How to adopt a cat as a first timer (SF/Bay Area edition)
June 10, 2018 9:13 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend and I would like to adopt a cat, but... we don’t know how.

We want a kitty! Bf has never had a cat, I did as a child. I also fostered a kitten for a short time in college and lived with various cats through my college years.

There was a fostering/adoption org in my old neighborhood, which is how I fostered my first kitten. But I had a slightly bad experience there, namely because I knew my abilities (preferred adult or older cat to a kitten for energy reasons) and wanted a cat I felt good chemistry with. They were somewhat understandably more interested in just giving me whatever cat they couldn’t home, which ended up being a very random high-energy kitten than loved to scratch the hell out of me. I ended up not adopting that kitten.

Now we’re in the Bay Area and saw a bunch of kittens the other day in our neighborhood brought out by an adoption agency I couldn’t identify (we were heading somewhere). We’ve been thinking about a cat for awhile, but we’re both a bit shy and are worried about being pressured into a cat we can’t really handle. Any good agencies in SF/the Bay Area that are good with working with first time cat owners? Any tips for how to approach the first-kitty jitters?

We have some aesthetic preferences— Maine coons, ragdolls, and Bengals are cute— but I’m more worried about personality/chemistry as I would like a relatively likeable cat to begin with. I’m not really at “challenging shelter cat” skill level at this point.
posted by stoneandstar to Pets & Animals (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Go here. Have a cappuccino, mingle with the cats and find one you love.

Don't find one right away? Guess you'll need to keep going back :D
posted by Toddles at 9:28 PM on June 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

I had really good luck with the SF SPCA. They had personality matching for the older cats. But kittens are pretty challenging shelter cats, since they don’t have set personalities and more energy than they know what to do with.
posted by politikitty at 9:29 PM on June 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

There are lots of great shelters around here. I just visited four of them last weekend. If you are really looking for a kitten, you’ll need to do it in the next couple weeks. Kitten season goes through June, and will start again in September. But they’ll have lots of other cats if you want to slightly older one. I saw one cat that looked exactly like my beautiful Ragamuffin, too!

The good news is that all of the shelters I’ve been to have been really open and honest about any possible issues with cats. In fact I have found them overly cautious. For example, they warned me that my kitty was not sociable and would need extra training, but that wasnt true. They also said she had a breathing problem, that I have never once witnessed. I don’t blame them for being wrong. It must be very hard to tell what an animal’s personality or health will be like after just a few weeks, and in that stressful place with strangers coming through all the time. Anyway, my point is that they err on the side of being cautious, letting you know about any reason why the animal might not work in your home.

If you really need shelter recommendations, memail me. But I’ve been to at least 8 in the Bay Area and they’ve all been about the same, so I think you'll be fine.
posted by greermahoney at 9:36 PM on June 10, 2018

If you find yourself down in the South Bay, The Dancing Cat offers adoptable cats in a relaxing, no-pressure atmosphere. They're located in downtown San Jose.
posted by all the light we cannot see at 9:38 PM on June 10, 2018

I recently adopted a cat from the San Francisco SPCA. I visited several cats over a few weekends at their Pacific Heights and Mission facilities, which are pleasant and nicely maintained. I never felt any pressure to choose quickly or to adopt a particular cat, and the staff were pretty open about answering questions and identifying cats that had special needs or would otherwise be challenging. They care about making a good match between the cat and the adoptive family. I know they have some resources for first-time cat owners as well.
posted by 4rtemis at 9:40 PM on June 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Try to find a shelter with a trial period. Chances are that you won't have to use it, but it will ease your mind in case you end up with a mismatched cat and need to return it without feeling guilty.

