Thursday, March 21, 2013

Shackin' Up.

In just a  few short days, kitten season arrived.  Kittens are starting to pour into local shelters with a vengeance.  Sadly, they often arrive 1 week old and missing their Mom.  Fortunately, we have a few nursing Mom cats and they have been  amenable to taking on  a few surrogate kittens.

With kitten season come the phone calls.  Every young couple who are starting out want something that they can share together.  Which brings me to the dilemma that I have every year:    How long do boyfriends and girlfriends need to be together to be considered a stable relationship for a kitten?

I've wanted to write this post for years, but have worried about offending people.  We have amazing foster parents who live together and aren't married.  Living together doesn't negate their commitment for each other.  I'm not talking about that.  

I was speaking with my sons  - ages 22 and (almost) 25 years old.  They're both single.  Apparently, living together is the next step after you've been dating for a while.  THEN engagement and marriage.
OK.  I'm old.  But I'm flexible.  I can live with this.  But how do I screen adopters?  I'm guessing that about 35%-50% of adoption calls that I have received over the past 2 weeks have been from couples that want to adopt and are unmarried but share a home. 

This is a problem that I've wrestled with for years.  If a couple are 20 years old and have been living together for 6 months, are they less responsible or stable than a 20 year old couple who has been married for 6 months?  I guess it all depends on who you ask. 

When I'm screening a prospective adopter, I can't ask people who aren't married "How long have you been together?", because I wouldn't ask a married couple that question.  I've become sneaky about how I can make an educated guess.  But I don't like that either. 

So I end up asking about their families.  "Have you ever had a cat before?"  The answer might be, "Oh family has 3 cats and Mr. Mittens died last year after 21 years!" 

Bingo!  That's a family that will pick up the pieces if the couple aren't able to commit for the next 20 years for a kitten.   I end up indirectly screening the family to insure the security of the cat!  There has to be a better way.

Let it be known that this isn't a moral issue for me.  Not in the least bit.  I've never turned anyone down for an adoption if they were qualified, loving and committed to loving the cat for the next 20 years.  Bottom line is:  There are NO guarantees with any relationship - married or unmarried.   But I go absolutely insane when I call these couples about spaying or neutering their kitten to find that the kitten is part of a broken home....."ALREADY? I just adopted to you 3 months ago!"

Holy crap.  I can't believe how offensive this sounds to me.  I sound like I'm 100 years old.  I'm going to hit "PUBLISH" on this post and I'd really like to hear what you think.   You don't have to comment publicly, feel free to send me an email.  I have a feeling there isn't an easy answer.   I can't be the only rescuer who thinks about this.  Can I?  If you can't find this post in a few days, I may have offended too many people.  :)


Random Felines said...

I volunteer for two different groups. The "shelter" won't adopt to anyone under 21. Now - keep in mind that we are in a BIG college town and that was part of the decision. I am not sure of an age restriction by the rescue.

But....I think for me it is more about age and maturity. I have met some very mature "kids" (how is that for showing my age too) and some very immature older people. I don't have any fear about asking people about long term goals.... "if something in your lifestyle changes, how do you intend to continue care for the cat?" and that covers loss of job or moving or whatever.

I had an application the other day. Early 20s - boyfriend/girlfriend. App said pets left behind either with family or roommates. So when I called I asked about the circumstances. And showing her age, the girlfriend got VERY defensive with me....and that is about maturity. (and no, the didn't get the kitten)

Wish there was an easy answer.....and that we could have have a long list of perfect adopters. But, we do the best we can with what we get. :) And remind people that the interests of the ANIMAL is our first concern.

Devon said...

I'm not offended, I'm one of your young foster parents who lives with my significant other, unmarried. But I am a cat person, no matter what, that cat would be with me for the rest of its' life. Sadly, I can't say the same would apply to a few of our friends.

I also need to defend the younger couples a bit, I'm sure there are many couples in their 40's who would dump their cat at the end of a relationship as well. Unfortunately, people dump their cats all the time.

House of the Discarded said...

Random Felines: Oh! I like this: ""if something in your lifestyle changes, how do you intend to continue care for the cat?" and that covers loss of job or moving or whatever."
That isn't offensive and their answer says a lot!

House of the Discarded said...

Devon: Well said and you were definitely one of the couples that I was worried about offending. You're absolutely right - how many calls do we get from OLDER MARRIED COUPLES who want to dump their cat because of a new baby? WAY Too many!

Tina said...

