Here is our summary of what we have learned about finding new homes for cats.
Gathering the Resources
First, the cat should be altered. Finding a new home for a cat is only difficult because there are too many cats. The responsible thing is to alter the cat yourself before adopting it out. There are plenty of low cost options for this. Ideally the cat will be up to date on health care such as vaccinations. Cats adopted from shelters are altered and up to date on vaccinations.
Think about what type of home is apporpriate for this cat. Busy and interesting or quite? Does the cat want to live with other cats, alone, or does not care? What about dogs? What about kids? Does it want a lot of play? Does it want a sunny spot and a lap? Indoor only or indoor-outdoor?
You will need good photos. The best include a good face shot and photos that show what it will be like to live with the cat. Video is also very helpful.
Finally, you need to write up a blurb describing the cat. Focus mainly on it’s good qualties and what it will be like to live with the cat. I generally don’t describe the history, unless there is something interesting there. If the cat has difficult traits you have to decide when and how to mention them. They must be disclosed before adoption but if too up front and too direct it may discourage people who would provide good homes.
Nearly every cat has someone who will love it but for the more difficult cats it will take longer to find that person.
You have to get the word out that there is a cat available for adoption. In order of effectiveness we use Craig’s List, Petfinder.com, adoption events, and flyers.
Posting To Craig’s List
Post in the “Community” -> “Pets” section. There are a lot of postings for cats looking for homes but it is not too difficult to make yours stand out.
- Don’t delay too long perfecting the posting, you can always edit or change subsequent posts.
- The title should include a brief description and “for adoption”, such as “Snuggly male cat for adoption”.
- Good photos make a huge difference. Photos should include a good portrait with the cat looking at the camera and photos that show what it would be like to live with the cat.
- Video that shows the cat’s personality is good. These can be placed on youtube and a link inserted in the Craig’s List posting.
- Give your phone number and ask people to call. Some will write via e-mail. I always reply to them encouragingly but do not spend too much time with people who only send e-mail. They are usually not that serious.
- Over time postings get pushed down the list. In 1 week they are removed. Fortunately, you can “renew” active postings and “repost” inactive postings.
- I think it is good to renew twice a week, if possible. Saturday morning will catch weekend people. I have also had surprising good response to ads posted on Tuesday. Ultmately you don’t know when people will look and I have had calls from adds placed 5-6 days ago.
- Mention a re-homing fee.
There is some belief in the craig’s list community that free cats and kittens are “adopted” by people who feed them to snakes. I don’t know if this is true or not but the wisdom is to ask a “small rehoming fee” to discourage bad adopters. I think that a careful screening will eliminate people with bad intentions but asking a fee is a good idea. I have found that the adoption fee has never been an obstacle to a truly qualified adopter. You could probably ask any reasonable fee from $20 to $150 for the pair but around $35 may be a good choice. Craig’s List discourages larger fees so as to not support breeders – people making a living by breeding and selling cats. Rather than take the money your self you can specify that the re-homing fee will be donated to a cat shelter/rescue (such as Alley Cat Project).
Posting here is not available for private individuals – you must register with them as a shelter. I don’t think this is too hard, Alley Cat Project is registered, but may not be appropriate for adopting one or two cats. You might be able to find a shelter who is willing to post your cat for you.
The big ones are organized by shelters and individual can’t attend. A local pet store may do adoption events and allow you to join. In Seattle All the Best Pet Care has been great at providing venues for small cat rescues to show cats. If you shop there and know the clerks you can ask. Mud Bay has generally not been helpful but you can ask.
Store owners have generally been happy to post flyers for our cats for adoption. We have posted flyers for two cats and never had calls from the flyers. However, if you find the right place this may work.
Phone Screening Adopters
Next step is to phone screen adopters. The caller may not have much sense of how to proceed. I usually set up this discussion by telling the caller “At this point I find it is best for you to tell me about your household and what kind of cat you are looking for and for me to describe the personality of this cat. If we think it may be a good match then we can arrange a time for you to come visit.” You are setting up a co-operative effort to figure out if this is a good match for the adopter and the cat. If a caller does not respond well to this (most do) they are not a good match.
I then ask questions:
- What is your house hold like? What kind of building? Who lives there? Who will interact with the cat?
- Does everyone know you are adopting a cat?
- What other animals do you have? Have they been around cats? What are your expectations for their relationships? Some adopters are specifically looking for companions for their pets.
- If they have children, ask that the children come visit. You need to see how the children interact with the cats. Don’t take the adopter’s word.
