11 Expert Tips for Adopting a Cat

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If you've been thinking about adding a fuzzy little friend to your household, there's more to consider than whether to name it Pearl or Pickles, or Zoroaster or Apollinaris, like Mark Twain named two of his many cats. So if you're planning on celebrating June's Adopt a Cat Month quite literally, here are 11 tips straight from the pros. Mull them over, then head to your local shelter!

1. BE CHOOSY ABOUT THE SHELTER YOU ADOPT FROM.

A family pets a grey striped cat at an animal shelter.
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According to Gail Buchwald, vice president of the adoption center at the ASPCA in New York City, assessing shelters in person is a must. "I think it's a great idea for a prospective adopter to go to the shelter and check it out, get a visual. If they see animals that don't look healthy, they should ask some questions," she told WebMD. Furthermore, talk to shelter employees to get an idea of what they know about the animals' health and behavior. Shelters that don't do behavior assessments or disease testing aren't able to give you the appropriate information to make a match that truly works for you and for your prospective pet.

2. KNOW THAT YOU'RE IN THIS FOR THE LONG HAUL.

A cat is sleeping on its owner's lap.
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Cats are long-term roommates, so make sure you're ready for the commitment. According to Gwen Sparling, the owner of Camp Kitty boarding facility in Atlanta, over the course of a cat's 15- to 20-year lifetime, a pet owner will spend approximately $1000 annually on vet care, food, treats, toys, kitty litter, and more. "There is this general thinking that cats are no-fuss pets, which couldn't be further from the truth," Sparling told Mother Nature Network.

3. SHELTER CATS ARE GREAT OPTIONS.

A black kitten peeks out from behind the bars of a shelter cage.
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There's a misconception that animals in shelters have physical or behavioral issues; most of the time, that's not the case. "Animals primarily end up in our care because of challenges and transitions that exist in the lives of the people responsible for their care," Michael Keiley, director of adoption centers and programs at Boston's Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, told Country Living. Often animals can end up in shelters when their humans move, lose a job, or have to focus on non-pet-related stressors—and that's not a reflection on the cats who now need a new home.

4. ASSESS YOUR NEEDS BEFORE YOU GO IN.

A cat snuggling with a young blonde child while she reads.
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"The goal is for the adoption to work out well for everyone," Susan Daffron, the author of Happy Tabby: Develop a Great Relationship with Your Adopted Cat or Kitten, told LovetoKnow.com. Before you fall in love with the first cute face you see at the shelter, make sure you know exactly what you and your family need in a pet. Do you have small children? Are you away from home a lot? Do you have other pets? None of those things preclude you from adopting a shelter cat, but they definitely help set parameters about the personality and type of cat that would be ideal for you and your family.

5. CONSIDER MULTIPLE CATS.

A black cat and a grey cat snuggle together in a wicker basket.
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If you're going to jump in, do it with both feet, right? But there's a method to this madness—according to the American Humane Society, cats provide each other with exercise, mental stimulation, and social interaction that humans just can't quite match. And if you're at work or otherwise occupied during the day, having the companionship can be extra important to your cat(s).

6. PREP A SPECIAL PLACE FOR YOUR NEW FAMILY MEMBER.

Three grey and black kittens lounging on a piece of carpeted cat furniture.
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Cats are territorial, so entering a new space is stressful for them. Before you go to the shelter, create a special spot in your home to make kitty feel more comfortable when it arrives, writes Sara Kent, the former director of shelter outreach for Petfinder. A quiet spot stocked with a litter box, toys, food, and water will help—let your cat get familiar with the sights and sounds of the room on its own time.

7. VET A VET AHEAD OF TIME.

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Before you choose a cat, choose a vet by getting referrals from people you trust. The American Humane Society recommends making an appointment for an overall check-up within the first few days of the adoption. Be sure to take the vet any medical records provided by the shelter.

8. BOND THE RIGHT WAY.

A young girl in a blue shirt nuzzles a grey kitten.
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You will, of course, want to spend some time bonding with your cat. But how you do so depends on what stage of life the cat is in, Samantha Bell DiGenova, the cat behavior and enrichment lead at Best Friends Los Angeles, told Bustle. "When bonding with kittens, you want to handle them, hold them, let them look at you and see your face," she said. "You want to have as much contact with them visually and tactually as you can so that they grow up understanding that's how they should interact with people."

On the other hand, adult cats require their space. "If you adopt a cat that's four months or older, let them make the decisions. If you … allow the cat to come to you when they want affection, and let them show you that they want to interact, the bond you create will be so much stronger."

