Where Can You Adopt a Cat? Differences Among Rescues, Shelters and Sanctuaries (2024)

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Where Can You Adopt a Cat? Differences Among Rescues, Shelters and Sanctuaries (1)


Finding a Cat

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If you’ve been asking, “Where can I adopt a cat?” and the universe’s “Kitten Distribution System” hasn’t placed a cat in your path, don’t worry. In this article, we cover where you can find a cat, how animal shelters, cat rescues, sanctuaries, and responsible breeders differ from each other, and how to avoid disreputable sellers and kitty mills.

Where Can You Adopt a Cat?

Cat lovers know that cats will often mysteriously appear in our yards, homes, or places of work. This occurrence is humorously explained in the popular memes like “This Is Not My Cat” and “Kitten Distribution System.”

All kidding aside, if you’ve been contemplating adding a cat to your home, you can adopt one, or two (or more) of the many homeless cats and kittens at your local shelter or cat rescue. Adopting a pet is a lifetime commitment, so there is much to consider before you adopt. Think about what kind of cat you want – purebred or alley cat – and what age of cat suits your home and family – a rambunctious kitten, a calm adult, or a laid-back senior cat.

Cats of all kinds are available for adoption at rescue groups as well as no-kill shelters, last-resort shelters, and animal control adoption facilities. The cat adoption process and fees will vary considerably among these organizations, but you can usually assume the fees will be slightly higher at rescues than shelters. Most shelters and rescues will not adopt out cats that haven’t been spayed or neutered.

Rescues and shelters provide temporary homes for cats that find themselves homeless due to a number of reasons, such as:

  • Owner surrender due to the owner’s health or housing problems
  • Surrendered because of the cat’s health or behavioral issues
  • Found on the street without a microchip by a good Samaritan
  • Born to a feral mom in a managed cat colony
  • Saved from a “last-resort” shelter when their time is up
  • Rescued from a kitty mill
  • Found as an unclaimed stray after a natural disaster

Your adoption fee covers the cat’s medical treatments, including the spay/neuter surgery, cat vaccinations, flea treatments, and other costs. It also ensures the cats will be placed in homes committed to the pet’s welfare. Most shelters, rescues, and other organizations require the potential adopter to be at least 18 years old.

Do a little research before you adopt to make sure you’re adopting your cat from a reputable organization that has the cat’s best interest at heart.

What is a Cat Rescue?

Cat rescues are usually run and supported by volunteers and are often operated out of private homes. Most are species-specific, as dogs and cats have different shelter needs.

Rescues work with foster pet parents so cats and kittens can be cared for in a home environment until adoption. Many semi-feral cats, and kittens born to feral queens, will be given to a foster family for socialization and be taught how to live life as a pampered cat. You may be able to visit with the rescue’s adoptable cats at local pet food stores or cat cafés.

Rescues usually invest time to make sure potential adopters are suitable for their pets and will often have strict requirements. As an adopter, you may have to provide personal references, vet references, and if you rent, a letter from your landlord granting permission for you to have cats. Some rescues may request that you serve as your cat’s foster family before you officially adopt or may want to visit your home to see if it is safe for cats.

For adopters who are interested in a certain breed of cat, but don’t want to purchase from a breeder, explore breed rescues in your area or search your local shelters. The cats at breed-specific rescues will most likely be adults, not kittens. These organizations have a vested interest in seeing the cat placed with her best forever home. Adopting from a breed rescue is an ethical alternative to purchasing a pet shop purebred, which may come from a cat mill and have multiple health issues.

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What is a Cat Shelter?

A cat shelter is a public or private facility where cats that have been surrendered or picked up as strays are available for adoption. These organizations usually house both dogs and cats. There are 3 types of shelters.

Traditional Open-Door or Last-Resort Shelters

These are private or public shelters that may have a mandate to take all animals regardless of capacity or their ability to treat, so pets may have a limited time for adoption before they are euthanized. Because they are open-door facilities, they may have a wider selection of shelter cats available for adoption, and often, their fees are lower than other facilities.

Potential adopters will have to complete an application, and adoption fees may differ depending on the age, size, and breed of the cat. Fees may be lower or waived for senior cats going to senior homes, and for other situations.

Pounds or Animal Control Facilities

A cat pound or animal control organization is a government agency or a private shelter that contracts with governments to collect and/or house strays. Their primary responsibility is keeping streets clear of homeless animals.

