Part of Ireland's TNR Manual
How to Help Community Cats
Adapted for Ireland from Alley Cat Allies.
Ask questions before you meet
Once you start hearing from people, be prepared to screen potential adopters over the phone. Ask them questions to understand why they are interested in the cat, what kind of prior experience they have had with companion animals and what sort of environment the cat will be in. Screen calls carefully. Some people look for kittens for their fur, or for dog fighting, etc. There are also a surprising number of people who dump their animal companion when they go on holiday and get another one when they come back. Ask a few careful questions to check the wee things will have a decent home and not a violent end.
Ask potential adopters to fill out an application
Animal Advocacy follows certain guidelines for potential adopters, and you will want to decide on the things that are important to you. When a potential adopter contacts you, you may want to give him or her adoption guidelines, so that they will be aware of everything that being a cat owner entails. Animal Advocacy's guidelines are included on the back of our Adoption Form (see below) and we often give our potential adopters a blank copy to read prior to agreeing adoption. The guidelines will also be a way for you to screen adopters that may not be good candidates. Alley Cat Allies has an example application form - note that we've found such a form a deterrant to adoption in Ireland and don't use one. We do, however, ask all the questions on the form over the phone or in person. It's useful to take notes on the form (or similar) yourself for reference in the future, and for your records.
Some areas you should consider covering, both in the application, in the guidelines and on the phone include:
- Spay and Neuter – If the cat is not already, ensure spay or neuter will be fulfilled post-adoption. You may want to consider getting the surgery done yourself before adoption.
- Don’t Declaw – Removing a cat’s claws is inhumane and painful. Make sure adopters agree to not declaw.
- Home environment and other residents – Confirm that the cat will be considered a member of the family who will share the house with everyone else, and not be confined or restricted to the outdoors.
- Ask about children in the house. Young kittens are fragile and also playful, and so homes with children under six years of age may not be the best home for young kittens. Young children can severely injure a young kitten accidentally. Some cats are skittish around young children as well. A lovely suggestion by one of our adopters was to have a room designated the cats' room (in their case a utility) that the children aren't allowed in - that way the cats can get a bit of peace from overexuberant kids.
- Ask the adopter if they have other cats or dogs, and if so, if they get along with other animals. Having animal companionship is sometimes important, especially for younger cats. Your cat may not like other animals; be certain of this so you can advertise this fact. If you have more than one feline, try and rehome them in pairs if the new home doesn't already have animals - they do love company from an early age.
- Previous companions - Have they had dogs or cats or other domestic animals in the past? If so, did they get them from a rescue or from a breeder? Did the companions stay with them for their natural lives or were they rehomed or euthanased for some reason? How people treated their companions in the past is a good indicator of how they'll treat them in the future.
- Housing – Make certain that cats are allowed in rental properties. Ask the adopter to provide documentation and their landlord's contact information so you can call and confirm that cats are permitted.
- Medical care – Talk to the adopter about potential veterinary care and make sure they have a veterinarian in mind. If they have had a companion animal before, ask for a veterinary reference. Ask the potential adopter what happened to their previous animals and if they have ever surrendered an animal to a shelter. These answers can tell you a lot about the person’s understanding of how to be a good cat guardian.
- Adoption fee – Charging a fee for the cat’s adoption can help you avoid dishonest people. A 'free to good home' policy can attract people who will pass the cat on to research facilities or another horrible end. Some people will object to the adoption fee - and it's a good way of filtering out people who are unlikely to want to spend money on their companion. Make it clear that you're not charging a fee to make a profit, but that it will cover your costs for neutering and vaccinations. Be willing to allow people to pay in installments if it will make it easier for them. At the end of the day, if your potential adopter isn't willing to pay an adoption fee, they're unlikely to be willing to pay vets fees and you've found a good reason to reject them.
- Trial period – You may feel more comfortable having a trial period so that the potential adopter can spend some real time getting to know the cat and you can visit to see how she is doing. During this time, either side can cancel the arrangement. A trial period is essential if they already have other companion animals - and the time period needs to be long enough to give everyone ample time to get used to each other.
- Post-adoption – Ensure that the potential adopter will agree to follow-up calls or visits to the cat. Also consider requiring the adopter to return the cat to you (and not a shelter) in the event the cat must be given up.
In order to ensure all these requirements are met, make sure you put together an adoption contract that you and the adopter will sign once you have approved them. See below for more info.
Require a meet and greet
Once you are ready to move on to the next step with a potential adopter, set up a time to meet in person. Because cats are often uncomfortable when out of their normal surroundings, it is best to have the person come to you. If you live alone, make sure you have another friend there for your safety. For further knowledge about the potential adopter and his/her home life, we'd advise a home visit.The most important thing during the meeting is to closely observe how the person interacts with the cat, and vice versa. Ask them as many questions as you can. Ultimately, your instincts should steer your decision-making process. Don’t be afraid to recognise any doubts you are having and either address them with the person or cut the meeting short. But also be aware of the fact that not everyone will interact with the cat the way you would; that is normal - no adoptive home will replicate everything you do exactly. Remember, it is up to you to find the cat the best home possible.
Before adopting your rescue cat out, you'll need to arrange a home visit to the home of the adopter. Make sure not to intimidate your adopter with this policy - it's no reflection on them and is standard practice in most reputable rescue centres. The home visit allows you to double check details the potential adopter gave you - and gives you an opportunity to make cat safety suggestions relevant to the new home. We've found it helpful to give potential adopters the link to our Why Home Check? article prior to the home visit.
Finalise the adoption
If you are trying to find homes for more than one cat or kitten, encourage suitable adopters to take two, rather than one, kittens. Cats, despite their reputation, are social creatures and love company. Two kittens will keep each other company when their human companions are away. It also means kittens will be rehomed quicker.
When you have found a suitable home, sign a contract with the adopter and collect the adoption fee. See Animal Advocacy's Adoption Agreement form for an example. Make copies for you and the adopter. Set up a time to transfer the cat, and make sure you provide the new guardian with any of the cat’s medical records, as well as her toys and special food or treats. Be prepared to follow up and stay in touch.
Give adopters a copy of Caring For Your Cat/Kitten or similar (see Related Links below). The more information you give adoptees, the more likely they will look after the felines and not attempt to return them to you. We'd like to see the furrballs well cared for!
And then let them bond. You will certainly miss the cat, but you should also be proud of a job well done. It took a lot of energy for you to find her a home, and you did it!
Finding adoptive homes takes time and creative effort, but it is not impossible. Thousands of grassroots groups and rescuers find homes for animals every day by following the steps above, being persistent and diligent, and remaining positive.