By now you are familiar with Pizootz’s transition from a life on the streets to harness and leash trainer extraordinaire. That, however, was just the beginning for Pizootz. Because I already have 5 rescued dogs – well, 4 dogs and one wolf-mix – and one TNR (trap, neuter, return) outdoor cat who adopted me 10 years ago, and because the 4 dogs are cat-aggressive, I knew that I would not be able to provide Pizootz a.k.a. Jaydi, with a forever home.
So, here is my primer on what to do when you rescue a cat and need to find him a forever home.
Is there an owner out there looking for the lost four-legged baby?
This step obviously didn’t apply to Pizootz because Ron willingly gave him up to me to place in a forever home but for an animal you do find on the street, take the following measures to ascertain if anyone is looking for their lost four-legged baby:
- Check for a chip: In almost 25 years of rescuing dozens of dogs and cats, only one of the dog’s I’ve rescued has had a chip and not a single one of the cats has had a chip. However, check anyway.
- Other things to check: Look in the area where you found the cat for ‘Lost’ posters, check the local animal shelter to see if anyone registered a lost cat matching the cat you found and check the local paper ads to see if anyone if looking for the lost cat.
- Most street animals won’t be reunited with a prior owner. Generally, you will be able to tell if an animal has been on the streets for a while and is either permanently lost or has been abandoned/dumped. Almost all the animals I’ve rescued over the years have been living on the street, left behind in abandoned yards and houses or dumped for someone else to pick up. On five occasions I intervened in a dog abuse situation and rescued the pup directly from the abusive owner. One of those five, Nya, is still with me 16 years later and happy as can be. I placed the other pups in wonderful, loving forever homes.
Safe, calm environment
Immediately upon rescuing the cat (or dog), put him into a quiet room in your house, away from all other animals so that he can deal with the shock of change from either life on the street or being suddenly separated from his prior family and home. Provide plenty of clean water and good, age appropriate food. If the prior owner has given the cat up to you find out what kind of food he was eating and continue that to avoid potential stomach upset from new food. If you want to switch to a different kind of food do so gradually by combining some of the old food with the new until you transition completely to the new food.
Also provide a kitty litter away from the food and water and a blanket for the cat to cuddle up in. Even if the cat has been, until now, a street cat, he will very quickly learn to use the litter. All you have to do is put him into the litter a couple of times and he’ll figure out that this is where he is to go to the bathroom. Cats are MUCH easier to house train than dogs. Pizootz learned to use his kitty litter the same day I brought him home – easy peasy!
Let the cat decompress, sleep, drink and eat for a day or so, and visit with him on a regular basis to give him as much attention as he wants. Once he’s settled in and appears to be getting more comfortable, make arrangements to take care of any health issues he may have.
All but three of the animals I’ve rescued were intact. In other words, they had not been neutered or spayed. So, the first thing to do is to take the cat either to your established vet or to your local animal shelter or animal welfare organization if that shelter or organizations offers low-cost spay/neuter services for the community. While the cat is getting the surgery, you should also have the vet administer a full set of vaccines, check for common ailments like UTIs and parasites, including intestinal worms and insert an ID chip. Read here for the benefits of spay/neuter and here for everything you need to know about ID chips.
I took Pizootz to the Broward County Humane Society where our very own Dr. Hirschfeld does spay/neuter surgeries, and got the neuter, vaccines and ID chip done for a grand total of $45. When I rescued a large female Golden Retriever from the street in December, I got her spayed with all her vaccines, ID chip and rabies shot for a grand total of $80! So, do a bit of research and you should be able to find an affordable way to get all the essentials done.
Keep in mind that when you get ready to find a forever home for the cat, you will find it much easier to place him if he has a clean bill of health and the new parent will be most grateful to receive a healthy and already neutered fur baby. In addition, you will ensure that no one will express an interest in the cat for breeding purposes. This tends to be a big problem when trying to adopt out pure breed dogs but it can be an issue with any animal.
In order to find the right forever home placement, you will need to figure out what the rescued kitty likes and dislikes. Potential adopters, especially those with other pets and with children, will want to know more about the rescue cat’s character to determine if he will be a good fit in the household. In other words:
- Does he like other cats?
- Does he like dogs or is he afraid of them?
- How is he with adults and children?
- Is he generally friendly and playful or is he more of a loner who likes to be left alone?
- Does he like to explore and is he generally confident or does he prefer to hide under the bed?
