Dating Services for Cat Owners

“SINGLE FEMALE CAT OWNER: Seeks male companion who likes cuddling, playing ball and doesn't mind hearing the occasional "meow" in the middle of the night.”

It used to be that lonely-hearted, pet-owning singles would take out personal ads, hoping a potential match wouldn’t end up being allergic or averse to their cat. Now there’s a way to cut to the chase: A variety of cat-themed dating Web sites and social networks have launched in the last few years on the premise that pet owners share a special something that they seek in a spouse -- or even in a good friend. That special something can be summed up by the feel of soft fur rubbing against one's leg, the purr after a satisfying neck scratch, and friendship of the feline sort.

"There are a lot of people out there who want to meet others who share a common interest like pets," says Robert Yau, who founded DateMyPet.com five years ago and more recently started the social networking site MyCatSpace.com.

Cat-themed Social Networking Sites
Joining a pet-centered Web site can help ease tensions on the dreaded first date. "Nobody can tell whether or not you're going to have chemistry based on something like a common interest in pets, but if you have a dog or cat, it's a great way to break the ice," explains Michael Carter, president of PetPassions.com, a pet-themed dating and social networking site.

These pet lover Web sites also allow your sense of humor to show through -- in your profile and postings. DateMyPet.com asks members to describe their pet's perspective on the ideal date. "It brings out the tongue-in-cheek," says Yau. People sometimes write quips such as, "If I was a cat, I'd just want to stay in my bed" or "If a member of the opposite sex comes to the house, I would hope they would have a big lap so I could sit on it."

But, as with meeting any strangers, it's important to be cautious. Experts advise that you guard personal information and go to a public place for initial get-togethers. Here is a rundown on a few pet-themed dating and/or networking Web sites:

  • The Right Breed This Web site features instant messaging, chat rooms, topic forums, streaming video from webcams, and an online magazine about pets and dating. Singles can search for prospective partners by region, age, animals and even by cat breed. The service is free for the first 60 days. After that, it’s $14.99 per month.
  • Pet Passions This free online dating and social networking site was started in 2004. It features photo personals, blogging, email, text chat, audio chat and webcam chat. Inside, the site is segmented so that cat lovers can stick with their own kind while fish and horse lovers mingle among themselves.
  • Must Love Pets Members use personals, chat, matchmaking services, forums and photo galleries to get to know other cat lovers. You can meet feline fans from around the country or those in your neighborhood. Basic membership, during which you can create a profile and post pictures of you and your pet, is free. If you want to contact other members, you can sign up for a premium membership, which costs a one-time fee of $44.95.
  • Date My Pet Members fill out two profiles -- one for themselves and one for their cat(s). The site can be used for romance or friendship. The basic membership is free and allows you to post a profile. The next level of membership costs $15 per month and allows you to initiate contact or a chat with another member.

Remember Your Cat
While searching for a new friend or date, keep in mind that your cat still needs companionship too. Consider adopting another cat, but if that's not for you or your kitty, make sure to set aside time each day to play games with your pet, enhancing the fun with soothing and comforting banter. Remember, cats can't directly post personal ads.

Mixed-breed Cats No Longer Outclassed

For the last four years, Carol Smith, a Boston-area cat breeder and small-business owner, has been showing her cat, Kelsey Belle, competitively. Smith breeds Egyptian Maus cats, but unpedigreed Kelsey Belle is a former shelter cat.

However, Kelsey Belle is a cat show natural. “She rolls over on the judging table, spread-eagled, purring and licking the judges. She’s well-regarded for her presence and easy handling,” says Smith. “She really enjoys it, especially the traveling and ‘spa treatments’ before the shows.”

In cat show lingo, mixed-breed felines like Smith’s pet are referred to as a household pets (HHP). Does your own pet have what it takes to be in show business? Longtime HHP judge William Lee weighs in on what it takes to be best in show.

Who’s Eligible?
Any HHP over four months of age is eligible to be entered in contests sponsored by the International Cat Association or the Cat Fancier’s Association. These are two of the biggest registries of pedigreed cats worldwide. “All you have to do is register and pay the entry fee,” says Lee. Entry fees vary depending on the show but are generally under $100. Pedigreed cats are also eligible to be shown in the HHP category.