9. INTRODUCE THEM TO YOUR OTHER CATS.

An adult cat touches noses with a grey, fluffy kitten with a background of fallen autumn leaves.
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But do it the right way. According to cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy, just letting two cats "work it out" is not the best way to get your felines to be friendly. Instead, he wrote on his website, keep your cats separated by a door, but let them sniff each other under the door. Feed them both on their respective sides of the door so they get positive associations with each other. And eventually, swap bedding between your two pets so they get familiar with each other's scents. After a period of familiarization—which can sometimes last weeks—any hissing and growling should subside, and they'll be able to interact without fighting. (Have a dog? You can find some tips for that scenario here.)

10. CONSIDER PET INSURANCE.

A vet is holding a stethoscope up to a small brown kitten.
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Even if your cat is the picture of health when you first adopt, you never know what medical issues could arise down the road. As with human insurance, veterinarian Tracy McFarland wrote that it's a good idea to purchase pet insurance while your ball of fluff is totally healthy. It could eventually save you a bundle and make sure your cat is around for a long time.

11. HAVE PATIENCE.

A broken pot and soil on the ground with an innocent-looking cat sitting next to it.
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Renowned cat behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett, author of Think Like a Cat, reminds new owners to have patience with their new pets. From remembering the location of the kitty litter box to interacting with your family, it takes them some time to learn the ropes. Have patience as they are learning, and you'll be rewarded with a relationship that lasts for years to come.

Hee-Haw: The Wild Ride of "Dominick the Donkey"—the Holiday Earworm You Love to Hate

Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images
Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images

Everyone loves Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He’s got the whole underdog thing going for him, and when the fog is thick on Christmas Eve, he’s definitely the creature you want guiding Santa’s sleigh. But what happens when Saint Nick reaches Italy, and he’s faced with steep hills that no reindeer—magical or otherwise—can climb?

That’s when Santa apparently calls upon Dominick the Donkey, the holiday hero immortalized in the 1960 song of the same name. Recorded by Lou Monte, “Dominick The Donkey” is a novelty song even by Christmas music standards. The opening line finds Monte—or someone else, or heck, maybe a real donkey—singing “hee-haw, hee-haw” as sleigh bells jingle in the background. A mere 12 seconds into the tune, it’s clear you’re in for a wild ride.

 

Over the next two minutes and 30 seconds, Monte shares some fun facts about Dominick: He’s a nice donkey who never kicks but loves to dance. When ol’ Dom starts shaking his tail, the old folks—cummares and cumpares, or godmothers and godfathers—join the fun and "dance a tarentell," an abbreviation of la tarantella, a traditional Italian folk dance. Most importantly, Dominick negotiates Italy’s hills on Christmas Eve, helping Santa distribute presents to boys and girls across the country.

And not just any presents: Dominick delivers shoes and dresses “made in Brook-a-lyn,” which Monte somehow rhymes with “Josephine.” Oh yeah, and while the donkey’s doing all this, he’s wearing the mayor’s derby hat, because you’ve got to look sharp. It’s a silly story made even sillier by that incessant “hee-haw, hee-haw,” which cuts in every 30 seconds like a squeaky door hinge.

There may have actually been some historical basis for “Dominick.”

“Travelling by donkey was universal in southern Italy, as it was in Greece,” Dominic DiFrisco, president emeritus of the joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, said in a 2012 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. “[Monte’s] playing easy with history, but it’s a cute song, and Monte was at that time one of the hottest singers in America.”

Rumored to have been financed by the Gambino crime family, “Dominick the Donkey” somehow failed to make the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960. But it’s become a cult classic in the nearly 70 years since, especially in Italian American households. In 2014, the song reached #69 on Billboard’s Holiday 100 and #23 on the Holiday Digital Song Sales chart. In 2018, “Dominick” hit #1 on the Comedy Digital Track Sales tally. As of December 2019, the Christmas curio had surpassed 21 million Spotify streams.

“Dominick the Donkey” made international headlines in 2011, when popular BBC DJ Chris Moyles launched a campaign to push the song onto the UK singles chart. “If we leave Britain one thing, it would be that each Christmas kids would listen to 'Dominick the Donkey,’” Moyles said. While his noble efforts didn’t yield a coveted Christmas #1, “Dominick” peaked at a very respectable #3.

 

As with a lot of Christmas songs, there’s a certain kitschy, ironic appeal to “Dominick the Donkey.” Many listeners enjoy the song because, on some level, they’re amazed it exists. But there’s a deeper meaning that becomes apparent the more you know about Lou Monte.