- Try to figure out what type of personality they want. One question I ask is: “If you had half an hour to spend with your cat would you choose to play with it or would you like to snuggle with it?”
- Do you plan to declaw your cat? We won’t adopt to people who plan to declaw.
- Will it be indoor or indoor-outdoor? If latter then what type of outdoor: supervised or unsupervised? in at night or out at night? Will they have an indoor litter box? What is the neighborhood like? Is it safe for the cat?
I describe the cat’s personality. If it has particular traits I ask if they are OK with those.
- This cat is shy and will likely hide when strangers come. Is that OK with you?
- This cat may swat when frustrated or over stimulated. Do you think the people in the household can learn to read his behavior and can they tolerate an occasional swat?
- This cat snuggles at night but may run from you during the day, can you work patiently to build trust? And is it OK if she never lets you pick her up?
If the cat has some trait that means it would not do well in a shelter I look for more stable adopters. And I explain to them that taking on this cat is a big commitment because it may be difficult to find a new home for it.
I am looking for someone who is engaged, seems to have the ability to take care of more than just them selves, is looking for more than just an ornament, probably has the ability to care for the cat for the rest of it’s life, and is an appropriate match for this specific cat.
If you think that this may not be a good match you can educate the caller about why, what kind of cat may be a better match, and where to find them. I have had many phone calls end where I thought the caller was appreciative of the careful screening and the information I gave them.
In Home Visit
Make it clear that they are coming to visit the cat, not pick it up. I may say “I think it would be good for you to come visit. If you like the cat and we all still agree it is a good fit then you can adopt them and take them home.”
In the home you should watch how they interact with the cat. Is it appropriate for this cat? Are they who they represented themselves to be?
If there are kids, are the kids under control? There is a lot of variety here. Even parents who are trying hard and are engaged with their kids may have kids who are pretty wild with cats, swinging toys around, and oblivious to their effect on the cat. Some cats can tolerate this and some cannot. Small kittens are at greater risk with uncontrolled kids.
If you are not comfortable with the fit simply say “I don’t think this is a good fit.” Usually they will have come to the same conclusion.
You will likely encounter many OK-but-not-great fits. People who want only one cat of a pair. People who just have different ideas than you. A better adopter is out there, but it could take a while for them to come along. If you are able to continue to foster the cat you can wait. Otherwise you just have to balance this adoption option against the effort of continuing to foster. Is this home good enough?
Final thing to tell you about is the adoption process. When we do an adoption I do these things:
- Thank them for adopting. Tell them that you want the adoption to be successful and so want to help them with any questions or problems the have.
- Let them know that though your are sure they have the best intention to keep this cat, sometimes people’s lives change and they may find that they are no longer able to provide a home. In that case the adopter should contact you to return the cat or for help in finding it a new home. Emphasize this to the level of your ability to help.
- Go over the medical history documents. (Keep a copy for yourself just in case.)
- If there is any special care, write those details and go over it with them.
- Register or re-register the micro chip. I mostly insist that this be done as part of the adoption. Way too many people never get around to doing this. It can generally be done over the phone or on-line. Most agencies have a paper form you can send in. You can have the adopter fill out this form, provide a check, and mail that yourself. Occasionally the environment is not conducive to registration and I trust that particular adopter will actually register the microchip.
- Have them sign a contract.
- Take payment.
- Say goodbye to the cats (sigh).
There are a small number of people who return cats for various reasons. I don’t feel an adoption is final until a week passes and I’ve not been asked to accept the cats back. I will always do my best to take cats back.
Visiting the New Home
Some people who do adoptions insist they be able to visit the new home, either prior to the adoption or after adoption. We don’t do this as we feel that our screening is good enough and the visits would be too much of a barrier and too much work. I do follow up with e-mail or phone call to be sure things are working out and, mainly, because I want to know that my little buddy is happy.
Our contract, however, does specify that they let us follow up either in person or by phone and that we can redeem the cat if the contract conditions are not met. In practice Alley Cat Project has only redeemed cats twice. Once someone was visiting the adopter for some other reason, saw that conditions were significantly different than what was represented, and took the kitten back. In another case the kitten vomited, the adopters took the cat to a vet, then insisted that we take back the sick cat we had adopted to them, and that we pay for the vet bill. I did immediately go get the little guy but refused to pay the bill. Latter they wanted the cat back and there was no way I would return it to them. I refunded the adoption fee and that seemed to satisfy them.
The vast majority of the cats we adopted out have gone to good or great homes.