If you're reading this, you're an adopter, foster, supporter or volunteer for FFGW, and we know you cherish cats. But we also know that not everyone loves felines as we do. When we read our friend Bernadette's story of the rescue of Rita, we remembered that night when we worried about the hard sell, and in Bernadette's story we found that we just might have done the right thing after all. Bernadette tells us:
On the evening of July 4 an urgent message came into the rescue group about a cat with kittens seen inside a "slimy wet gross mildew infested" abandoned building. Over the course of the next 18 hours, between fireworks and the dark of night, at least a dozen people corresponded about the building and the neighborhood, giving directions and descriptions to be able to find the building and determine if the cat and her kittens were trapped inside in the summer heat. One rescuer attempted to enter the building but determined it unsafe-not a good thing for the mother cat and her kittens inside.
With the address one person quickly found the name of the former business housed in the building, the building owner, the phone number and eventually contacted the owner himself who sounded elderly but agreed to meet the rescuers at the building. The rescuers ended up using a crowbar to get the door open, with the owner there, and managed to trap the kittens, but no sign of the mother. The kittens were taken to a foster home and were young, weaned enough to eat soft food and seemed well and healthy but really dirty.
The mama kitty was caught the next day by one of the rescuers who went back to look for her, discovering there was access to the outside through the roof and from the second floor. She apparently had some access to food and water as she was healthy as well, but barely more than a kitten herself, and there was mention of another litter before the one already trapped. Mama was named "Rita", short for "Margarita" and surrendered to the Animal Rescue League, but when her temperament showed she wasn't ready to be adopted they called the person who surrendered her and Rita was retrieved and sent to foster boot camp for retraining.
Why are pets, especially cats, abandoned?
That's an awful lot of work but a lot of people for a cat no one owned, but no one questioned the need to bring her and her kittens to safety. But why did she end up, unspayed, in an abandoned building, having kittens? And if she and her kittens hadn't been trapped and rescued the cycle would have continued, creating more cats and kittens to be rescued. Some pets do escape, but why are pets, especially cats, deemed so worthless that they can be put out of their home and left to fend for themselves? How does a person choose to do that, and why?
Why people do-and don't-adopt cats
Perhaps if we knew why people chose to adopt or not to adopt cats, we'd know more about why people later abandoned those cats.
It's proven in statistics and surveys that, although more cats than dogs are kept as household pets, cats overall get fewer visits to the veterinarian and fewer studies are done on behalf of their physical and emotional health and welfare.
This overall lack of treatment also bears out in lower spay/neuter and adoption rates and, unfortunately, somewhat higher euthanasia rates-and an average of 3,000 kittens born every hour in the United States (more on that later).
The Morris Animal Foundation, in its Happy Healthy Cat Campaign, decided to begin a search for the answer to this lack before the cat is even adopted. They've recently completed an online survey of non-cat-owners, asking how likely they would be to adopt a cat and if so, why, and if not, why not.
This would help to focus on two things: finding the most likely adopters of cats, and determining the objections to cat ownership so that education and awareness could help potential feline owners with these issues making adoption more likely and permanent. Theoretically, those homes would be more likely to increase feline health care and the general population of more attentive cat owners would request more studies on feline health. If education could be simply given to the general audience of potential homes and adoption campaigns could be targeted at the audience most likely to adopt it might make all the difference to cats in shelters all over the country.
It's a natural to think of shelters marketing animals to potential adopters as if they are a product, and when I think of my own appeals for adoption of my own or others' fosters or rescues this is exactly what I do-think of who is most likely to adopt, write up my appeal directed at them and even contact them, and if they have objections I try to answer those objections. It may not work on the first try but it does eventually find a home for a cat-or I'd have several dozen at any given time, and I don't, I'm very glad to say.
The survey had 1,102 non-cat-owning respondents and had very interesting results. Read them on the Morris Animal Foundation's "Catitudes" page, and also visit Happy Healthy Cats and the rest of the Morris Animal Foundation's website which includes information about and funding for cats, dogs, horses, birds, wildlife, fish and probably a few more living creatures. It's good to know they're out there working for the good health and welfare of our animal companions.
Thanks to all of you who selflessly rescued Rita and her kittens from the building, then rescued her once again as she found shelter life unsuitable and acted out.
The Morris Survey draws some interesting conclusions as to the root causes of why people don't like cats, identifies some surprising groups of people who are most likely to want cats, and suggests that - since as you'll see, most of these causes are readily addressed - adoptions could be increased by discussing these issues right up front with adopters. When folks are on the fence about adopting, it's our job as adoption counselors to delve into why there is hesitation, and when their reasons are easily remedied to help those people address their concerns. By doing so, we aren't hard selling - we are educating a forever home.
So I turned to the man, and asked him about his concerns. It turned out, he was afraid of being scratched. And so we discussed claws and scratching posts, and I demonstrated trimming. They didn't adopt that night, but as they left, they were discussing what they would name their cat. It wasn't a hard sell, after all - it was an educational experience - for us, as well as the family.