You’ve made the decision: You’re getting a cat! But now you’re faced with the decision if you buy cat from a breeder, adopt a cat from a shelter or get a cat from someone who ended up with a litter of kittens. All options have advantages and disadvantages and will come with different expenses. (If you’re interested in the running cost of owning a cat, see also How much does it cost to own a cat?) Let’s look at the different options in detail.
The Animal Shelter
Almost any bigger city will have at least one animal shelter, in which cats, dogs, guinea pigs, rabbits and so on are waiting for a new home. Most shelters (at least in Germany) are financed by donations. Often our shelters are officially clubs you can become a member of and people who work there are volunteers who take care of the animals. Animal shelters take on abandoned pets, i. e. pets without an owner. If an owner has to abandon their pet for important reasons, they will usually also take care of them, but they will ask the owner for a fee. In Germany, we have a law that makes it illegal to abandon your pet and you can be fined up to the equivalent of $28,000 if you get caught. In the UK, you can be fined up to £20,000 and go to prison for a year. While the maximum fine and prison time in the U.S. is significantly shorter, it’s still a misdemeanor. If you adopt a pet from the animal shelter, you have to pay an adoption fee that helps support the shelter. Depending on the pet you get and which animal shelter you get it from, adoption fees vary and can range from $75 to $200. We’ll look at why you have to pay an adoption fee in a minute.
The Animal Protection Association
Next to normal animal shelters, there are also other clubs or associations that take care of stray cats. Many countries don’t prioritize animal welfare or don’t have the necessary funds to take care of all the strays. In Greece, there’s no shortage of stray cats – at least that was the case when we went and visited Rhodes a few years ago. Surely a cat’s life is not only made of hardship if it lives on a warm island like Rhoded, free to roam wherever it pleases – I’m sure our cats would love it, too! However, cats aren’t spayed or neutered and there are too many, so they have to fight for food and if they get sick or injured, nobody is there to take care of them or take them to the vet.
Often in places like these, animal lovers step up and look after those animals. In Rhodes (Greece) and Fuerteventura (Canary Islands, Spain), there’s flying cats e. V. [German website], and if you look online, you’ll no doubt find many other such associations in many other countries. Once a year, the kind people of flying cats set out to spay and neuter as many stray cats as possible. Sick cats get the care they need and some are adopted out to other countries. They are regularly looking for helpers to take cats to places like Germany on the plane, as many airlines will let you take one pet for free. So if you find yourself in a country with lots of strays or you’re planning a vacation in a place like Rhodes, you might want to look into how you can help.
When we visited Rhodes, we saw a very pitiful little kitten walking about near the sea. It was very small, alone and neglected. Whenever it went up to older cats, they hissed at it. We gave it some water and then found out about flying cats online, so we sent them a picture of the kitten and instructions on how to get to it. And indeed, they found it, gave it some medical care, and de-wormed it befor they took it back to where they found it. I was very impressed with them and if we hadn’t had two cats of our own waiting at home, I would have loved to adopt the poor little critter.
Animal welfare groups like these also ask for an adoption fee and flying cats state that they want someone to look at your property before they let you adopt.
I have never bought a cat from a breeder – I think there are too many animals in shelters looking for a new home, so there’s really no need to go out and specifically breed them. On the other hand, many breeders do what they do out of passion and because they want to keep a certain breed going. Those are good breeders who care about animals. It should be obvious that there are also bad breeders who only care about profit – these ones you need to stay away from. Good breeders will be part of an association of cat breeders and they won’t give up cats before they are 12 weeks old. They will happily answer any questions you as a buyer might have. In other words, they are trustworthy.
If animals are bred properly, the breeder has a lot of expenses, which is why purebred cats will be a lot more expensive than the adoption fee you have to pay. Prices can easily range from $300 to $1200, depending on which breed you’re interested in. Breeders that breed rare breeds might even have waiting lists, and even if the breeder might not want to do a home visit to make sure his kittens are safe with you, they will usually ask you many questions and want to get to know you before they sell an animal to you.
Lastly, I also want to mention adopting a cat from an acquaintance or co-worker. Sometimes life throws you a curve ball and you might suddenly not be able to look after your cat. It’s sad when this happens, but it does happen. It’s wonderful if a friend or acquaintance can adopt a cat in that case. If you know the cat in advance and know what it’s like before you adopt it, even better. Maybe the former owner can come by and visit. Also, if someone has to give up their cat, you might receive the cat along with all the accessories – cat tree, carrier, toys, favorite blanket (see: Things to buy for your cat) – free as a bonus.
Another thing that happens way too often is a cat owner suddenly finding themselves with a litter of kittens at home they are trying to get rid of. I personally feel it’s unconscionable to let your cat roam free if it hasn’t been spayed or neutered. Again, animal shelters are full of cats looking for a home. But once it’s happened, there’s nothing they can do and it’s certainly not the kittens’ fault that they were born. In cases like these, make sure the kitten stays with its siblings and mother for at least 12 weeks.
