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Evaluating a Shelter before Adopting a Cat

Source: PetWave, Updated on July 16, 2015

Things to Consider

Most shelters have their animal’s best interests at heart. Still, carefully evaluating a facility before adopting a cat can greatly improve the chances of taking home a happy, healthy new friend. Not all shelters are created equally. Some shelters can’t or don’t stay on top of medical and sanitary conditions. Here are some things to consider.

Foster Care

The adoption services offered by shelters vary widely. Some shelters allow potential owners to take the cat home for a few days to see if the fit is right; others only allow private visits at the shelter. Some facilities don’t offer either of those options and expect adopters to take a cat home without first spending any quality time with it. That is not a desirable way to select a family companion. Most shelters offer spay or neuter coupons if the cat is too young to be altered by the time of adoption. Some ask that the animal be brought back to their facility to be spayed or neutered at an appropriate age. Some shelters only allow adoption after the animal has been microchipped, while others leave this option up to the new owners.


A good shelter should be clean and tidy. Adoptable animals should be uniformly healthy. The shelter should provide potential owners with all the information they can concerning the cat’s known history, health and vaccination status. You should be permitted to walk through the facility with guidance and determine whether your next best friend is there. A red flag should go up if shelter personnel won’t let you walk through their premises and observe the healthy animals in their day-to-day living environment. Certainly, sick animals should be kept in a separate area that is inaccessible to visitors and isolated from the general population. It’s a good idea to change clothes and wash hands thoroughly after leaving an animal shelter.

If you are allowed to take a walk-through, consider the condition of the animals. Do they look healthy and in good weight, with shiny coats and moist noses, or are they skinny and dull? Are they alert and responsive or do they cower and tremble? Are the animals in well-spaced or overcrowded conditions? Are their litter boxes and kennels clean or dirty? Does the place smell fairly fresh, or does it have the overpowering odor of feces and urine? Are the water bowls full and fresh? Of course, no shelter is always able to maintain a spotless or odorless atmosphere, but the animals should all be well-fed, have free access to clean water and have adequate bedding.

Health of Other Animals

If you see cats (or dogs) with weepy eyes, runny noses, sneezes and coughs, tell the shelter manager and consider adopting from a different facility. Many upper respiratory tract infections are highly contagious between animals. If the animals act lethargic, depressed and unresponsive, go somewhere else. If shelter workers won’t answer your questions about the animal’s known background, temperament and health history, go somewhere else. Adoptable shelter animals should have some type of written medical history, such as vaccination status, veterinary examination results and approximate age. If the shelter doesn’t bother to vaccinate its cats, keep at least basic medical histories and provide spay and neuter information to prospective owners, find another shelter. Shelters that won’t let you return the cat if the adoption doesn’t work out should probably be avoided as well. Adoption facilities that are focused on placing animals in good homes will try to work with people to rehome the pet if the adoption is unsuccessful, for whatever reason.

Special Notes

It is hard to walk away from animals living in squalid conditions. However, it is better to adopt cats from well-run shelters that are truly concerned about and able to care for the health and welfare of their residents. Responsible shelters will only thrive with financial and political support from the people and communities that they serve, and their animals are as every bit as deserving of finding their forever homes as animals in poorly-funded or poorly-managed facilities. Hopefully, over time, less-than-optimal shelters will change their ways or shut their doors.

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