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.”


Preparing for a New Kitten

A new kitten brings immediate joy and excitement to almost any household. But before you bring one home, get down on your hands and knees and think like a kitten. “Kittens are so active, playful and curious that they easily find things that are not safe to play with,” says cat owner Kerry-Ann Crawford, who enjoys life with two cats, aged 2 and 18 years. “At this level, you will be able to see certain items in a different light, such as hanging drapery cords that your kitten can easily get tangled in and coins that sometimes fall out of pockets.”

Your Kitten Checklist
There are a number of other steps you can take. We asked veterinarians, cat care experts and longtime cat owners for their best advice when it comes to bringing home an adorable little furball.

  • Kitten-proof your home. Kittens, like toddlers, can find trouble in an instant. Be wary of dangling cords, toxic plants and open toilet seats. A curious kitten might be able to crawl into a toilet, but not back out. Your kitten’s little razor-sharp teeth can bite into an electric cord. Understand that kittens can find their way into impossibly small spaces. “It’s surprising what tight hiding spaces a kitten can get into, so make sure there aren’t holes in walls,” says Shari Shiffer-Krieger, who has fostered hundreds of kittens as executive director of the Cat Care Society in Lakewood, Colo.
  • Make your kitten at home. If possible, bring a towel, blanket or kitty bed you’re going to use at home, and have your kitten’s mother or siblings play on it or rub against it, advises Debra Decker, head of marketing for The International Cat Association. This will provide familiar scents when your kitten settles into your home. You can do this with your carrier too.
  • Think cuddly. Pick up a few baby receiving blankets for your new kitten. They’re inexpensive, easy to toss in the wash if mussed, and your kitten will love them, says Shiffer-Krieger. “Flannel blankets feel like ‘Mama,’ so kittens love to snuggle in them.”
  • Corral that kitten. For now, it’s best to make your kitten a temporary home in one room, with toys, bedding, a scratching post, a litter box, food and water. Make sure the litter and food and water are in separate areas. This helps you manage your kitten, provides a sanctuary from other household pets, allows for adjustment time and gives your kitten a safe place to retreat to once you allow it to roam your home, says Shiffer-Krieger. Use extreme caution when introducing your kitten to adult dogs in the household, advises Dr. Bruce Silverman of Village West Veterinary in Chicago. It’s difficult to predict whether an adult dog will feel nurturing toward a kitten or see it as prey.
  • Prepare for accidents. Invest in several litter boxes. “Kittens are just like children and wait until the last minute to use the litter box,” says Shiffer-Krieger. “As the kitten gets older, you can do away with some of the litter boxes. Also, it isn’t a bad idea to occasionally take the kitten physically to the litter box in case it forgot to go.”
  • Protect your property. When it comes to thinking like your kitten, don’t assume anything is off limits, says Kim White, who adopted two Egyptian Mau kittens a few years ago. “Kittens are like Velcro and stick to everything,” she says. “Make no assumptions about what you think they won’t be able to get into.”
  • Visit your veterinarian. Your cat’s long, happy life depends on its good health. It’s best to schedule a veterinarian visit that first week, say experts.


The very good news is that the most important thing you can do will come naturally. “Give a kitten lots of love and attention, and they will return it,” says Shiffer-Krieger.

Adopt Your Perfect Cat This Holiday Season

If you’re considering adopting a cat this holiday season -- or any time of year -- there are now several programs that can help you find your perfect pet.

Meet Your Match The ASPCA’s Meet Your Match program evaluates animals in order to help owners bring home their ideal companion. “Meet Your Match isn’t just based on superficial qualities. We go deeper, including asking about the pet’s personality, your personality and other important factors,” says Senior Vice President Gail Buchwald of the ASPCA Adoption Center. Whatever the outcome, the resulting adoption is a win-win for the owner and the pet.

Iams Home 4 the Holidays This program, which helps place needy cats and dogs in loving homes, is one of several pet adoption drives taking place right now. According to The Humane Society of the United States, of the 8 million pets that enter animal shelters and rescue groups every year, approximately 3 million of these healthy and treatable pets are euthanized due to lack of adoption. John Van Zante, spokesperson for the Helen Woodward Animal Center Santa Fe, Calif., who helped start Home 4 the Holidays, says the data in 1998 for San Diego County alone -- 40,000 euthanized dogs and cats -- led to the creation of the program.