Pedigreed Versus Non-breed Standards
To compete well, pedigreed cats have very specific standards they must meet (length of tail, distance between eyes, ear set, etc.). HHPs are judged by more arbitrary measures. “The rules for judging household cats are a smorgasbord,” says Lee. “We call the standards for HHPs ‘pseudo-standards’ because they’re so generic.”

HHP Judging Criteria
Lee explains that judges of household cats score their contestants based on the following:

  • Beauty (20 percent of score): Beauty points are assigned according to the taste of the individual judge. Many judges look for pleasing colors and patterns, grace, and balance. “I look for something a little unusual -- a rare pattern or color. But as they say, it’s in the eye of the beholder,” says Lee.
  • Personality (30 percent of score): A good show cat is alert, friendly and easy to handle. Of course, judges make an allowance for some nervousness, but the cats that immediately buy into it are the best. They are the ones that seem to be thinking, “Oh, here’s a new person to enjoy me.” They have to enjoy showing off.
  • Condition (50 percent of score): Judges are very attuned to healthy looks. Cats should be groomed as much as is practical for an HHP, and they should have clean ears and no debris in their eyes. Emaciation or overweight can detract from the score, although that’s subjective too.

Is Your Cat a Show Cat?
Chances are, cat show officials will tell you yes. The HHP category was created, in part, to involve the public in cat shows, to bring people out in larger numbers and to pique their interest in pedigreed cats. Lee estimates that 80 percent of exhibitors of purebred cats began as exhibitors of HHPs.

When deciding whether to show your feline friend, Lee recommends asking yourself, Is my cat the most beautiful animal that ever existed? “If you convey that to your cat, it thinks, ‘My owner adores the way I look.’ And it will display that for the judges, in turn.”

Kelsey Belle, whose owner spent two years searching for just the right cat to join her household, is proof of that. With the ever-admiring Smith at her side, the cat was the highest-scoring HHP in New England in 2008.

Pet Airways Offers Cats New Travel Option

Like many pet owners, husband and wife Dan Wiesel and Alysa Binder always included their animal companion -- a Jack Russell terrier named Zoe -- in their family vacations. Too tall to fit under an airplane seat, Zoe inadvertently limited the couple’s destinations to locations within driving range of their Florida home.

But in 2005, Wiesel and Binder decided to travel a greater distance. Reluctantly, they flew Zoe in a commercial plane’s cargo hold. “After the plane landed, she just wasn’t the same,” remembers Binder. “It took almost two weeks for her to seem back to normal.”

Out of Zoe’s difficulty, Pet Airways was born. This past July, Binder and Wiesel -- previously consultants for startup companies -- launched the country’s first and to date only airline devoted specifically to animals. At Pet Airways, pets always fly in the main cabin, carefully tended to by a flight crew of veterinary technicians.

Who Flies With Pet Airways?
Currently, Pet Airways only accepts cats and dogs as passengers, but they hope to expand to include other domesticated animals. Around 40 percent of the airline’s customers are feline. Many are relocating along with their owners, who must fly separately.

Other frequent fliers include pets being shipped off to Grandma’s house, puppies and kittens being sent by breeders to their new homes, and show pets on their way to competition. Pet Airways also donates flights to pet rescue and adoption centers. “We want to make a difference, to be supportive of the pet community,” says Binder. “We are animal lovers.”

Ports of Call
Pet Airways currently flies out of small regional airports in New York; Washington, D.C.; Chicago; Denver; Los Angeles; and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The airline plans to expand to as many as 25 cities over the next couple of years, including Tampa, Fla.; Atlanta; Phoenix; and Omaha, Neb. “We wanted to make sure everything worked well before adding destinations,” explains Binder.

How It Works
Pets must arrive at least two hours before their scheduled departure but can also show up much earlier: The airline offers boarding services (for an extra charge) for as many as three days leading up to the flight.

Once on board, your cat will enjoy a 19-person, turboprop plane whose human trappings -- save for the climate control and air-circulation systems -- have been removed. In their place are secured pet carriers, complete with individual litter boxes and water.

Cross-country flights stop in Chicago so that the proper care is given to the animals, and that includes “downtime” for cats and litter change. Veterinary technicians are in the cabin with the animals at all times, checking on them every 15 minutes during the flight. “From what we hear, the pets mostly seem to sleep,” laughs Binder.

Once your pet has landed, it can be picked up at its destination airport, as late as 72 hours after the flight.