I was in your position last year (see my Ask history). I took a chance on a cat that the shelter volunteer, who was clearly an experienced cat lady of many years, said would be a really nice, easy going experience for a first timer. And she was right! So... find an volunteer you trust, I suppose?
posted by redlines at 10:01 PM on June 10, 2018

I volunteered with a shelter for a while. You sound like the sort of person I would want a cat to go to. A good organization will introduce you to the right sort of cats if you tell them what you want. I'd say (having adopted several over the years) that you'd be best off with a two year old cat - the worst craziness of kittenhood is past but you still have some fun high energy years ahead. But really, get the cat you want and it should work out.
posted by wotsac at 10:11 PM on June 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

My wife and I are THE crazy cat people... we have 7 at the moment, all rescues, ages 4 -14 and one "special needs" cat. Anyway... my immediate thoughts, just about your aesthetic preferences - you're not likely to find a freebie Bengal. Maybe if there's something medically wrong, etc. Expensive cats. And consider that some of your Aesthetic preferences may come with extra duties - long or long-ish hair cats like Maine Coons, etc are a bit of work and if they're anything like my norwegian forest cat brushing is a must and mine HATES it. I'd say short hair is good as a "starter cat"
posted by blaneyphoto at 10:33 PM on June 10, 2018 [5 favorites]

Best answer: i got my very amazing and adorable kitty from cat town about 7 years ago! this was way before they had a cat cafe in oakland and they advertised their cats on craigslist. They were super amazing and I always recommend them!
posted by ruhroh at 10:52 PM on June 10, 2018

Best answer: I also vote for Cat Town! I volunteer there and can speak to the thoughtfulness of the adoption process; the priority is matching the right cat with the right people at the right time, not just adopting out cats as quickly as possible. Every effort is made to enable a lifelong bond, and the staff/volunteers know the resident cats really well. If the right cat for you isn’t there when you are, we won’t hesitate to say so!
posted by jesourie at 11:50 PM on June 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

If you choose a breed like a Bengal or a Maine Coon, please read about them so you know what you're getting into. I volunteer at a shelter and we had a put Bengal get bounced around for a year before he was permanently homed. That's on us, we should have been more diligent. But that's an exceptionally active animal with unique needs you've thrown out there.
posted by Bistyfrass at 6:00 AM on June 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

I got my first cat a few months ago from NIne Lives in Redwood City. It's very crowded--they clearly take in every cat that can possibly fit--but they definitely care about them. The fact that have so many was I could go a few times and have a decent sense of the personality.

I originally assumed I'd decide on looks and assumed I wanted a kitten because cuteness, but ended up with a 1.5 year old with a pro-human temperament, in line with what is suggested here.

One advice I saw on an old AskMe before I decided was to assume that the cat will be more shy in the stressful environment of a shelter. My guy is certainly way more active & assertive now he's settled in.
posted by mark k at 7:21 AM on June 11, 2018

Best answer: Anyway... my immediate thoughts, just about your aesthetic preferences - you're not likely to find a freebie Bengal.

One of the open secrets of many (though definitely not all) cat shelters is that a many (most?) of the cats that have a breed specified on the website are actually just mutts that look and act enough like some cat breed to make the customer happy. I haven't studied it, but given the breed histories, I'd imagine that Bengals and Ragdolls are quite rare, while lanky high energy spotted tabby cats, and mushy easy to handle medium or long hair cats are pretty easy to find.

You definitely don't want an actual Bengal cat (I'm a experienced crazy cat guy who could deal with a Bengal and that would be a challenge for me!), and probably not a real Maine Coon. But there are plenty of adorable spotted tabbies and medium hair cats that will totally fit your criteria, be fun and low maintenance.
posted by wotsac at 8:03 AM on June 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I was in a similar position as you a few years ago -- living in the Bay Area, really wanted to be a first-time cat owner, really loved the Maine Coon aesthetic, but also wanted to adopt. I found that shelters didn't have a lot of long-haired cats, but those that they did have tended to fit my desired aesthetic preferences (medium long-hair, which means something different in the purebred world than in the cat shelter world FYI; many shelters will label any slightly fuzzier than usual shorthair as a "medium hair" cat).

