because you would be purchasing cat food anyway, and if the purchase helps to support a charity, the organization gains as well.

Senior Black Homeless Cats in Crisis

The fate of homeless, adult black cats constantly remains in question at shelters. A 2002 study in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science found that black cats were up to two-thirds less likely to be adopted than other cats. Being a homeless cat is hard enough, but the sad truth is that certain types of cats are bypassed by adopting families time and again.

Not Every Cat Is a Kitten
Age may be an even more important issue than color. For those who wish to bring home a new cat, kittens of any color are hard to resist. Their furry faces and playful antics often steal the show at adoption events, while adult cats quietly sit alone in their carriers. “Kittens usually fly out the door because they are so popular,” says San Francisco SPCA spokeswoman Jennifer Lu. “Once cats lose their kitten-ness, it becomes harder to adopt them out.”

Inga Fricke, director of Sheltering and Pet Care Issues at The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) based in Washington, D.C., adds that “animals with special medical or behavioral needs are more difficult to adopt than puppies and kittens.” Lu explains that cost is often the concern. “If an animal needs a certain medicine that’s expensive, just as a practical issue, some potential owners are unwilling or are unable to take on that cost,” she says, adding that her organization will sometimes issue special medical dispensations covering the additional cost.

Black, Senior Cats Are Often Overlooked
Even if a black adult cat is in perfect health and has a sweet nature, it may still remain in the shelter. One reason is simply that black cats are more common, perhaps because this color is just genetically more dominant among cats. Old superstitions may also be to blame, suggests Bobbie Gambarini, who fosters cats and who recently volunteered for a Black Is Beautiful cat adoption event in California. She thinks some people believe black cats are unlucky, even though in parts of Europe they’re actually believed to bring good luck to their owners.

The biggest reason, however, may have to do with how well the cats photograph. In this social media age, people often surf the Net before visiting shelters. Professional photographers aren’t always available to snap the most flattering shots of scared homeless cats, so some cats disappear into dark backgrounds and poor lighting.

Turning the Tide
Groups across the country are trying to increase the rate of adoptions for all cats, and especially those that need the extra boost. Fricke shares that the HSUS has joined together with Maddie’s Fund and the Ad Council to create the first-ever public advertising campaign to promote adoption, The Shelter Pet Project. Boston-based Black Cat Rescue and other organizations are also building awareness while finding cats homes.

Frequently overlooked cats often make better pets. “Older animals, for example, are beyond the annoying chewing stage, are typically fully trained and are much more ‘What you see is what you get’ than younger animals who have not fully developed their personalities yet,” says Fricke.

Christina Alvarez, director of Hopalong & Second Chance Animal Rescue in Oakland, Calif., adds that such cats also tend to be:

  • Trained to use the litter box
  • Reserved and well-behaved
  • Adapted to home life
  • Appreciative of love and care
  • Eager to bond with supportive owners

The experts often practice what they preach too. Lu, who adopted three adult pets, advises that anyone who desires a new cat “should go in with an open heart and open eyes. Rather than sticking to predetermined characteristics, make a love connection.”

Fricke agrees: “We would love for people to bear in mind that most pets wind up in shelters through no fault of their own -- not because they have problems, but simply because their owners had personal problems, such as they needed to move, had a new baby, etc. They are wonderful, family-ready pets who only need to be given an opportunity to show how wonderful they are.”

Social Media Boosts Cat Adoption Efforts

Arriving at the Facebook page for “Pets on Death Row” is heartbreaking. “I get the euth list every night from Animal Care & Control (AC&C) and post it on Facebook,” says Kay Smith, a New York City animal activist who runs the page. “There are always so many cats -- 25 to 30 -- and if no one steps up, they all get killed the next day.”

Social Petworking
Smith’s page is just one example of how social media is gradually transforming the process of rescuing and adopting animals. Her project is very local in that it only posts info about cats in New York City shelters. For a more national approach, other efforts -- like Let’s Adopt! (USA) -- allow people to post information concerning rescue cases from all across the country. In fact, the Let’s Adopt! movement started in Turkey, but has grown exponentially thanks to the nature and power of social media.

“We started as a simple Facebook group in order to find homes for my rescues,” says founder Viktor Larkhill. “Less than four years later, the group has expanded into a truly global network with growing communities not only in Turkey, but also in Indonesia, Bulgaria, Germany, France, USA, Canada and Australia. All of this, and in such a short period of time, would have been impossible without social media in general and Facebook in particular.”

Smith agrees that social media has taken her efforts to a level she never could have achieved offline. She and Larkhill attribute the increased success to a handful of areas where social media (both also have Twitter feeds) gives them a boost:

Speed With the click of a button, Smith can post the entire to-be-destroyed list to her network.

Specificity With pictures and bios, shelter cats become more than just an idea; they’re personalized, with faces and stories to tell.

Amplification Says Smith: “I post the list, and if somebody with 500 friends or Twitter followers clicks to share it, all those other people see it. And if four of those people click ‘Share,’ it could go to 2,000 more people, and it just snowballs.”

Convenience Schlepping to the shelter is an event, but logging on to Facebook or Twitter to window-shop is a cinch. Smith wonders if it can sometimes be too easy and lead to owners who aren’t ready for a rescue case. But Larkhill says the Net can also help those matters thanks to community.

Community Social networks can help rescuers get to know the people they’re playing matchmaker for. “It has enabled us to build an unprecedented level of trust with our community,” says Larkhill. “By looking at someone’s profile, we can tell a lot about someone. Used correctly, Facebook provides us a deep insight into people’s personality.”

Online Cat Rescue/Adoption Resources
Other national projects that have a social media presence include The Shelter Pet Project, Pets911 and Adopt-a-Pet.com. Aside from Twitter and Facebook feeds, they also have searchable websites that are a pet-seeker’s answer to online dating.

Beyond that, Smith suggests looking for local activists and organizations in your city and recommends always going to the shelter to visit the cat before making a commitment. If you’re not able to adopt, you can still get involved. Find out if your local shelter has a social media presence, or if someone advocates for the cats there. If not, start your own Facebook page for them. “I believe the potential has only just begun to be tapped,” says Larkhill. “As the level of connections increases, the power of the network increases.”