Choosing a cat or kitten is a lot like choosing a spouse. You have a good idea of what you want. Then along comes someone very different and you fall in love.
Fortunately, many of these matches turn out to be much better than anything we could have imagined.
When I moved into my own house in Juneau, I went shopping for a cat to make my life here complete. I had in mind a small, quiet, fluffy calico. What I got was a small, bold, adventurer with a short, black coat. The only thing on my list that she matched was "small," but she walked right into my heart and my home and turned out to be the best four-footed friend I have ever had.
When I ask people what kind of cat they want, nine times out of 10 they'll tell me what color. There's nothing wrong with that. But hair color is a long way down the list of what gives Prince Charming his charm.
What would I consider if I were looking for a cat?
How old is the person with whom the cat is going to live?
Older folks like me often choose mature cats who will not outlive us and whose subdued energy level better matches ours. Toddlers, too, do best with mellowed out, mature cats who understand the need to cut the two-legged kitten some slack.
School-age children delight in the playful antics of a kitten or a younger cat. So do adults short of their senior years.
Are there other pets in the household?
A cat-friendly dog or a single cat is most likely to accept a kitten. Results are less predictable when you bring home a full-grown newcomer.
Cats choose their friends in much the same way people do. If you're lucky, the new cat and the resident will hit it off. Then again, they may not. I once had two cats who got along like solo travelers sharing accommodations on an Elderhostel trip. They treated each other politely, but each preferred her own space.
A puppy and kitten raised together often become best friends, as do two kittens who are littermates. If you are away from home most of the day, adopt a pair. They will provide great company for one another and are unlikely to tear up the house out of boredom or to develop neurotic quirks.
What do you want this cat to do: be a child's pet, a companion for another pet, a mouser?
Granny and grandpa, the matriarch and patriarch of my extended family, had been big-dog people all their lives. When their last retrievers were gone, the 80-year-olds missed them but didn't want more of the work that went with dogs. Neither did they want the rodents and gophers that soon moved onto their property.
Now they dote on a family of feral cats. The cats were trapped, spayed or neutered and given all their shots. They sleep in the woodshed in warm, straw-lined beds and dance around grandpa's feet when he brings out their dinner every night.
Think about temperament.
With purebred cats, the temperament comes with the breed. But most of us have mixed-breed cats. Shorthaired cats tend to be spunky while most longhairs are on the gentle side. This helps when choosing a kitten, as does watching how a kitten acts around you and its littermates.
To know for sure about temperament, adopt a cat who is at least 1½ to 2 years old. By then, the innate disposition is obvious.
Finally, think about coat care. I love the grooming that goes with longer-haired cats. Others don't, or simply do not have time for it.
So now that you have a good idea of the kind of cat you want, head for the animal shelter. But be prepared to be blindsided by love.
Linda Daniel has spent her life in the company of cats, most of whom simply showed up at her door. She's a believer in spaying and neutering to reduce the number of homeless cats. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.