Here are some guidelines. They ignore the case where you find the cat's rightful owner, feel secure that the owners are responsible, and return the cat to her owners. The guidelines also skip over nutrition and the whole birthing process, even though those are vitally important. Those topics are dealt with thoroughly in various areas of the Cats Site. In fact the main focus of these guidelines is how to place the kittens.
1. If you have other cats at home, don't let the stray cat come into contact with them.
2. Take the cat to a vet so she can be tested for Feline Leukemia and FIV. If she has either of these diseases, she may give birth to kittens that have the disease also. Thats a tough one. Note that even if the cat tests negative for both conditions, it is still prudent to prevent her from having contact with your resident cats.
3. Educate yourself on birthing cats , so that you can help mom-cat have healthy kittens. Make sure that mom has adequate nutrition . Make sure that mom-cat and the kittens have a suitable nesting area. Try to be prepared for birthing complications. Have some supplies on hand, such as towels, antiseptic, and surgical scissors. Most births go smoothly, but problems are not rare. Establish a good rapport with your vet.
4. Keep the kittens for at least 8 weeks. If you remove them from their mother before then, the kittens will not have completed their "basic training." Even at 12 weeks, although much more autonomous, the kittens are still establishing social skills learned from their litter mates and mother.
5. Socialize with the kittens. Get them very used to humans. Of course, who could resist socializing with a group of frisky kittens?
6. Do not put an ad in the paper . At the very least - do not put a "free kittens to good homes" ad in the paper. Here are some of the people that might answer those ads: Third-class dealers who sell the cats for about 30 dollars a piece to labs that perform medical experiments on the cats. Although animal labs typically get their cats from breeders (and some breeders make a lot of money selling cats and other animals to labs), some protocols also call for an "unknown" group of animals, to be used as a control group in the experiment. You may also get a visit from a fighting dog trainer. Sadly, some dog owners train their dogs to be killers by using live animals as targets. (I'll spare you the grisly details.) Then, there are the just plain mean people who abound. Of course, none of these types of "adopters" will identify the true nature of their interest.
7. Talk to trusted family members and close trusted friends who are interested in adopting the cats. Preferably you want the cats to live with someone whom you would trust with your own cat, and who has had cats before. Granted, this isn't always possible.
8. Screen adopters carefully! Grill them all you want. See if they've had pets before. Find out why they want a cat. Ask for identification and get an address. If at all possible, try to visit their home to observe the condition, particularly of other animals in the house. Draw up a small contract - it is legally binding, in fact (although enforcing it may be problematical.) You can call a shelter, rescue group, or breeder organization for guidelines. In writing, the adopter should commit to the following:
- They will spay or neuter the kitten (see item 12 for resources)
- They will give the kitten proper veterinary care - yearly exams, vaccinations, and visits to examine suspected health problems
- They will not declaw
- The cat will be an indoor cat (an attached screened outdoor enclosure can be considered "inside"), unless taken out on a harness and leash. Occasionally you may run into extenuating circumstances in this area that you can deal with on a case-by-case basis.
- The adopter will make the cat a member of the family. That means a companion FOR LIFE.
- This may sound funny but - the adopter will play with the cat and accomodate the cat's core behaviors: scratching, running, jumping, play-hunting and pouncing, comfortably sleeping; and of course, fresh water and nutritious food.
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