How It Compares
While Pet Airways may provide more in the way of creature comforts than traditional airlines, what it doesn’t offer is you. Some cats become anxious in new environments, and the smell of their owner -- even while the cats are stowed under the seat -- can go a long way toward curbing that anxiety. If your cat has never flown before, you might want to put off a Pet Airways flight until you know how your pet generally reacts to air travel.

Once you’ve decided to go with Pet Airways, you’ll pay a bit more than on the major carriers. While ticket prices on Pet Airways depend both on pet size and route, Binder puts the average cost at $250 each way. Traditional airlines charge anywhere between $75 and $175 each way for pets to travel under the seat, and between $100 and $225 each way for pets to travel in the cargo hold -- a mode of transportation that few, if any, pet professionals recommend.

Though Pet Airways may be more expensive than traditional air carriers, Binder emphasizes that you get what you pay for. “Everyone who works with us is a pet lover,” she says. “We all go out of our way to give the animals a tremendous amount of love and attention.”

In this era of airline cutbacks, Pet Airways might be your experienced feline flier’s best chance to fly the truly friendly skies.

Must-read Books for Cat Owners

Have you reached the bottom of your summer reading stack? Or perhaps your picks fell short this summer, and you need new ideas. To help you rekindle reading momentum this fall, we asked veterinarians, cat experts and pet stores for their cat-related book recommendations. Here’s what they suggested:

NONFICTION
Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover’s Soul, Mark Victor Hansen, et al.
In this tribute to the extraordinary feline spirit, you’ll learn about the piano-playing Devon rex. Then, there’s the loyal three-legged kitty that consoles a lonely third grader. Still not inspired? The book then takes you to another entry about a precocious tabby that saved its human family from a gas leak. A heartwarming collection of true stories, it’s “the No. 1 best-seller in the store, by far,” says Wanda Kelsey-Mendez, owner of Gatos Cat Boutique online.

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World, Vicki Myron
After losing her family farm and leaving her abusive husband, small-town single mom Myron attempts to rebuild her life. But it’s not until the coldest morning of the year that life really turns around -- for her and for her small town -- when she discovers Dewey, a tiny kitten, freezing in the metal drop box. His loveable feline antics quickly enthrall the sleepy town, awakening even the senses of a disabled child. “It’s a fun read,” says Dr. Laura Sullivan, a veterinarian at Cascade Hospital for Animals in Grand Rapids, Mich. “All cat owners could relate to the highs and lows of kitty ownership.”

FICTON
Catnip for the Soul, Jane O’Boyle

What do cats really think of humans? If cats could speak, O’Boyle surmises this would be their answer: “No fur, no paws, no tail. They run away from mice. They never get enough sleep. How can you help but love such an absurd animal?” With humor and plenty of imagination, O’Boyle attempts to tackle the inner workings of the feline mind. Dr. Tracy L. Adams of Plaza Veterinary Hospital in Farmington, Mich., calls it “an enjoyable, funny narration from a cat’s perspective.”

The Cat Who... series, Lilian Jackson Braun
Do-gooder duos in TV shows like “Scooby Doo” and “Inspector Rex” have done wonders to showcase dogs’ instinct and loyalty. But cats too have the skill to be great mystery-solving partners. The Cat Who… is a book series of 35 mysteries that prominently feature two cats. With the aid of keen feline instinct, their owner, a prizewinning reporter, successfully follows leads and solves crimes. “They are very entertaining [books] and a great read for cat lovers,” says Kelsey-Mendez. Start with the first book, The Cat Who Could Read Backwards, and you’ll be hooked at least until next fall.

REFERENCE
Why Does My Cat…?, Sarah Heath

Still baffled by kitty’s erratic behavior, like its haphazard elimination on the carpet? Author and animal behavioral consultant Sarah Heath provides practical insights on bothersome cat behaviors and answers fun such fun questions as “Why does my cat walk on the paper I am reading?” along the way. It’s an informative read and a pleasant journey into the mind of your favorite feline.

The Cat Behavior Answer Book, Arden Moore
A prolific writer, pet show host and professional speaker, Arden Moore has inspired millions to love, understand and live harmoniously with their pets. Here, she demystifies cat behavior with wit and warmth. “This book does a really good job describing cat behavior and offering concrete suggestions for dealing with some of the most troublesome cat actions,” says Kelsey-Mendez. With thorough discussions presented in an easy-to-comprehend question and answer format, this book is a handy exploration of the feline brain and physiology.

