Part of me really wanted to keep Dulcie, the ragdoll I was fostering. Now that she felt secure, she was following me around the house and showing what a truly affectionate cat she was. The other cats seemed fine with her. True to her ragdoll nature, she was pretty easygoing and seemed more curious about them than anything.
Still, it would’ve been nice for Dulcie to have a good home. So, with very mixed feelings, I called the applicant whose name I’d been given.
“I just lost my Maine coon,” the woman, Lorrie, explained. “And I saw this cat online and, well, I had a ragdoll many years ago, and I’ve always wanted another one.”
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You can tell a lot from just talking to someone on the phone, the rescue director was always telling me, and she was right: Lorrie’s voice rang true. She wanted Dulcie not because she was a “free” purebred — you see a lot of that in rescue work — but because she had a longtime attachment to the breed. Plus, she had a cat-shaped hole in her heart that needed filling.
Dulcie went home with Lorrie and her husband a short time later. I missed her, but I also knew that she’d found the human she was meant to be with.
Finding the Right Match
If you’re thinking that all this sounds more than a little like human matchmaking, you’re right.
Back when I was in elementary school, one of my favorite books was Mary Calhoun’s The House of Thirty Cats (1965). Eager to help Miss Tabitha find homes for her cats, a young girl named Sara goes about trying “to fit cats to people’s personalities … to figure out what kind of cat a person would need.” She learns that it takes a lot of people-studying and going with her gut to get it right.
That is what those of us in cat rescue try to do. Only we know something that Sara’s just beginning to understand by the end of the book — namely, that every cat/kitten placed with the wrong person is going to come back to haunt us in some way.
The cat may be returned to the organization, and that’s the best-case scenario. They may be passed on to another person and then another person … they may be turned in to a shelter — and not necessarily a no-kill one. Or they may just plain be abandoned.
So matching the right cat with the right human is critical. People for Unwanted Feline Friends (PUFF) in New Jersey “are passionate about the care and well-being of our animals. This includes matching cat and kitten personalities with the right people and homes.”
The Meow Foundation in Alberta, Canada has a “Cat-a-Logue” of available felines and urges applicants “not [to] choose a cat or kitten solely based on looks. A cat’s personality, age and ability to fit into your lifestyle are the most important considerations when selecting a companion with which to share the next 15 to 20 years of your life.”
Susan Graham, who works with Abyssinian rescues, says that she always asks people what they’re “looking for and whether they’ve had Abyssinians before. That tells me whether they want a more active one to play with or a cuddle companion.”
Playing to Type
You can, of course, look at cats as types. Cat blogger Pamela Merritt breaks them down into 3 personality types: alphas, betas and gammas.
Alphas are pretty much what you’d expect. Strong-willed and bossy, they are “the mad scientists of the cat world,” with a “tendency to take over any social hierarchies. Timid cats will be terrorized, mild-mannered dogs will start saluting them when they walk by and soft-hearted humans will do their bidding.”
A beta cat, on the other hand, is more doglike and companionable — “a Dr. Watson to our Sherlock Holmes” — and a gamma cat is “somewhat shy” but extremely affectionate once her trust is earned.
The Meow Foundation has a longer list of types on its website. “Kittens and tweens” are generally “playful and curious.” The “fun family cats” enjoy interacting with their people, while “mellow and mature cats” are apt to be “well-behaved and quiet.”
Then there are the special needs cats and the “blossoming shy buddies.” Both need to be handled with patience and understanding; some of the latter may require “intensive socialization.”
There is valuable information in both these lists. But in the end, a list is a list is a list. Cats are no more predictable than humans — something that I realized today when Scrabble, my shy 15-year-old tortie, ventured upstairs and explored the living room and kitchen after 8 years of keeping to the cellar.
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Chosen by a Cat
Of course, sometimes — a lot of times — the feline does the choosing. Kim Kaplan, who also does breed-rescue work, says that she believes that you should just sit still “in a reasonably confined space” and let the kitten or cat “choose you. You can’t always do that, but it usually works out great if you can.”
She still vividly remembers going to see a litter of kittens that a woman had rescued from under her porch. “She had me walk out onto the porch, and there was a kitten explosion out of the box. A diving catch, and I had this tiny ball of white fluff in my hands.” Kaplan “never exactly chose Mackenzie” the kitten — he chose her.
So my storybook friend Sara wasn’t all that far off. No matter who you are — the rescuer/foster mama, the adopter or maybe even the feline itself — it’s a matter of scoping out the situation and then taking a big leap of faith.
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