Pet Talk: Focus on cat's personality, not its cuteness

Rene Knapp

I got a call last month from a shelter in New Jersey. A 12-year-old Abyssinian at their shelter was doing poorly. He was scared and crying constantly, and they felt euthanization would be the kindest thing because at his age his chances for adoption were slim to none. They were calling some of the no-kill organizations to see if someone could take him. Loving Abys the way I do, there was no way I could leave him to die feeling abandoned and alone. And so Joey came to my Helping Paws home.

Joey, a red Abyssinian, is a handsome gentleman. He has impeccable manners and plays like a 2-year-old cat. He checked out in perfect health. His owner gave him up because her son got married and her new daughter-in-law was allergic to cats. Personally I would have told my son to get his own apartment and kept the cat. The question was, though, would anyone adopt a 12-year-old cat?

An older couple came forward to find out about Joey. Seems they have a 12-year-old Abyssinian and had just lost a 17-year-old cat. They didn’t want to bring in a kitten and disrupt their senior cat’s life, so they opted to adopt a healthy cat the same age. They came to meet Joey, fell in love and took him home to spend the winter of his life with them.

These people are not the norm. With kitten season right around the corner, our phones will be ringing off the hook with calls from people who want “a really young kitten.” Yes, kittens are adorable; bouncy, little, cute and quite irresistible. However, they are babies for only a few short months and cats for many years. It is the cat that is going to share your life.

Depending on your family situation, adopting an older cat, even a less-than-perfect cat, may be more rewarding for you (and certainly for the cat). Shelters and rescue groups are full of mature cats with lots of love to give. Their personalities are developed, so there is little guessing as to how they will turn out. You will already know if they will like people or if they are rather aloof. All kittens cling, and they don’t develop their true personality until they are about a year old. As with people, all cats are different, and some come with habits or personality traits that may not be quite what you are looking for. But with a bit of love and effort, many cats can become loving family members.

When going to shelters, focus on the personality and temperament of the cat rather than its looks. A one-eyed cat may be a little strange looking, but they get along just fine. It’s the same for cats that are blind or have head tilts or three legs. To them it is natural, and they don’t feel bad because they are not perfect — they don’t even know they are not perfect. And they live long and happy lives — sometimes longer than our “healthy” pets. After all, life has no certainty, and we never know how long we will have a beloved pet.

A cat that is 12 or 13 or older can still offer so much to a family. You can also find special-needs cats. One of our foster homes has discovered their wobbly cat, their one-eyed cat and their senior cats bring them much joy. In fact, she says had she known years ago how wonderful older and special-needs cats can be, she would have made sure to seek out those cats when adopting a new pet.

This column is not just true for cats. Many dogs, birds, horses and other animals are in shelters because their owners have passed and no one in the family was willing to take them in. Animals that lose their humans when they are older can bring so much joy into your life, and you can see how happy they are to have a real home for a second time.

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