Beth you're doing your due diligence and there's no need to apologize for that. Your role is to make sure these babies are placed in a "forever" home. I think getting information on their family pets will give you a good indication of their attitude towards pets. Do they view them as a lifetime commitment or have there been a lot of pets coming in and out of their childhood home. A friend of mine knows a family that are serial puppy adopters. Once the dog gets to be a year or two they get rid of it and get another puppy. What is that teaching their children...that pets are disposable! If folks get offended, that's your first sign to walk away or hang up. People that care about animals do not mind 20 questions and understand why they are being asked. Keep up the great work!

TBS said...

I don't think there's anything wrong with asking a prospective adopter if they've ever had a cat before, it's a reasonable question on more than this level.

short story not connected to the above paragraph, but to the topic of the post: when I was in my early 20s (20-22), I lived with my then-fiance (not the guy I wound up marrying), and when we adopted our first cat together, we discussed beforehand what would happen if we broke up. What we decided was that in that case, the first cat would be 'his' and the second cat would be 'mine'. We planned on adopting a second cat between six months and a year later.

about a year after we got the second cat, we broke up. The only problem was, after I took my cat with me when I moved out, he gave me all kinds of abuse for not leaving her behind with him in "the only home she'd ever known" (not actually true, she wound up being a purebred that he had given me for my birthday). So, you know, fighting over who would have to give up the cat, rather than who would have to take her.

For the record, I don't think I would have been offended if the shelter had asked us things like how long we'd been together and what we were planning to do if we broke up.

One thing I remember was, since we weren't married, they made us pick one person to be the adopter and responsible for the cat, which I think would have forced us to think about that question (what would happen if we broke up) if we hadn't already.

TBS said...

One other thought: why would it be a problem for a couple who adopted a cat to break up, as long as one of them is taking good care of the cat? I've always loved my cats like family, and I don't see why my relationship status (married, single, living with someone) changing should affect my cat-caring. Why do BOTH people in the not-a-marriage relationship have to be committed to caring for the cat, as long as one is?

Renee said...

I think the concern is that young people who are moving in together for the first time may have an idealized idea that they'll be "together forever". Just like most of us assumed/hoped. But the statistics aren't great for 20 year olds staying together. And when fresh-out-of-school couples break up, they are more likely to also lose their full independence. That is, if two 40-year olds break up, odds are good that they'll each end up in a separate home/apartment, but as they're both employed, they'll be able to afford and keep the cat. The 21-year olds may both end up unable to pay rent on new-grad salary, and have to go back to the parents' home. And the parents might not want a cat/dog, or might already have cats/dogs.

Bad things can happen to anyone of any age in any relationship situation. But, in general, there's more volatility and uncertainty with young couples new to the world of independence, and they don't have the fallback older people are more likely to have.

That said, "what's your backup plan if your relationship status changes, or if you had a sudden change in your financial situation?" or similar is good to ask anyone.

Anonymous said...

You’re absolutely right to give as much weight to this as you do. Somebody has to.

When my ex and I decided that we wanted to share our home and our garden with a cat, we started looking in the RSPCA column of the local paper. We pondered it over for another three months before we even went to the rescue centre, and then another three weeks before we settled on Kitty... who incidentally, had been there the longest and drew the least attention. Within three weeks of Kitty coming home with us, my ex decided to call time on almost five years together, and he was moved out within a couple of weeks. Kitty stayed with me – there was no question about it.

We were renting at the time though, and I couldn’t afford that house on my own. I had to move house four times over the course of the next four years, dragging poor Kitty along with me each time – it must have been so unsettling for her.

We're now living in my late Father’s house and don’t have to worry about finding places to rent where I am allowed to bring Kitty and it’s such a relief for us both (getting permission to keep pets in private rental can be hard work here in England – most people I know don’t tell, and take their furries to Mum’s on inspection day). Not once did I consider parting company with her, although it would have made finding somewhere to live a lot less stressful, but not everyone is as fortunate to have the choice. God knows what I’d have done if I wasn’t able to move back here.

The 'what if' needs to play a bigger part amidst the sparkle and excitement of welcoming a furry bundle of cuteness into the home. We had a home visit by the RSPCA who questioned our commitment both to adopting and to each other, asked us about our working hours and holidays, even measured the distance from our house to the nearest main road. I wasn’t in the least bit offended, though I might worry about the motivation of those who are. It’s sad enough that these critters are homeless in the first place.. seeing them come back again must really break hearts.

Jackie & Kitty x

Strayer said...

I don't adopt to boyfriend girlfriend couples now under 30. they split, often within months, and the cat gets left often. Here where I live, couples are together one moment and split the next week. I've had to go pick up a cat too often. My gold star adopters are adult homosexual couples. That's probably awful to say, stereotypical, but they dote over the cat, love the cat, commit to the cat, they're just the best!

