Intake: What can you find out about each cat?
The information you have about what the cat’s life was like before it came to you is vital to the individual care for that cat and its outcome. This information forms the foundation of each cat’s portfolio that records not only the cat’s back story but also your own observations and understanding of the cat that you acquire during its stay. Piece together as much as you can about each cat’s life and experiences as this is valuable information to be cherished and to be passed on to the new owner – often the story of the cat is the first thing which draws a person to it.
You will need intake forms that capture as much relevant information as possible about each cat. For some cats, strays for example, there will be much less information available.
Staff will need to be skilled at talking through the questions with owners to obtain full and meaningful answers. For example, owners may be reluctant to share information about behaviour problems in case this prevents a cat being homed. Reassuring people that this information will benefit the cat and that unwanted behaviour is not always continued in a different setting can be helpful.
Here are some ideas to help you manage your intake process.
- Develop a systematic process for all enquiries that allows staff to provide a planned approach with a full assessment. Ensure that there is a record of all current enquiries with action plans, waiting lists, timelines and allocated responsibility
- Consider using community-based assessments (visiting cats in their current homes) if resources are available for all but true emergency situations. This allows cats to be properly assessed in their familiar environment and supports better care planning and outcomes (see example)
- Provide staff who deal with requests for help with ways of responding which include offering advice and support and arranging for community visits or referral to other sources
- Avoid the immediate panic response of bringing cats into your homing centre without an initial assessment- many situations are not urgent, and once reassured that action will be taken, most people are happy to wait
- Give staff clear guidelines of when to escalate any queries from the public and bring in more senior or specialised staff
- Ensure that any legal requirements for storing personal data in your country are adhered to
RSPCA Canterbury and District Animal Centre received a telephone call from a woman who had multiple cats that had been left with her by her daughter. It was established at this point that she had ownership of these cats. There were four adults and several kittens, currently being housed in her spare bedroom. They had not been neutered and she reported that one of the adult cats was so aggressive that she was unable to get in to feed them, clean the litter trays or interact with the kittens. She wanted the RSPCA to take the aggressive one and leave her with the others (she planned to sell the kittens). A home assessment was arranged for two members of the team to establish what kind of home (pet or non-pet) these cats required. When they visited, the team members found that the woman actually had several other cats of her own, kept as indoor cats, some of which were not neutered. When they met with the cats in the bedroom upstairs, they found one young adult was confident and friendly but the other three adults were very frightened. The female cat that the woman reported had been aggressive had a litter of five kittens with her that were approximately 3 weeks old.
The action plan discussed with the woman was as follows:
The staff kept in regular touch with the woman and 3 days later a farm home was found for the three adult cats. They were taken into the centre for neutering and then taken to their new home (a 25-acre smallholding where they have lived happily since then). The kittens were reared and developed into friendly and confident kittens and they were all found pet homes when they were 8 weeks old.
If the staff had not made a visit to the woman’s home then they would not have known about the other cats that were not neutered, they would not have been able to give the kittens the positive early experiences they needed, and the two other adult cats would have remained in a domestic home and continued to be frightened.
This is the information that you get from the cat’s previous owner or the person who has known the cat in some capacity prior to admission to your homing centre.
- The person who has brought the cat to you will have some key information and it is your role to establish what that is
- They may know something about the cat that you can use to inform decision-making regarding how you care for it during its stay, what the most appropriate outcome may be and the best home/owner match. For example, if they refer to the cat as shy with strangers, you may want to house the cat in a quiet area of the homing centre, provide it with plenty of places to hide and give it longer to settle
Do the best you can
You may be reading some of the content on this page and thinking ‘I can’t do that’ or ‘I wish it was that simple!’ We know that life is complicated and when you are dealing with cats (and people) nothing is black and white. Following Cat Friendly principles is all about doing the very best you can under difficult circumstances. So, if you read something and think ‘impossible!’ then maybe consider what you could do instead that would have a positive impact. We know we cannot achieve perfection as it isn’t a perfect world.
Be pragmatic and be satisfied with ‘good enough’ when the ideal seems impossible.
You will need paperwork, maybe in the form of a questionnaire, that you can ask the person to complete as best they can or you can agree to fill in any forms with them during a face to face informal interview. Information on intake forms is only helpful if it is relevant and interpreted properly, so whether you are reviewing existing paperwork or creating a new document, make sure you ask yourself this:
- Is the answer to this question relevant or helpful in some way to care for this cat or decide the best choice of outcome?
- Do I know how to interpret the significance of any answers that might be given to this question?
- Do I need the information contained in the answer to this question for the purposes of the cat’s personal records?
If you answer ‘no’ to any of the questions then it is probably not necessary to ask that particular one and it can be removed from the form; most people don’t like filling in questionnaires so the shorter and more relevant the better!
The kind of information that you do include will be about the cat’s back story:
- Where was the cat reared?
- Where did the cat live?
- Who did the cat live with?
- What has been the cat’s lifestyle up to this point?
Here are some examples of intake questions for owned, stray and abandoned cats. All the questions may not be relevant for your situation (they were written for the UK) and you may think of more that you would like to ask.
