A grand total of 3 of my cats came from cat rescue groups.
I’ve been actively involved with a couple of them, and for many years I did a column that focused on various organizations and individuals who were trying to “make a difference” in cats’ lives.
While I wouldn’t call myself an expert, I have spent a number of years in the trenches. And here’s what I’ve learned.
1. Use Your Own Eyes, Ears and Gut
Hearsay isn’t admissible in a court of law, and it shouldn’t be admissible anywhere else. Everybody in the cat rescue field gets badmouthed at one time or another; they’re easy targets.
During my column-writing days, a woman from a small rescue group told me that a larger rescue group was being closely scrutinized about its finances; years later, I saw a very negative review of how that same woman was running her rescue.
Was any of it true? Some of it, yes, but I can’t swear to the rest. The point is, do your own research and don’t rely on secondhand stories.
2. A Rescue Cannot Stand Alone
“Everything needs to be vetted,” insists Judy Levy, founder and director of Animal Friends of Connecticut (AFOC). Over the years, she has seen a lot of mishaps — including a woman leaving day-old kittens in a box out in the rain (the kittens survived, thankfully). “When somebody says they know what they’re doing, they don’t,” Levy adds, with characteristic bluntness.
In other words, you want a rescue that has a healthy network. It should have a good working relationship with 1 or 2 veterinary clinics, a veterinary specialist (strays show up with all sorts of unexpected injuries) and an emergency vet clinic.
There are other things to look for as well. “An accepting and supportive foster program” is key, as cat rescuer and vet tech Susan Graham points out. Even if the group has a shelter — and many groups don’t, at least not early on — there is never enough room.
Find out, too, whether the cats are “fostered in home settings or in cages,” Kim Kaplan advises. Kaplan has fostered cats for Northeast Abyssinian and Somali Rescue (NEAR). It will “make a difference in how well socialized the cat is likely to be.”
Depending on where you live, you should also check to see if the group has a barn cat program. This also shows that the group is committed to finding viable options for adult ferals who may not be adoptable.
3. Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness, and Then Some
I have walked out of shelters that stunk. And, FYI, it’s never the cats’ fault. Any animal’s lodgings are going to reek if they’re not properly cleaned, and any cat rescue group worth their vinegar and paper towels knows how vital that is.
Let me put it to you this way: Tried-and-true rescue folks trade info about cleaning products the way their grandmothers traded recipes. They know that clean bedding and dishes and scrubbed litter boxes mean the difference between healthy adoptees and not-so-healthy adoptees.
4. Adoption Questions Are Key
Some applicants probably feel that the adoption processes laid out by some rescue groups are akin to interrogations. There’s a reason for that. Having seen the worst that their fellow human beings can do, the groups usually place themselves on the side of the cats.
Certain questions are going to come up on the questionnaire/during the interview:
- Do you plan to keep the cat indoors?
- What are your feelings about declawing?
- Have you ever had a cat declawed? If so, why?
- Have you ever relinquished a cat? If so, why?
You will also be asked for personal and vet references. (Hint: If they call the clinic, and the tech answering the phone says “Who?,” it’s not good.)
These are really important things, and I wouldn’t want to deal with any cat rescue group that didn’t look into them.
But you get to check the group out too. You want to see if it, in Kaplan’s words, “offers any hand-holding as you go through the adoption process. You have to figure there is a reason why the cat ended up in the rescue, even if it was that the owner died, which equals stress of some kind. Is the rescue willing to help, or are you on your own once you take the cat home?”
Check out this informative video about fostering rescue cats:
5. Microchipping Is a Must
Responsible rescue groups microchip their cats. In fact, they do one better: They make sure that they’re the contact on the microchip so if the cat ends up in a kill shelter, they’re the ones who get contacted. “In effect, you become part of the chain of custody,” explains Kristen Wookey, one of NEAR’s co-directors. “It saves lives for more than if the cat just escapes.”
Sometimes adoptions don’t work out. That’s why groups like AFOC and NEAR state very plainly on the forms that cats are to be returned to them.
Beware of any group that doesn’t have that clause. This is one time when a take-back is not just a good thing — it could be a life-saver.