Felines are still first when it comes to America's favorite pet: Cat lovers are owned by 93.6 million of them in the United States.
Cats are playful, intelligent and affectionate. Yet their independent nature makes them very different from dogs.
I'm a certified dog person, but each June I also proclaim my love and respect for cats. This time of year, thousands of them languish in shelters and rescues. That makes June national Adopt-A-Shelter Cat month.
"June is always the busiest month in terms of the number of cats and kittens that arrive at shelters," says Connie Brooks, director of operations for SPCA Tampa Bay. "And all they need is a loving home."
Adoption is a great option because fees are very reasonable and typically include spaying or neutering, vaccinations, microchip for identification and feline leukemia testing. The "extras" vary from shelter to shelter.
Before you head out on a cat hunt, a quick reality check is in order. Consider the commitment your family should be willing to offer this new companion.
Surely you'll enjoy having your ankles affectionately rubbed, but will you mind sharing your house with someone who sheds, tracks kitty litter and throws up hairballs?
Consider this: Cats typically live 12 to 16 years, sometimes longer. Are you able to provide food, shelter, veterinary care and companionship for that long? How old will you be in 16 years? How many moves do you anticipate during that time? If you rent, are you willing to restrict your choices to places that accept animals? What major life changes might you experience in the coming years, and will your commitment to your cat endure them?
Know this, too. Indoor cats live longer, healthier lives. An indoor-outdoor cat might live just four to eight years.
Don't forget to factor in the financial aspect of cat care. The typical, healthy cat will cost about $640 per year, according to a study by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. That figure includes food, veterinary care, litter, supplies and toys.
Regardless of these truths, there's a reason cats are America's most popular pet. They're good companions and relatively easy to care for. They also make great apartment or condominium pets, requiring only modest living space.
Choosing your feline friend
What's your favorite cat type? Arduous, arrogant, sarcastic, silly? Cats' personalities are as varied as their colors and coats.
One decision for advance determination is kitten or adult?
"Kittens are fun but you never know what kind of cat you will get. Adopting an adult cat is a great choice. They know how to use their claws appropriately, you know their personality," Brooks says.
Kittens can be rambunctious and will require house training, supervision and patience. Kittens also have very sharp teeth and claws and should not be left alone with small children.
Adult cats are available in greater numbers and offer excellent companion advantages over a young kitten. They adapt more easily to the home and are usually already litter box trained. Mature cats are calmer and will get into less trouble. When you adopt an adult feline, their size, temperament and personality are developed so there are fewer surprises. Adult cats are less fragile and may be well suited for children.
Frankly, it's often the cat that does the choosing, not you. Many cat owners admit going to a shelter with a mental checklist of criteria, only to emerge with a kitty that meets none of them. Cats have a way of sizing things up and adopting you!
If you're not quite ready to make a long-term kitty commitment, pet fostering opportunities are available at some animal shelters, including SPCA Tampa Bay.
"Right now, we're looking for foster homes for kittens and puppies," Brooks says. "Our foster volunteers care for pets until they are healthy or old enough for adoption. It is a very rewarding job."
Visit www.aspca.org for helpful information on caring for a new feline friend.
Bay area shelters, rescues
• Cat Call; (813) 657-7078, www.catcall.org
• Friends of Strays; (727) 522-6566, www.friendsofstrays.com
• No More Homeless Pets of Hillsborough County; 813-920-8359, www.nmhp-hc.org
• Hillsborough County Animal Services; (813) 744-5660, www.hillsboroughcounty.org/animalservices/
• Humane Society of Pinellas; (727) 797-7722, www.humanesocietyofpinellas.org
• Humane Society Tampa Bay; (813) 876-7138, www.humanesocietytampa.org
• Pinellas County Animal Services; (727) 682-2600, www.pinellascounty.org/animalservices/
• SPCA Suncoast (West Pasco), (727) 849-1048; www.spcasuncoast.org
• SPCA Tampa Bay; (727) 586-3591, www.spcatampabay.org
• Suncoast Animal League, (727) 786-1330, www.suncoastanimalleague.net