Caroline said...

Good question Beth and I think if you're the rescue CEO which you are, don't worry about offending them, you know best what your cats need! I like the question, "if your lifestyle were to change what would happen to the cat" (this could cover relationships and financial issues) I also think there should be a question that asks "in the event of you passing away what would happen to your cat?" but I imagine that would draw criticism too. How many widowed kitties end up at high kill shelters because the owner didn't have a backup plan for them.

Also "in the event that you or your partner become pregnant and your doctor says you should get rid of the cat, what would you do?"


PS I know friends of a relative that have 2 adult cats that belonged to their daughter who married a guy who was allergic to cats and now the parents who have the cats want to rehome them. These are people who appear really nice and responsible. I'm shocked with their attitude. A parent should always be willing to keep their children's pets if they allow them to have them. Otherwise get the kids digital pets!

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's offensive at all. It's not a moral issue, it's that so many people move in together without any reason other than they've been dating X amount of months and both their leases are up. It's become just the thing you automatically do, rather than something you've put any thought into, so it's very reasonable to wonder whether a couple has put exactly the same amount of thought into adopting a pet. You also wonder if it's "practice for a baby," some attempt to bond them, or something equally stupid. I don't think it's wrong to screen for maturity and commitment. I think the difference might be that marriage is something that requires a little more thought and planning, but I guess that's not always the case, either.

I've known couples who have given away pets because they were having a baby or moving to another country, but I've also known single people who've given up pets because they were travelling or because they wanted to move in with someone who has allergies. I guess screen on a case-by-case basis and ask questions about their commitment to the full lifespan of a cat. I think asking about their families is good, too.

This was a really good, thoughtful post.

selkie said...

To me, you've hit on one of the most important factors - what is their background experience with cats? If they grew up with cats and had them their whole lives, into their teens and 20s, then why not adopt to them, even if they are relatively young. There are no absolutes or guarantees in life - as you well know. I adopted my cat Rags when I was 19 and in university, pippin, 2 years later when I moved in with my boyfriend ... well Rags lived to be 22 and survived four kids in her old age and our Pippin died peacefully at 20, the apple of everyone's eye. My daughter Maeve and her partner adopted two cats (sisters) when they moved in together and dote on them- they have now had Loki and Rascal 5 years. Of course, they may break up! But Maeve would NEVER abandon the cats - after all, she was taught that animals are part of the family and forever .. and so I think one of the most important factors is how these kids perceive the responsibility of having a cat and what their past experiences have taught them.

Anonymous said...

I think your screening process if fair, especially given your experience in the past. I am 25 years old and will be celebrating my 9 year anniversary with my fiancee this June. I take no offense to your comments.Better to potentially offend someone than to leave a cat with someone/a couple who may not want the responsibility down the road.

Anonymous said...

Strayer: while I can understand where you are coming from I am sad to hear that you won't web consider adopting to couples under 30. My now husband and I adopted one of four of our cats from Beth almost 2years ago. At that time we were dating & ages 23&24. Both o us are fiercely dedicated to our animals and although we fully intend on being together forever we do have a break up plan so to speak. Indicting who takes responsibility for which pet and also agree that if needed one of us takes them all. I believe we are more dedicated than some couples over the age of 30... I feel that young couples should be screened and taken into consideration on an individual level . Not every young couple is mature enough but neither is every older couple. Age is but a number. It is the core values people hold that I believe determines their maturity an commitment to their animals.


Devon said...

I'm also sad to hear what Strayer has said, and frankly a little offended. I understand how frustrating it might be to have to go pick up a cat in the case of a split, but to assume all couples under 30 will split is pretty negative.

Would it really matter if a couple split, as long as the animal(s) were loved and cared for?

I don't think it is out of line to ask a young couple what would happen if they do split, mature couples would have considered it. Anyone who is offended by that question shouldn't be getting a cat.

Jennifer Lundgren said...

I'm a little bias, but I adopted my dog and first cat my second year university. My 85lb girl came with me everywhere, even lived in our basement here the landlord was *terrified* of dogs and lived upstairs. I moved about 12 times in the 10 yrs I was lucky enough to have her with me, and I could always find a place that "accepted pets", even a big German shepherd mix... Part of the negotiations about our possible cross ocean move is that the cost of moving our four legged kids is also covered! I think it was the third stipulation in the pertinent points. If your animals are important enough to you, you will not abandon them. But yes, I think adopting to the individual, not the couple, creates a sense of ownership.