Free cats? If done carefully, it might work

Henry at the vets
Henry

Anyone who has put cats or kittens up for adoption has been warned to NEVER give cats away for free.

But the Winn Feline Foundation funded a study to see what would be the outcome if shelters and rescue organizations–not individuals–tried offering cats for adoption at no charge while still following their usual adoption procedures, and the results were quite different from what was expected.

Why would they plan this study, even though the logic would say that a person who can’t afford to adopt a cat probably can’t afford to keep a cat considering food and veterinary care? Because there are so many cats in shelters who would otherwise be euthanized for overcrowding in open-door shelters, and no-kill shelters have a finite number of cages and other resources and they end up turning away cats, but a person who can’t afford the adoption fee can still provide a loving home for that cat, and save a life, directly or indirectly.

As background on the “free cat” issue, it’s not just guesswork, but follow-ups have shown that these adopters are not always interested in the cat as a pet.  Often the adopter just wants a “mouser”, for instance, and the cat gets no care and no real home. Other times the cats are not even intended to be adopted as pets, but are used for horrible purposes like hunting bait, or, as might be suspected, taken to a lab to be used for experimentation.

But if a shelter or adoption agency would go through its full adoption procedure–interview, application, background checks, follow-up visit–with the exception of collecting money, then they’ve done what they would do for any cat to help find it a good home.

Consider a senior person or couple on a limited income. Stories abound telling of the benefits of pet ownership in general, and especially for older persons who are often isolated, or for seniors who lived with companion animals all their lives and feel they shouldn’t adopt because of their age or limitations. A cat is a perfect companion for someone who can’t walk a dog or who has downscaled to a smaller apartment or assisted living arrangement. They can afford the day-to-day upkeep and would be an excellent, responsible home, but the adoption fee is a little too much to cover.

Often the shelter itself can offer an adopter low-cost veterinary care which that person had no idea was available and so it would turn out that the adopter can afford minimum care, or the shelter can point to assistance programs. Either way, a little bit of education can often help with the problem of affordability. And since the economic downturn, many shelters offer a “food pantry” for animals–check your local shelter for terms and to make a donation if possible.

In any case, done with the same care afforded any adoption, a cat, usually an adult, has a home, and that’s much preferable to the alternative.

The study including 173 adopters from a Maine shelter “examined the attachment of adopters to their cats in relation to payment or fee waiver for adoption.” The study showed there was “no statistical difference” between the two groups in the attachment to the adopted cat.

Go to the Winn Feline Foundation blog to read the abstract of the article, and while you’re there, explore the Winn Feline Foundation for information on feline health and wellness and the studies they fund.


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Bernadette

From health and welfare to rescue and adoption stories, advocacy and art, The Creative Cat offers both visual and verbal education and entertainment about cats for people who love cats. From catchy and creative headlines to factual articles and fictional stories, The Creative Cat provides constant entertainment and important information to people who love cats, pets and animals of all species.

6 thoughts on “Free cats? If done carefully, it might work

  • December 26, 2010 at 1:10 am
    Permalink

    Our small cat welfare/rescue group had a brilliant idea to find more homes for adult cats. It didn’t work, but is brilliant nevertheless. We went to a very nice assisted living home that allows a pet and put out flyers saying that if the resident adopted a cat, we would always transport the cat to any veterinary appointments and would take the cat back if the resident became unable to care for it.

    I think the staff undid our effort because they didn’t really want any more pets in residents’ rooms than they had to tolerate.

    Reply
    • December 26, 2010 at 11:37 am
      Permalink

      That is a great marketing idea–find the audience most likely to be interested and give them an offer! My mother was in personal care for years and is now in a nursing home, and I can see the situation turning out the same here. Still, I think if we can find an audience that is most likely to take good care of a kitty and offer them another one, we’d save a lot of lives, and that’s the point of it all.

      Reply
  • December 18, 2009 at 4:39 pm
    Permalink

    Janet, I can tell the adoption was successful! I’ve had mixed responses to this idea, but I’m glad to hear of a shelter where it’s been in use, and a first-person account. I can’t imagine being one of the shelter workers who has to euthanize a perfectly healthy adult cat and I imagine shelter workers would come to hate kittens because of the adult lives lost to make space for them. If this would work in larger shelters who have the staff to do the background and follow-up, think of how many cats would be saved.

    Reply
  • December 18, 2009 at 2:35 pm
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    The shelter here in Milwaukee allows free adoption of all cats over 1 year of age. My husband and I were fortunate to find our current furball there. We purposely were looking for a young adult cat for several reasons, one being financial. We had to go through a screening process – though not as lengthy as some since I had adopted my dog there and they have a record of me. I think this program helps find homes for animals that might otherwise have been over looked in favor of a “cute” kitten.

    Reply
  • December 12, 2009 at 6:54 pm
    Permalink

    You’re exactly right–SHELTERS, never individuals, are what I had mentioned and what the study focused on, and that’s why they started calling it “fee-waived” instead of “free”. And it’s funny how people don’t learn and don’t read: my local papers and publications all give a warning in the publication and in the submission paperwork for placing the ad about the dangers of offering kittens or cats for free, but some people just ignore it, and I’ve even had some people tell me it’s “wrong” because they “got the cat for free” or they “want to make sure they find it a home”. Education is the key to a lot of this stuff, but that’s a long and winding road in trying to reach the people who need it. Thanks for reading!

    Reply
  • December 12, 2009 at 6:33 pm
    Permalink

    Two things: 1) The key word here is shelter. SHELTERS have careful screening processes. Unfortunately, many individuals who merely place an ad in the newspaper for free cats or dogs do not. 2) With all due respect, it is foolish to say that everyone knows the danger of giving away kittens for free. I routinely contact individuals and organizations regarding “free to a good home” ads, and many, many people tell me that they have never heard of these dangers. Again, shelters are aware of these dangers, but newspapers and individuals often are not.

    Reply

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