Cat Friendly Homing Questionnaire – Intake information for owned cats
Questions you may want to include in your questionnaire:
About the owner and their household:
About the cat’s veterinarian:
About any other pets the owner may have:
About the cat(s): – you will need to ask the owner to complete one section for each cat if they are bringing more than one cat into the centre
About the cat’s health:
About the cat’s diet:
About the cat’s behaviour: – it may be helpful to list a series of statements and then give the owner the opportunity to tick a box that best describes to what extent they agree or disagree with the statement. You would need five boxes: Strongly agree, agree, neither agree nor disagree, disagree and strongly disagree. This doesn’t mean that the cat will always behave in this way in another home with different people, but it can give you an idea of how the cat might respond. The following are suggested statements:
About the cat’s routine:
About the cat’s indoor litter trays: – this is useful information to know, particularly if the cat has soiled in the house (see below), in which case there may be an issue with the litter facilities that the owner is providing. If there are no issues around house soiling, then it may be useful for the new owner to know what the cat comfortably used in its previous home
About any problem behaviour: – being non-judgemental and building a relationship of trust with the owner is important so they can discuss information with you that they may otherwise have withheld. It is important to reassure owners that having a history of a problem behaviour does not mean that their cat cannot find a wonderful home, it is, however, important to know what may have caused issues for the cat in the past so that a similar situation can be avoided in the future
Has your cat ever had a history of any of the following?
About the owner’s reason for rehoming their cat:
You may wish to add other questions on different topics that are relevant to your particular country or area or exclude some of those listed above. Ensure however that there is a reason for asking each question and that the answers give you some useful information that will help you care for the cat or find the cat the right home.
Cat Friendly Homing Questionnaire – Intake information for stray cats
Questions you may want to include in your questionnaire: – you may wish to adapt this questionnaire and use the questions before the cat comes in so you can explore the option of the cat remaining where it is with the necessary care in place
About the cat:
About the background information: – these are questions for the person bringing in the stray cat
How long have you been aware of the cat in your area?
Is the cat obviously friendly? – some people may overstate the cat’s friendliness, so you want evidence of genuine friendliness such as coming to call with its tail held vertically in the air, approaching and choosing to stay near the person while it is being stroked etc.
Can you touch the cat? If so under what circumstances – if the person says they can touch the cat when its eating in their back garden this doesn’t mean it is friendly or used to people, it may just be tolerating the contact as it is really hungry
What makes you think this cat does not have a home? – some people will unwittingly feed a cat that lives a few houses away, thinking it is a stray without a home
Are you or anyone else currently feeding the cat? – feeding any cat that comes to visit can be very confusing for the cat and should not be encouraged. Even well-fed cats with perfectly good homes are opportunistic feeders and will return to places regularly if they get food there
What steps have you taken to establish if the cat has an owner? – it is likely that the cat does belong to someone, so you want to encourage anyone to make the necessary enquiries before you consider taking the cat in. This involves not just speaking to people in the same road but getting some information about the cat on the community’s social media page, doing a leaflet drop in the wider community (bearing in mind that cats can travel in straight lines and don’t have to use the road system so may actually live several streets away), putting a paper collar on the cat with a telephone number for the owner to call etc
About the environment:
Where was the cat found or in what area was the cat known to be living? – if the cat is not claimed by an owner and is subsequently homed it is often sensible to home the cat some distance away from where it was found otherwise it may go back to familiar territory with nobody to care for it
Since you have been aware of the cat, do you know where it has been sheltering? – most cats are self-reliant and will find a warm and dry place to sleep. If the cat appears at the person’s back door soaked through and cold then it is possible that, for whatever reason, this cat is not coping well with being outdoors and may well be a lost pet
You may wish to add other questions on different topics that are relevant to your particular country or area or exclude some of those listed above. Ensure however that there is a reason for asking each question and that the answers give you some useful information that will help you care for the cat or find the cat the right home
Cat Friendly Homing Questionnaire – Intake information for abandoned cats
Questions you may want to include in your questionnaire:
What else to consider
You may also be able to establish, from the previous owner’s perspective, what the cat’s temperament is like or how the cat behaved towards other cats, dogs or people. Bear in mind that a cat’s underlying temperament helps us to predict how it might behave in a given situation but other factors about that situation will also influence how the cat feels about it and ultimately, how it behaves. Such factors include things such as density of external cat population, presence and quantity of resources (such as feeding bowls and beds), owner behaviour, other cats etc. For example, a cat with a confident and friendly temperament may still display behaviours suggesting it is distressed if the situation it is placed in pushes it beyond its ability to cope, eg, too much attention from young children, the family dog, living alongside other cats. Information from a previous home may show what didn’t work for the cat, such as living in a multicat household, or you may find something important hidden in the answers to the questions on the intake form, for example, when an owner says the cat is very affectionate ‘on its own terms’ this may mean that the cat will swipe you if you try to stroke it when it is not in the mood.
It is also important that staff and volunteers are not judgemental about situations – owners may be struggling with complex issues in their lives and not have many options and choices. The aim is to get as much information as possible about the cat and not to criticise people (see communication skills).