The Domestic Cat, edited by Dennis C. Turner and Patrick Bateson
Ready for something more scientific? Try this collection of articles on animal behavior and veterinary science, penned mainly by academics. The book explores feline biology, covering everything from the development of young cats and the mother-kitten relationship, to social life and predatory behavior. “Unfortunately, many of the popular books still contain myths, misconceptions and made-up or unsupported explanations for cat behaviors,” confesses Suzanne Hetts, Ph.D., of Animal Behavior Associates in Littleton, Colo. If you are seeking to really understand kitty from the inside out, Hetts recommends this read, which “goes beyond the popular ’easy reads’ and delves into what science can tell us about cat behavior.”

Whether you select an easier read or a scientific tome on the inner workings of cats, a cat-related book is a perfect source of informative tidbits and entertainment that will forever enhance your bond with kitty.

Choosing the Best Cat Litter for Your Pet

In 1947, Edward Lowe experienced a lightbulb moment. Kaye Draper, Lowe’s neighbor, knocked on his door and asked for some sand, which she and many others at that time used for cat litter. Lowe happened to be experimenting with a natural clay mineral product, called Fuller’s Earth, that absorbs liquids, so he gave her this material instead. Her cat loved it, and kitty litter was born.

Pet owners are now faced with a multitude of kitty litter product choices. Here, PetSmart buyer Steve Nastasi describes the pros and cons of several cat litters.

Clay Litters

Conventional clay litter is still favored by many cat owners, according to Nastasi. It’s a natural product with dark-colored clays mostly mined in central U.S. and white clay mined in Florida.

Benefits:

  • It’s often less expensive than other types of litters.

  • White clay absorbs three times its weight in liquid.

Drawbacks:

  • Clay is heavy, so bags and containers can be harder to lift.

  • Although clay is a natural product, it’s a nonrenewable resource.

  • It can be dusty.

Scoopable Litter

Scooping, also known as clumping, skyrocketed to popularity in the 1980s, after American biochemist Thomas Nelson perfected this type of granulated clay that Nastasi says was first used “by the military to mop up oil spills.” It clumps together when wet into balls, which can be easily scooped and disposed of.

Benefits:

  • Cleanup is a snap.

  • Manufacturers usually add some kind of odor control, such as baking soda or activated charcoal.

Drawbacks:

  • The base of scoopable litters is often a nonrenewable resource.

  • Owners frequently flush this product down the toilet -- illegal in some states -- which can later clog plumbing systems and hurt the environment.

Silica Gel Litter

It looks like diamond crystals,” Nastasi says. Made from porous sodium silicate, it has the highest absorbency of any cat litter. The crystal beads are like little sponges that really soak up urine and moisture.

Benefits:

  • It’s lightweight.

  • Absorbency is no problem if the material is not otherwise saturated.

Drawbacks:

  • When saturated, urine can pool at the bottom of the litter box.

  • It’s not as eco-friendly as other products.

Biodegradable Litter

Litters made from various plant resources, such as wood products, corn, wheat, barley and even dried citrus peels, fall under this category. Below are two common groups of biodegradable litter:

  • Pine and wood-based Veterinarians often recommend cat litters with large pellets for post-surgery cats, since the pellets are too large to adhere to the cat and aren’t easily ingested. The size and compactness of the pellets additionally helps to eliminate dust, but they can get caught in automatic litter boxes.

  • Corn “Customers either love litter made from corn with a passion or hate it,” shares Nastasi. If your cat is resistant, look for a litter made of shredded, dried corn, which seems to appeal to cats that will otherwise reject corn-based litters.

Special-needs Litter

This is one of the newest and fastest-growing segments of the cat litter market,” says Nastasi. A pioneer manufacturer is Denver’s Bruce Elsey, D.V.M., who created litter with natural components to draw your cat to its box. “Over nine million cats suffer from litter box aversion,” Dr. Elsey says. “It’s a leading reason why cats are abused, abandoned and put in shelters.”

The bottom line is that buyers like me, as well as manufacturers, are presented with two groups of customers: the human and the cat. It’s often tricky to satisfy both,” says Nastasi, explaining that what may appeal to owners could be rejected by felines. “It’s up to you to know what’s best for your cat and lifestyle,” he says, “while still keeping in mind that your pet would probably rather just scratch at a little dirt, cover and be done with it.”