“I contacted all 14 shelters in our region, asking that we be committed to putting our egos in check and to working together to solve the problem,” says Van Zante. “We kicked off the first Home for the Holidays in November 1999.” Since that initial year, millions of pets featured in the program -- which runs from November to the beginning of January -- have been adopted into loving homes.

PetSmart Charities Your local PetSmart store has a PetSmart Charities Adoption Center, which helps match potential owners with feline companions. “PetSmart charities partners with more than 2,000 animal welfare organizations, which use this space to showcase pets looking for a home,” says PetSmart Charities Communication Manager Michelle Thompson. “To date, PetSmart Charities has helped save the lives of more than 4 million pets through adoptions.” You can visit PetSmartCharities.org to find an adoption event near you.

Before You Begin

While some people think holiday pet adoptions happen on impulse and lead to a high return rate, the ASPCA, PetFinder.com and other organizations work hard to ensure a thoughtful process takes place before any adoption. Such groups also try to help all pets -- not just the trendy breeds or photogenic cats. Betsy Banks Saul, the co-founder of PetFinder.com, points out that “overlooked pets often make great additions to a family, but many people don’t even realize they are discriminating when they begin looking to adopt.”

The Adoption Process

Depending on the program you choose, the process might go as follows:

1. Visit the program’s website, search for pets available for adoption in your area and answer some initial questions

2. Make an appointment to visit a shelter

3. Sign in at the shelter, where you will be able to mention the sort of cat you hope to adopt (age, breed or a specific cat seen on the facility’s website)

4. Answer questions asked by shelter personnel to determine your living situation (e.g., if you have other pets at home)

5. View various cats

6. Pay adoption fee -- which may or may not include things such as spaying or neutering, full veterinary exams, necessary vaccines or microchipping

The individual who will be caring for the cat must be present at the time of adoption. If you live with others, make it a shared visit and discuss the matter at length beforehand.

“It’s hard for me to even properly express how much pets add to our lives,” said Van Zante. “It’s the cat that doesn’t care if you come home tired and bedraggled after a grueling day on the job.”

‘Adopt a Senior Pet Month’ Saves Lives

November is Adopt a Senior Pet Month, a time of year that’s always celebrated in my home. My life has been so blessed and enriched by my two cats, Freddy and Sweetie, who are both well over 20 and are thankfully still going strong. If you can bring home a new pet, consider adopting a senior kitty.

“Think of a pet that is already trained and doesn’t chew or scratch everything in sight -- a pet that will love you unconditionally,” says Kim Saunders, director of public relations for PetFinder.com. “That’s what you get when you adopt a senior pet.” PetFinder.com is sponsoring Adopt a Senior Pet Month, which grows in popularity each year. Here are more reasons why you should consider bringing home such a cat:

1. You will avoid the “kitten zoomies.”
Kittens offer their own playful companionship and charms, but they also require a certain amount of tolerance. “The internal energy clock of kittens tends to go off between 3 and 5 a.m.,” says Gail Buchwald, senior vice president of the ASPCA Adoption Center and Mobile Clinic Outreach Program. “That’s when kitten owners are awakened the most.”

Veterinarians even get calls from concerned owners of kittens and “teenaged cats” (cats under the age of 2). “They’ll phone in saying, ‘Something is wrong with my cat. It’s always running around and getting into mischief,’” according to Buchwald, who usually assures them that the behavior is probably tied to the cat version of the “terrible twos.”

2. You will gain a loyal, loving family member.
Some people worry that senior pets come with problems, but Hazel Blumberg-McKee of Tallahassee, Fla., who has adopted senior animals, believes there are no disadvantages. She explains that “in most cases, they’ve had a home and they want one again. An older animal is easier to deal with.”

Buchwald, who has an elderly cat, agrees. “You’ll likely find yourself with a lap cat, a snuggle cat, a greet-you-at-the-door cat all rolled into one.” On top of that, “your new senior cat won’t place tremendous demands on you as a kitten might.”

3. You will still likely have an active, playful pet.
Cats, like humans, often live long, active and healthy lives well past adulthood. I can certainly attest to that, as my Freddy and Sweetie are still quite frisky and playful without being kitten zoomers. “There’s a bias in our culture toward youth, and that extends to our pets,” explains Buchwald. “Senior cats often remain playful, wanting to chase after string, bat a ball, or otherwise want to enjoy spending active time with you.”

4. You may save money.
The ASPCA sometimes offers a “Free Over Three” adult cat adoption promotion. Check with your local shelter to see if that, or a similar program, is in place. “We were concerned we’d have a lot of returns, since the over-3-year-old cats are free, but quite the opposite happens,” says Buchwald. “Families fall in love with their cats and don’t want to let them go.”

