Matchmaking in the Adoption Center

SundanceSome people come into the adoption center knowing exactly what they’re looking for. But plenty of people don’t. As I’ve discussed previously, it’s my job as an adoption volunteer to figure it out. I wish I could say I’m always successful, but that would be far too optimistic.

For instance, a couple weeks ago, a girl came in looking for a cat. She wasn’t looking around too long when her eyes settled on a young orange male cat named Jefferson. She wanted to adopt him. She clearly had experience with cats (her parents owned a Savannah), and she decided she wanted a cat to live with her in Boston. Everything seemed legitimate and I didn’t really question her choice in Jefferson, who is a great cat, but he still needed to be neutered—and because of the recent events in Boston, our surgery schedule had gotten a bit backed up. So she couldn’t pick him up until five days later.

She never came back*. (To be fair, I believe she called to let us know.)

Looking back on it, I think I had a feeling it would happen; that she would change her mind. And it was my fault for not taking the time to really talk it through with her and find out what she was looking for, not only in a cat, but by getting a cat. I knew she would be a good cat owner—that was never a question. But whether she was too impatient to wait for Jefferson, or decided over a few days that he wasn’t quite what she was looking for, should have been something on my radar when I was talking to her.

In that instance, I failed as an adoption volunteer. Which happens, sometimes.

*Don’t worry Jefferson has since been adopted out!

Some days, however, a big success can make up for those failures in an instant.

Yesterday, a couple came in looking for a companion cat for their own cat (named Trixie) who they had adopted from us previously. I wasn’t the one who began helping them in the adoption center, but as they were beginning to fill out paperwork for an adoption, another volunteer called me over. (I tend to be the go-to person for cat-to-cat matchmaking questions.) The volunteer wanted to know if I thought the cat they wanted to adopt, Sweetheart, would be a good companion cat.

Oh boy. Sweetheart, at around 7 months, was adorable. However, the couple had no idea if Trixie liked other cats, and Sweetheart seemed against the idea of other cats, at least at the shelter*. So I began to do my job the way it should be done: I started asking questions.

*The unpredictable nature of testing cats’ likes and dislikes in a shelter environment could be a whole discussion on its own. But for now, just trust me.

This is what I found out:

  • Trixie was a high energy, rambunctious cat.
  • Trixie’s owners (who were first-time cat owners) didn’t know how to calm her down, especially since she liked to “play wrestle,” which can be challenging to deal with as first-time owners. (I should know.) Thus, they thoughtfully were considering a companion cat for her.
  • They don’t know if Trixie likes other cats.
  • Recently, Trixie has had medical issues.
  • They came in specifically for a companion cat for Trixie, not for a second cat for themselves. (This is an important distinction. If it had been the latter, then all they needed was for the two cats to tolerate each other and share territory. But since they came in for a companion cat, it was essential that we found a cat who would like Trixie and that there would be the greatest chance of them fully interacting and getting along.

I pointed out the obvious and best choice out of all the cats in our shelter: Heinz 57. He was a cat who came in through our Fix-A-Feral program (clearly not feral) and was put up for adoption. He had been tested in our cat playgroup and did wonderfully. He was a friendly, outgoing cat. A true catch.

However, he was six years old and had dental disease. The couple were very unsure about him. But I went through his medical records, and discovered that the shelter had given Heinz 57 a dental procedure on the previous day, so his mouth was now completely clean. (He needed his teeth polished, and one extraction.) I explained to them that a six-year-old cat isn’t actually old. Some people don’t realize that an indoor, healthy cat can easily live into their late teens, sometimes even early twenties.

I was doing a strong sales pitch for Heinz 57, not because I was trying to push him out the door (anyone who adopted him would be getting a great cat) but because I knew that he was the best chance of Trixie getting along with a companion cat. For several reasons:

  1. Knowing that Heinz 57 likes other cats puts the pressure off of one side of a cat introduction. All they have to concern themselves with is how Trixie reacts to him. Heinz 57 is not going to dislike Trixie.
  2. Adopting a cat-friendly cat will reduce the stress of the cat introduction, thereby reducing  stress not only for the owners who have never introduced cats before, but on Trixie who has been having health concerns.
  3. As a general rule for spayed/neutered cats, the easiest pairings are male–male, then male–female, and lastly female–female. (Females can get territorial with each other. Neutered males, however, seem to be able to share space the best.)

So if they had adopted a female cat (like Sweetheart) who may or may not like cats herself, would have been too risky and too stressful for all involved. Heinz 57 was the perfect answer. Because if Trixie hates him, chances are she won’t get along with any cat they bring home.

In the end, the couple enthusiastically decided to adopt Heinz 57. They’re going to love him. And as long as Trixie loves him too, he’s found his forever home.

It’s moments like this when I have to stop and remind myself to feel proud for a job well done, and that doing a good job is important. People who come in to adopt a cat are generally wonderful people, from the mere fact that they are adopting. But they still often need education and advice and that’s the whole reason I’m volunteering in the adoption center:

To find people and felines their new best friends.


10 Replies to “Matchmaking in the Adoption Center”

  1. Hoping for an update on Heinz and Trixie 😉
    And yes, I totally agree – the duty of you and your fellow volunteers is to make sure a cat fits in. YOU are the ones who know about the cats’ tempers and quirks – at least as far as they show those at the shelter.
    You have to find out as well as you can what kind of cat is needed (not so much wanted 😉 ) and what kind of home a cat really needs.
    Still I do not think you FAIL when a cat does not get adopted or gets returned. You CANNOT know everything – neither how the cat behaves in the new home nor what the adopting humans really want. When you and your fellow volunteers talk to them for half an hour or so you can just get an idea. You neither know if those are people who love to party, who love to quarrel at home who have unsolved issues – and nobody knows if there is an undetected allergy. Or do you ask your adopters to show an allergy pass? 😉
    So do not feel like a failure because a young woman changed her mind. Maybe she just talked it over with her parents, found out, her boyfriend is allergic or – found out she is not allowed to have cats in her home, when she started her preparations. Or she even went to another pet shelter and found a cat she immediately fell in love with or she took in a stray.
    Those things are beyond your influence – and nobody can blame you for that – NO FAILURE.

  2. Job well done indeed! I haven’t been back to the local shelter I was working at. I tried and tried – but it was so disheartening to me to see how crappily it’s run. I know it’s not about the dingbats who run it – it’s about the animals. But, I volunteer in another area and share their photos on my personal Facebook account to raise awareness as best as I can right now. I might go back soon. I sure wish they were run like this shelter was!

    1. Actually, a lot of the programs at the ARL were developed by volunteers – and not always without resistance. Volunteer-initiated things (from the ARL) include the feline suite, cat playgroup, and feral clinics!

      You might not be able to take on the burden of trying to change the way things are done at your shelter (I know you have a lot of other stuff going on!), but connecting with fellow volunteers is a great way to start the conversation 🙂

  3. Thanks for all the work you all do in Adoption – you definitely go above and beyond in trying to find out what your cats are like and suggest the best environment for them – and it shows!

  4. I think you do a wonderful job. When we got our cat at the Humane Society, they just put her in a small room with me and my granddaughter and just left. Of course we fell in love with the cat and she is so sweet! After that I had to go hunt up an employee to let them know we were adopting. She’s been a real treasure since.

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