Born Luigi Scaglione in New York City, Monte began his career as a singer and comedian shortly before he served in World War II. Based in New Jersey, Monte subsequently became known as “The Godfather of Italian Humor” and “The King of Italian-American Music.” His specialty was Italian-themed novelty songs like “Pepino the Italian Mouse,” his first and only Top 10 hit. “Pepino” reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963, the year before The Beatles broke America.

“Pepino” was penned by Ray Allen and Wandra Merrell, the duo that teamed up with Sam Saltzberg to write “Dominick the Donkey.” That same trio of songwriters was also responsible for “What Did Washington Say (When He Crossed the Delaware),” the B-side of “Pepino.” In that song, George Washington declares, “Fa un’fridd,” or ‘It’s cold!” while making his famous 1776 boat ride.

With his mix of English and Italian dialect, Monte made inside jokes for Italian Americans while sharing their culture with the rest of the country. His riffs on American history (“What Did Washington Say,” “Paul Revere’s Horse (Ba-cha-ca-loop),” “Please, Mr. Columbus”) gave the nation’s foundational stories a dash of Italian flavor. This was important at a time when Italians were still considered outsiders.

According to the 1993 book Italian Americans and Their Public and Private Life, Monte’s songs appealed to “a broad spectrum ranging from working class to professional middle-class Italian Americans.” Monte sold millions of records, played nightclubs across America, and appeared on TV programs like The Perry Como Show and The Ernie Kovacs Show. He died in Pompano Beach, Florida, in 1989. He was 72.

Monte lives on thanks to Dominick—a character too iconic to die. In 2016, author Shirley Alarie released A New Home for Dominick and A New Family for Dominick, a two-part children’s book series about the beloved jackass. In 2018, Jersey native Joe Baccan dropped “Dominooch,” a sequel to “Dominick.” The song tells the tale of how Dominick’s son takes over for his aging padre. Fittingly, “Dominooch” was written by composer Nancy Triggiani, who worked with Monte’s son, Ray, at her recording studio.

Speaking with NorthJersey.com in 2016, Ray Monte had a simple explanation for why Dominick’s hee-haw has echoed through the generations. “It was a funny novelty song,” he said, noting that his father “had a niche for novelty.”

Cats Make Facial Expressions, But Not Everyone Can Read Them

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takoburito/iStock via Getty Images

Science has finally confirmed what humans have suspected for centuries: Cats are inscrutable creatures prone to peculiar behavior. Some of us, however, are still capable of picking up on their subtle emotional cues, including facial expressions, without relying on clues like tails, ears, or whiskers.

This new evidence of a cat’s slightly malleable face comes from a study in the journal Animal Welfare. Researchers at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, recruited 6329 participants to watch a series of 20 video clips featuring cats reacting to either a positive or negative event. A positive interaction was defined as a feline approaching a human for a treat or an owner-identified action the cat traditionally found pleasant, like climbing into a favorite spot. A negative response was when a cat was confronted with something it wanted to avoid, was prevented from going into an area or outside, or was displaying an obvious sign of distress, like growling. (Sounds were edited out.) Most clips were from YouTube, though some were submitted by veterinarians and university colleagues. Breeds with long hair that might obscure facial changes were omitted. Most respondents were cat owners, and 74 percent were women 18 to 44 years old.

Using these brief clips, the researchers asked subjects to classify the cats as exhibiting positive or negative behavior by relying only on closely cropped footage of a cat’s face. They couldn’t rely on the tail or any other body language. The result? The average score was just 59 percent correct, accurately identifying a cat’s mood in an average of 12 out of the 20 clips. These humans, in other words, had little idea what a cat was experiencing based solely on their faces.

So why do researchers think they have any expression at all? Roughly 13 percent of subjects scored well on the test, getting at least 15 of the 20 questions correct. Those that did well were generally people who had extensive experience with cats, like veterinarians. That led researchers to conclude that people can become more attuned to the subtle flickers of emotion that may pass over a cat’s face.

“They could be naturally brilliant, and that’s why they become veterinarians,” Georgia Mason, a behavioral biologist and the study’s senior author, told The Washington Post. “But they also have a lot of opportunity to learn, and they’ve got a motivation to learn, because they’re constantly deciding: Is this cat better? Do we need to change the treatment? Does this cat need to go home? Is this cat about to take a chunk out of my throat?”

The paper appears to offer encouraging evidence that “cat whisperers” really do exist. If you’re curious whether you could be one of them, you can take a shortened version of the video test online.

[h/t Washington Post]

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