You may also save money on your medical bills. The Humane Society of the United States reports that senior humans, in particular, may enjoy lower blood pressure and other cardiac benefits from the soothing presence of a cat. Pets also help ease loneliness, thereby promoting mental health too.

Tips on Caring for a Senior Cat
Buchwald offers these five basic guidelines for senior pet care:

  1. Feed your elderly cat a senior diet. “Veterinarians recommend senior diets for older cats,” she explains. Certain cats may require other special diets if they have particular health issues.

  2. Groom your cat regularly. “Sometimes older cats will slack off on grooming themselves,” she explains.

  3. Provide playtime. Just as we humans need to exercise throughout our lives, so do cats.

  4. Keep it relatively quiet. “If your home is like Grand Central Station all the time, your older cat is likely to become stressed out,” she says. Make sure your cat has a nice, quiet spot to retreat to throughout the day.

  5. Schedule regular veterinary visits. Prevention and early detection can save, and extend, lives.

“My senior pets are priceless to me,” says Buchwald. “I have never regretted my decision to adopt older animals. They provide me with such unconditional love and joy.”

Help Shelter Cats Even if You Can’t Adopt

Adoption isn’t the only way to help homeless cats. Before you write off being able to help, think about your own unique skills to aid shelter cats. “Our goal is to place animals in caring homes, but there are many ways in which people can support the process leading up to this end goal,” says Jennifer Lu, communications manager at the San Francisco SPCA.

Donate Money
As is the case with many facilities, the San Francisco SPCA is funded solely by donations. But do you know how your money actually helps out the animals? Lu broke down some typical donation amounts and how the money can be used:

$15: a flea treatment for a kitten or adult cat

$50: test for cat feline leukemia or FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus)

$60: full medical exam for an incoming new cat

$90: microchip identification insertion and vaccinations for kitty

$120: cat spay or neuter surgery

Inga Fricke, director of Shelter Initiatives for the Humane Society of the United States, says she was recently touched by stories of young students who requested money to help their local animal shelter instead of accepting birthday or holiday gifts. Once the money is donated, sometimes shelters will offer personal tours or other fun rewards for students.

Donate Services
All sorts of services can be useful to shelters. Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary in Cypress, Texas, is seeking these donated services: printing, advertising, general contracting, electrical, plumbing, septic, concrete and brick work, landscaping and lawn service. The San Francisco SPCA is even looking for volunteers to staff the windows at Macy’s during the shelter’s big winter holiday adoption drive at the popular department store.

If you cannot adopt a cat but still enjoy spending time with felines, consider offering to bottle-feed kittens, an activity that Fricke says really assists many shelters. Just playing with kitties can work wonders too. “Our cat volunteers spend time with cats and kittens in the shelter to keep them well socialized and accustomed to visitors, which makes them more personable when prospective adopters come to visit,” explains Lu.

Foster a Cat
If you cannot take on the commitment of a full-time adoption, think about fostering a kitten or cat for a limited period of time. “Nearly 1,000 animals a year who are too young or ill to be immediately adopted are cared for by foster volunteers who nurse them and prepare them for adoption,” says Lu.

Contact Local Veterinarians
Perhaps the best way to help reduce the number of homeless cats is to prevent them from winding up in shelters in the first place. Encourage local veterinarians to offer low-cost spay and neutering, and to collaborate with neighborhood shelters. “Some veterinarians participate in free vaccination clinics or refer animal behaviorists that can help to socialize pets that are up for adoption,” says Fricke.

If You Are Allergic to Cats
If you love animals but are allergic to kitties, you can still help to reduce the number of homeless cats and improve the lives of those that are already in shelters. Fricke suggests organizing a food or blanket drive to obtain items desperately needed by animal care staff.

Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary has everyday-object needs, like cat litter, soap and newspapers, but medical and office supplies are also on its wish list, along with a van equipped with air-conditioning. A representative mentions that “the animals cannot be transported in Houston's sweltering heat without risking heat stroke. We really need another van to safely transport the animals.”

One of the easiest, most effortless ways to help is to do just what you are doing now: Go online. “We and other shelters are embracing social media as a way to promote programs and specific animals,” explains Lu. She asks that you look for your local shelter on Facebook and Twitter to see if they have pages at those sites. If so, with a simple mouse click, you can help to share information about events, fundraising and adoptable animals.