Cats, People



Every Thursday morning, I get up early (for a man or 77} … 7:00 am to be exact … and drive to the Best Friends Animal Society Lifesaving Center in the Sugarhouse neighborhood of Salt Lake City for my shift doing Morning Cat Care.   Typically, there are between fifteen and thirty cats to take care of, which means clean their kennels, feed them, and spend some time with them, since many of them are traumatized to be in another rescue facility.  After all, there is no way for them to know that they have ended up in the best place they could, a facility that will give them medical care, food and a warm bed, and human attention until they can be adopted or placed in a foster home.   The cats I care for are typically a mix of new arrivals from other shelters with no room for them, cats that are too sick or agitated to be in foster or adopted, or … and these are the cats I want to talk about … cats that have been adopted then returned. Now, I am happy that most shelters will take back cats that, as their temporary owners say, haven’t worked out … after all. it’s better than simply dumping them somewhere or dropping them at the Humane Society.   The favorite excuses for returning adopted cats seem to be:  the cat bit me or scratched me, unprovoked; I discovered I’m allergic to cats; the cat required too much attention; or the cat was too aloof.

My cat, Tyson, is the most affectionate cat I’ve ever known.  He was returned because he required too much attention.  We had a cat at BFAS this week that has been adopted and returned four times.   He is a lovely red tabby who happens to be an independent soul.   Each time someone want to adopt him, it is explained that he likes a lot of alone time.   Each time, he’s returned because he’s just as we described him.  Regularly, we get cats that supposedly bit their new owners … unprovoked of course … yet once they are in our care, they turn out to be lovers.  And of course, how can we say no to a return from someone who’s allergic or moving?   Personally, I think the majority have just realized they don’t want a cat and these are convenient excuses.   People who return cats who they’ve adopted should have to join me during morning cat care to see how traumatic it is for cats who have finally found a home to find themselves back in a kennel at a rescue, even one as good as BFAS.  Some are angry and aggressive, some sad and reclusive, and some are starving for human affection, luxuriating in every moment we spend with them.  It’s these cats … and their temporary owners … I want to talk about.  Or to.

Cats are beautiful animals, soft and cuddly.  Having a cat curled in your lap, purring and happy is very likely to make you think you want a cat.   They say petting a cat can actually lower your blood pressure.  Who wouldn’t want that?  But if you are not already a cat person (meaning someone who truly loves cat as they are) … or more so if you are a dog person … you may not be aware of the whole picture of cat ownership.  More people are allergic to cats, for one.   So, for Pete’s sake, don’t discover you are allergic by adopting some poor cat that has be waiting for a home, letting it stay for a week or two, then returning it, whining about your allergy.  Spend some time with cats first … maybe at a friend’s house or by volunteering at a cat rescue.   And the benefit of the latter is it will introduce you to the whole experience of owning a cat, not just the five minutes of purring in your lap.

Cats are less domesticated than dogs.  Most love human affection but want it on their terms.   My cat, Tyson, is a true lap cat.   He will spend hours curled up in my lap.  My last cat, Claude, followed me around the house and when he couldn’t find me, meowed until I called him.  But he didn’t like lap-sitting, as hard as I tried to get him to do it.  He would sit in a bed next to me to be pet.  The cat before that, Elvis, was a kitten that was abandoned at nearby apartment.  He was pretty independent … he’d stop by for petting now and then but not much for holding.   If you touched Elvis in a way he didn’t like, he might snap at you or scratch you as he tried to get away.  Even Tyson, the most affectionate cat I’ve known, will sometimes overreact when I touch his belly.

The point is, cats have more diverse personalities that dogs, and for the most part (much as in humans), you aren’t going to train them to change completely.   If the cat you adopt is particularly independent, it is possible that over time she will become more affectionate.  But she will probably never be a Tyson.  And if he doesn’t like to be picked up (or placed in your lap), he may learn to tolerate if for your sake but probably won’t ever like it.   The cat may spray or scratch furniture … such habits can be broken but it takes time and may not ever be completely cured.  Adopting a cat and expecting train it to fit your expectations is like marrying someone that’s a poor match with a plan to mold her to into your dream girl.    One of the best things about adopting a cat from a rescue like BFAS is that by the time a newly arrived cat is ready for adoption, the caretakers have a pretty good idea of what the cat’s personality is like.   Listen to what they say when you inquire about a particular cat.  Spend some time with the cat.  Most shelters say you can return a cat but that doesn’t make it the right thing to do.

Read about having a cat, the positives and the negatives.  This article, Should I Get a Cat? from the Central California SPCA is a good place to start.  Adopt from a shelter whose emphasis is cat placement and listen to what they say about the cat you are considering.   If you decide to adopt, make a freaking commitment.  This isn’t a T-shirt you picked off the rack at TJ Maxx, it is an animal that needs love and care. 

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4 Comments on “Cats, People”

  1. Mike C Says:

    Your comments are so true. I learned the hard way. I became a foster parent to my daughters cat when she moved out.
    Chiquito and I did not see anywhere near eye to eye. After all, I’m a dog person so why should we. I put up with him marking the one time new curtains which became his favorite spray spot. I had them dry cleaned once and finally took them down and tossed them out. I tried to detach, got angry, threatening out loud to my wife to abandon him somewhere. Today we’re friends not BFs. He likes me cause I wake up in the morning to feed him and again in the evening. I also clean out his litter box. I occasionally brush him cause he likes it.
    I will always prefer dogs, however I now can appreciate what it’s like to live with a cat.
    Your post should be required reading for any potentially new cat person.

  2. Wish this post was printed up and put on flyers / posters late rescue shelters as it is so true.
    Animals are not accessories to be trotted to for appearances and ignored or returned when they act like the live individual’s that they are.
    We’ve had dogs and cats – throw-aways – some had been through multiple “homes”…each time the creature – like any live thing including humans – would be confused and traumatized if discarded again and returned to that loud, crowded, not home place. Some take longer than others, but they slowly come to feel safe – and ownership of their human.
    But that does not mean they will be the poster animal you dreamed about. They will always be themselves.
    We once had a rescue cat that would still up to you if she wanted a pet, but DO NOT TRY TO HOLD OR CARRY ME! We could never pick her up. She was very sweet otherwise. I knew she was very ill when she appeared, crawled into my lap, wrapped her arms around my neck and pressed her head against my face… very old, she at last relented and awarded her rare acceptance
    Rescued animals are eternally grateful – and loyal – in their own way.

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