But, I also lucked into the perfect cat for me at the second shelter that I visited: long-haired tortoiseshell tabby, young adult out of the crazy kitten stage, shy but affectionate. I don't think any of the Bay Area shelters will pressure you into adopting, but do beware of pressure from smaller foster/rescue organizations that want to free up space. Most shelters are happy to let you walk around on your own or have a volunteer introduce you to cats and tell you about them. I wasn't willing to compromise on look (long-haired forest cat) or personality (fairly low-energy), but I was somewhat flexible on age and number of cats (would have considered an adult bonded pair). If you tell the staff your criteria up front, they'll let you know if any of their cats are suitable, and if not or if you don't click with the 1-2 options presented, it's totally fine to move on, maybe come back in a few weeks.

It sounds like you'd be open to adopting an adult cat, and I do think that will be easier than finding the right kitten when personality and looks are in play. +1 that Bengals of any age are not the right cat for you if you don't want high energy.
posted by serelliya at 8:17 AM on June 11, 2018

Best answer: The folks at Cat Town are amazing. It's a much less stressful environment for both cats and people to get to know each other. I adopted my most recent addition at the Oakland Animal Shelter, which is very noisy with barking dogs and (well-meaning, dedicated) harried staff. I just poked around the cages saying hello until I found a cat to spend time with in their adoption room. Listen, when a cat picks you, IT PICKS YOU. Don't worry too much about knowing what you want, beyond an age range and basic temperament. You sound like you're going to be a wonderful cat owner.
posted by missmary6 at 9:36 AM on June 11, 2018

Don't worry too much about aesthetics, just go look at some cats. Whatever cat you pick (or picks you), you will be telling him/her "who's the prettiest kitty? YOU'RE the prettiest kitty!" in no time flat.
posted by shiny blue object at 10:17 AM on June 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

I just got a cat (my first!) and my advice is also to just start looking at cats. I've lived with cats but none of them were very normal (very stand-off-ish, or actually unusually aggressive) and had a lot of anxiety about THE RIGHT CAT and everyone had advice for me (old cat! young cat! boy cat! girl cat!). I ended up with a not-quite-a-year-old male kitten, who's actually definitely part Maine Coon with his large size and giant floofy tail, and is a little more aggressive than I'm totally comfortable with but in a normal-for-his-age kind of way and is balanced out by his extreme love of cuddles.

So in a dorky way I'll just say that being open to a cat and looking at them and meeting them will eventually bring the right cat to you. I spent almost an entire year in the "gonna get a cat" mode, and went through all the anxiety and worries about it. And then ended up finding a friend of a friend who was looking for a new home for their cat and I was like "OKAY HE'S MINE" without even meeting him first (!). And he's great and perfect for me.

And I'm still totally anxious about all sorts of stuff and spend a lot of time reading about cat behavior and cat nutrition and there's tons of information online. And cat people love to talk about cats, so reach out to your cat friends.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 12:33 PM on June 11, 2018

Best answer: You definitely can find a great cat at an animal shelter. I also just wanted to mention one thing about Ragdolls--I've seen them pop up occasionally on Craigslist's pet section in SF from people who had to find new homes due to the owner's illness, etc. These were adult cats, offered without a rehoming fee (in one case, the cat also came with a lifetime of health insurance). There are a lot of shady people on CL, especially people who seem to be breeding kittens, but it's also true that some people there have legitimate needs to find new homes for beloved pets. Of course, there are ethical issues with adopting a purebred cat when so many others may have more trouble finding homes, and I will say that I've taken care of a lot of cats and Ragdolls don't universally have the personality that the breed is known for.
posted by pinochiette at 12:36 PM on June 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

this cat rescue with fees waived just popped up in my feed today. She's in Oakland and 8 years old and they describe her as sweet and calm...
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:32 PM on June 11, 2018

One more tidbit, a local rescue I just remembered - I reached out to Purebreds Plus during my search a few years ago, although I didn't end up adopting through them. They specialize in rehoming specific cat breeds and breed mixes that have the desired look or behavior of a breed. Two Maine Coon and a colorpoint Ragdoll on the site at the moment, and they do great write-ups of every cat's personality.
posted by serelliya at 11:08 AM on June 13, 2018

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