They’ll keep strays that aren’t chipped for a certain amount of time to see if they will be claimed by an owner. If they are not claimed, they’ll put them up for adoption, but because there are always more strays than available space, cats that are not adopted within a certain timeframe may be euthanized.

No-Kill Cat Shelters

No-kill shelters save healthy and treatable pets and must have a save rate of 90% or better to be identified as no-kill. Unfortunately, there may be cases where euthanasia is necessary. If the pet is terminally ill, in extreme pain with an untreatable condition, or is a danger to the public, euthanasia is the only option. But with no-kill shelters that will be 10% or less of the animals they accept.

Pets that are brought to the shelter are available until they are adopted. Because they are not an “open-door” shelter, no-kill shelters are usually selective about the pets they accept.

The process of adopting from a no-kill shelter will include ensuring you can have a cat where you live and that you’ll be a good pet parent. Your cat will probably be spayed or neutered before you adopt. The adoption fees cover operating expenses plus your pet’s medical costs.

So, what is a shelter cat? Any cat that is available for adoption at a traditional, no-kill or animal control shelter. A simple online search of “cat shelter near me” will bring up facilities in your area.

If you’re considering a cat adoption from a shelter or rescue, make sure it’s a reputable one.

Adopting from a reputable shelter or rescue saves two lives: the cat you’re adopting, and the cat or kitten that can now be placed up for adoption in the space vacated by your new cat.

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What is a Cat Sanctuary?

A cat sanctuary is a permanent home for animals that are not available for adoption due to health conditions, behavioral issues, or histories involving abuse or exploitation that make adoption difficult. Sanctuaries are not open to the public.

The cats at a sanctuary are saved from euthanasia and given appropriate care for the rest of their lives. Animals other than pets, such as horses, wild fowl, and farm animals may also live at the sanctuary.

What is a Cat Breeder?

Cat breeders raise litters from purebred cats registered at The International Cat Association (TICA) or Cat Fanciers Association (CFA). If you want a guaranteed purebred cat, be sure to buy from a responsible breeder who is registered and dedicated to animal welfare with a high standard of care.

These organizations have codes of ethics that members must abide by, such as ensuring the health of any kitten for sale and that any purchased kitten will be spayed or neutered. If you’re wondering how to check if a cat breeder is registered, visit the TICA or CFA websites for cat breeders license lookup pages.

A registered breeder should be able to discuss their cats’ lineages and pedigrees and the breed’s characteristics in general. If the breeder is more interested in your money than what kind of home you are going to provide, move on to another cattery. Good breed stewards will want to know about your previous cats, their ages, your veterinarian, your work schedule, where your cat will live, and how your cat will be trained and socialized.

A good breeder should also be able to explain what they have done to help with the kittens’ early socialization. They should also be able to demonstrate that the medical health and behavioral health of their kittens are in good shape. If a breeder is showing signs of aggression and/or fear with their kittens, that is not a good sign.

Ask to meet the cat parents of the kittens. The tom may not be available, but the queen should still be with the litter and available to meet the prospective owner of her kittens.

You may be required to sign a contract that stipulates you must verify your cat has been neutered or spayed before the breeder will provide the breed registration papers.

Avoid cats that are bred in cat mills. While responsible, registered breeders will breed cats with carefully selected mates to produce healthy kittens that meet breed standards, cat mills exploit cats to produce continuous litters with little veterinary care or oversight.

These large-scale commercial breeding operations place profit over animal welfare. These kittens will likely have health and behavioral issues as the people who run the kitten mill are not interested in the welfare of their cats. Queens often live in dirty cages, producing litter after litter. Kitty mill cats are sold at irresponsible pet shops, flea markets, roadside stands, and online shops, so caveat emptor – buyer beware.

Find Your Perfect Cat

To find your perfect cat, search “cat adoption near me” or browse Petfinder, where you can access our network of more than 11,500 shelters and rescues with thousands of cats and kittens looking for a good forever home. You can refine your search by breed, color, age, size, gender, location, and other criteria to find the kitty of your dreams.

To make your search ever easier, complete a short profile – it only takes a minute – and get matched with compatible pets. Browse your customized list of available cats to find your match and you’re on your way to finding the perfect cat for you.

Learn more about adopting cats with Petfinder.

Where Can You Adopt a Cat? Differences Among Rescues, Shelters and Sanctuaries (2024)


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