Some of this will depend on the age and prior experience of your rescued cat but I’ve found that after spending a bit of time in a clearly safe and calm environment, the rescue’s true character begins to come out. With Pizootz it was immediately clear that he loves dogs, cats and everything in between. Even though my dogs wanted to tear Pizootz apart, Pizootz was not deterred and spent a lot of time next to the door separating him from my dogs. I did introduce him to my wolf, Nasha, and Pizootz was cautiously delighted with her. He loved everyone who came to visit and was clearly eager to explore his new surroundings. Of course, he was only 6 – 9 weeks old so the playfulness and curiosity were a natural part of his character.
Now that you’ve taken care of the health issues and gotten to know your rescued kitty a bit better, it’s time to get down to the business of putting together a profile of your rescued cat and get it out to potential adopters. Be sure to include the following information about the cat in any posting or email you send out to potential adopters:
- Where and how you rescued the cat: Everyone loves to know how a rescue happens to tell the story.
- Gender, age, weight and health status, including whether the cat’s been spayed/neutered or will be prior to adoption.
- Temperament: likes/doesn’t like other animals and/or people, is shy, rambunctious, playful etc.
- The fact that you did search for the original owner but were unsuccessful in finding anyone.
- Any adoption conditions: You may want the adopter to reimburse you for the vet bill for the spay/neuter and/or shots and/or chip.
- Timing: I’ve been in situations where I’ve rescued an animal just before going out of town so specify the date by which you need to place the rescue. In a pinch, you may have to accept offers to foster the rescue until you return. Sometimes those can turn into forever homes when the foster family falls in love with the rescue.
- Your current and correct contact information
- And last but MOST IMPORTANT: A cute pictures of the rescued baby. One great picture, along with a good story, will do more than anything else to get people interested.
Once you have your write up, post it to your email list and to social media and authorize re-posting. I would advise against posting on things like Craig’s List and certainly would advise against trying to sell any animal you rescue.
Placing a rescued animal in a forever home is like adopting a human child out. You will want to take just as much care placing the rescued animal in the right home as you would for any other child. You’ve made a tremendous effort to rescue an animal, have gotten him the veterinary care he needs, spent time getting to know him and helping him acclimate to a new environment and recover from the shock associated with the change in his situation and now you want to find the perfect forever home. So, here’s what you do when you start to receive inquiries from potential adopters:
- Call each candidate and, if you don’t already know them, ask for detailed information, including:
- How she received the information you sent out: In other words, who does she know that you know?
- Who lives in the house where the cat would be: Adults, children/ages
- Other current pets: How many, how old and what kind?
- Whether they own or rent: I tend to favor owners simply because it can be difficult to find rentals which accept pets and many animals who end up in shelters and on the street are there because their prior owners moved somewhere that didn’t accept pets.
- Employment: You want someone with stable employment who has the financial wherewithal to take care of the cat.
- Schedule: For dogs, I like to find someone who works at or close to home but with cats, this is not as important.
- Prior pet ownership experience
- Does the potential adopter have a regular vet and who is it?
- Once you settle on a viable candidate, meet the person and her family, including any existing pets and introduce them to your rescue cat. I’ve conducted these meetings at my home (for cat and dog rescues) or at a nearby park (for dog rescues).
- If that goes well, do a home visit. Yes, before you give your rescued kitty to someone, you need to see where he will be living. Keep in mind that cats can be tough to integrate into a household with existing cats so the initial interaction between the cats may not go smoothly. You will want to see how the humans in the family react and what they have in mind to protect your rescue and work on integration.
- Lastly, when you’ve decided on the forever home, specify that if for ANY reason things don’t go well, the rescued cat MUST be returned to you. You don’t want the adoptive family to take the cat to the shelter, dump the cat or otherwise dispose of him if things don’t work out. The first placement I made for Pizootz was with a lovely family but the existing cat absolutely would not accept Pizzotz, no matter how hard Pizootz tried to ingratiate himself with her. Funnily enough, when I first rescued Pizootz I knew exactly who he ‘belonged’ to and I called that friend from the car in the courthouse parking lot (remember I’d just served jury duty). Sarah came to visit Pizootz at my house that evening but unfortunately circumstances were such that she could not take Pizootz at that time. Because it was in Pizootz’s interest to be placed in his forever home ASAP, I moved on to other potential adopters. So after taking Pizootz back from the first home I’d placed him in, Sarah did adopt him. The post script to this story is that I had rescued a beautiful Dachshund 13 years earlier and knew that puppy ‘belonged’ with Sarah. Mirit, now 14 years old, and Pizootz are now best friends.
- Keep in close contact with the adoptive family over the next several weeks to make sure things are going well and let them know that you are there and will take the cat back in the event things don’t work out.
- A month after the placement, go visit the adoptive family and cat to make sure the cat is doing well.
- It is OK to have adopter sign a written agreement to reflect the fact that they have agreed to return the cat to you should things go sideways.
Here are Pizootz and Mirit sharing a meal shortly after Pizootz joined the household:
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