Our boys Wrex and Garrus also were adopted by us from a co-worker who was too cheap to spay his cat, thinking that surely everyone else would neuter theirs. So one fine day he found himself with five kittens, desperately trying to find a new home for them. We had been to the animal shelter not long before that, looking at the cats that were available, but they didn’t have many at that point in time and we wanted two so they wouldn’t be lonely. Another problem was our balcony, which was about to be renovated so we hadn’t been able to make it safe for cats. We didn’t want to go to the trouble of putting up a net before the renovation was done (and renovation kept getting pushed back), but the animal shelter insisted on a secured balcony. When our co-worker then tried to find homes for his five kittens, we thought about it for a long time before we finally agreed. (We only let them out on the balcony after it was secured with netting!) Our co-worker has spayed his cat shortly thereafter.
Why do you have to pay a fee to adopt?
The purpose of an adoption fee is two-fold. For one thing, it prevents people from “spontaneously” getting a cat. Wheter or not to get an animal, along with all the cost and responsibility this entails (see Should you get a cat?), is not a decision that should be taken lightly. Animals are not objects and moving to a new home is certainly stressful for them. Animals should not be exposed to this if the new owner’s attitude is to just try it out and give it back after a few days if a pet turns out to be too much of a hassle. (If they do give the pet back after a few days, they will not get their adoption fee back.)
On the other hand, an adoption fee coers part of the cost the shelter had when caring for the animal. Shelter cats are usually vaccinated, neutered, de-wormed and chipped when you adopt them. These things are not exactly cheap. For every day a cat stays at the cat shelter, they incur additional cost for litter and food. Some cats arrive at the shelter while ill or injured, and getting them the medical treatment they need, from operations to drugs, can be quite expensive. Those are all reasons for an adoption fee, although adoption fee is usually not enough to break even for the shelter.
As someone who isn’t personally involved in the work at an animal shelter, I found it hard to imagine the cost a shelter has to cover, so I did some research for this article. I was amazed at how high the expenses actually are. An animal shelter in Paderborn, Germany published their numbers from 2013, in which their monthly cost was $33,000 with an expected increase to $39,500/month in the following years. According to their website, they had roughly 140 cats and 30 dogs. Another shelter needed $11,000 a month. And a third shelter stated they needed $18,000 a month to care for their animals. To give you some idea: A supporting membership for the shelter is about $30 a year. You do the math to find out how many members the shelter would need to cover their costs that way alone.
It’s important to secure your balcony.
Some animal shelters request to see a cat’s new home before they let you adopt it. Some want confirmation that the landlord is fine with you having a cat. This might make some people think: “Hey, wait a minute. I want to adopt the cat, I’m doing YOU a favor. Why are you making this so difficult for me?” Well, put yourself in their shoes for a moment. Animals are in need of protection and shelters want to be sure they are adopted out to a good home. They don’t want them to end up at the dirty apartment of an animal hoarder and they don’t want them in dangerous surroundings where they might fall off an 8th storey balcony that wasn’t secured. They also want to avoid having someone adopt a kitten only to feed it to their snake. In my opinion, that’s certainly reasonable.
However, every shelter will have their own process. Just pay them a visit and ask them what their requirements are. And while you’re at it, feel free to leave them a donation for their hard work.
Kitten vs. older cat
Another thing worth thinking about is how old you want your new furry roommate to be. Young cats are bundles of energy and need a lot more attention and entertainment than old cats who aren’t very interested in play anymore. Kittens need constant attention and will cause all sorts of shenanigans. Sure, they are adorable, but don’t underestimate the time and effor they take to look after. You also have to consider how long you want to own a cat. Indoor cats will live to be about 15 years on average, some will even live to be 20. If you get a cat at 20, you might still have ti when you’re nearing 40. This is a great responsibility. Animal shelters have cats of all ages, whereas breeders will usually sell you kittens.
If you get a kitten, you won’t know how it will turn out once it’s a full-grown cat. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – I found it fascinating to watch our cats Wrex and Garrus grow up and see how their personalities developed. Wrex is a tough little boy who loves the nice things in life – mostly sleeping, eating and cuddling. Garrus is a little clown, a curious adventurer full of energy who loves to find a little cave to lay down in. It’s interesting to watch cats go through this development.
If you get older cats, you’ll likely already know how they will behave. Do they like dogs? Do they like other cats? Are they afraid of people? Do they have a best friend you can adopt as well? Do they like tummy cuddles or do they hate being touched? It can be an advantage knowing these things ahead of time.
Pros and cons
Let’s look at the various ways of acquiring a cat and compare them.
Animal Shelter/Animal Protection Association
- A shelter cat receives a new home and adopting a cat will remove a cat that previously might have lived on the street
- Cat comes with a health check-up, de-wormed, chipped and neutered
- The cat’s personality is already known
- You can get an older cat if you like
- Fairly cheap option
- It will be harder to find a purebred cat in a shelter
- Shelter might want to see your place first
- Cat comes with a health check-up, de-wormed, chipped and neutered
- You’ll know a cat’s pedigree and any hereditary diseases it might have
- Purebred cats
- Contact person available if you have any questions
- Usually they only sell kittens
- Fairly expensive option
- Shelter cat will stay in the shelter
- Cheap or free altogether
- Shelter won’t want to see your place first
- for older cats: Can tell you what the cat’s personality is like, might get lots of cat accessories
- for kittens: Supporting an oblivious cat owner who let his intact cat roam free
- Shelter cat will stay in the shelter
I hope this overview will help you make a decision for one of the options. Either way, it’s worth it thinking long and hard whether you really want a cat. If you want to know what to expect when you’re getting a cat, read the articles Should you get a cat? and How much does it cost to own a cat?.