So you’ve decided to get a pet. Maybe you’re hankering for some furry companionship to perk up the lonesome evenings. Perhaps you’re attempting to plug an emotional gap in your life by saving some of god’s non-edible creatures. Or maybe you just want to strike back at those people clogging up your Instagram feed with blurry pictures of their gurgling babies. Whatever your motive, there is but one choice here, and that animal is the cat.
Once you’ve acquired one of your own, you’ll find that never before has a creature been so content just to be. For these furballs, life is a cyclical pursuit of food and naps. The cat doesn’t just recognize the glass ceiling but embraces it; as long as the occasional sunbeam can seep through. Cod philosophy aside, here’s how you get a cat.
First up, adopt, don’t shop. Forget about the exotic breeds that used to be advertised in the back of Cat Fancy magazine—to hell with the hairless Donskoy or the uppity Chinchilla Persian!—and hit up your local shelter. I got my current cat, Mimosa, from the Brooklyn Animal Rescue Coalition, which is colloquially known as the Cat Loft and was recently visited as part of Run the Jewels’ Meow the Jewels project. Any shelter will do, though: They are all stocked with kitties rescued from some homeless hell or dysfunctional owner.
How do you begin to navigate through this clowder of caged cats? Well, tri-colored calicos look cool, but that abundance of white hair will certainly sparkle on your clothes as shedding ensues. Tortoiseshells are usually smaller than other cats if size is a consideration; you could also step up like a champ and take home the much-shunned black cat, being that they suffer from a lower adoption rate than other-colored kitties. But really, you want to seek out the humble domestic shorthair. These are the ultra-common tabby cats that you see everywhere; ideally, its commoner status means you’re rescuing a cat that’s going to be grateful for your attention and care.
Other cursory considerations should include aiming for the sweet-spot of a six-month-old kitty that’s billed as house-trained. That way you’re still gonna get a chunk of kittenish behavior to coo over without all the hassle of having to train the cat. Also, feline folklore suggests female cats like male owners best, so line up the chromosomes appropriately if you’re the suspicious type.
Now that you’ve honed in on your feline archetype, it’s time to get smart: Pick the best in show. Sure, that might sound a little arrogant, but you’re going to need to quickly judge the cat’s entire personality from a brief introduction. Be wary of the overly energetic cat running around its cage playing with any toy that comes on its radar: This guy is probably not going to be the most relaxed creature once you get it home. Likewise, any cat cowering in its cage or treating you in too wary a manner might take a lot of adjusting to a new home and could hint at psychological issues. Look for the cat that’s kept its cage clean—you know, food in the bowl as opposed to splattered everywhere—and is showing a presentable level of personal grooming. When that cat gives you an adorable look that says, “Get me out of this hostel-like hell,” that’s when you’ve found your match.
Unfortunately, this is when the up-selling kicks in. People who work in shelters just love to push more and more cats on you. They will tell you that your cat will need company, and that two cats are always better than one. Don’t be fooled: They’re just trying to move units. Remember that two cats means double the expenditure and twice the effort — don’t be that person who assumes that adopting two cats means they will amuse and care for each other all day while you ignore them.
Okay, so now that you’ve successfully selected yourself a cat, you’ll need some basic supplies. There’s no cute way of saying that you’ll need a litter box for the cat to do its business in. This thing will not become a mini-zen garden that you’ve installed in a tidy corner of your abode; there is no Feng shui when it comes to poo boxes. But at least you’re not having to pick up dog crap twice a day. Grab the cheapest plastic litter box with a covered hood (avoid those upscale electronic ones that claim to self-clean as they do not work and can be a maintenance nightmare).
As far as litter goes, skip the natural brands—you’ll end up living with a smell best described as stale pee absorbed by sawdust and dried corn—and get the crystals. I’d happily wear a Fresh Step T-shirt, as their litter is 10 bucks for a month’s supply and absorbs odors like magic. If you place the litter box in the bathroom, scooping crystals and brown nuggets from the box to the human toilet is a cinch—and at some point you might also get to experience the bonding experience that is simultaneous pooping with your cat. (Note: Many cat owners are ardently opposed to flushing litter, given studies on its effect on sea otters on the West Coast. So yeah, maybe just toss the litter.)
There are internet wormholes galore detailing the conditions in certain pet-food-processing plants, along with theories speculating on the exact ratio of protein your kitty should have in its diet, but all that becomes moot, because this will happen: One day, you’re going to realize that you’re all out of the premium organic cat food you so thoroughly researched, and have to pick up something from the local deli on the way home. This can will be called Fancy Feast. The streets call it kitty crack. Your cat will devour it like a first experience with fast food. When you finally re-up on the premium organic stuff, the cat will sense something is amiss and walk away from its bowl. This is when you need to usher in a compromise: Serve healthy dried kibble in the morning (Ellen invests in a good brand) and placate the cat with a small amount of Fancy Feast Gravy Lovers in the evening as a treat. (Getting your cat onto a half-and-half diet also helps if you’re ever away for the night, as you can just leave out extra dried food.)
You’ll be tempted to splurge on the fun-looking stuff like toys and bedding and furniture. Don’t. Cat consumer goods are designed to appeal to humans, not cats. Do you think Little Drizzy (or whatever rapper you’ve named your cat after) cares whether a toy resembles a piece of sushi or a bed has pictures of fish on it? No, but the Pet Industrial Complex does. So fight the power and stick to this list of things that history has proven cats actually like: ping-pong balls, pieces of ribbon, paper packaging, cardboard boxes, and balled-up receipts. Provide something akin to a hobo cat city, and your kitty will think well of you. Testament to this is the one genius-level cat toy in the world, the Cat Dancer: It’s basically a piece of corrugated cardboard on a thin wire.
Now that you’re fully catted up, it’s time for the big day when you collect the cat. (There may be some sort of adoption application form to fill in, but there’s no chance you’re failing this if you can remember your address.) Do this on a weekend or a time when you can be home for a couple of days. Put all of the cat’s essential stuff—food and water and litter box—in the bathroom or another small enclosed space. Basically, the cat needs to know that this isn’t an elaborate trap. Then you can let the cat out into the room (with the door closed). It might stay in its carrier for a minute. It might scuttle out and hide under something. It might even decide to sit in its fresh litter box. These things are all okay. Leave some treats out for it, then leave it alone. Go and take a nap or fix a snack. Check back on the cat. It might have decided to explore the room, or it might still be hiding. Again, both are fine. If it seems like it’s clamoring to leave the room and explore the rest of its new home, let it. If not, leave the door a little ajar before bedtime. There’s a good chance that when you wake, you’ll see the cat sitting on the couch.
The couch, allegedly.
Before you get a cat, it’s a given that some person will regale you with a horror story about how their cat destroyed their prized Ikea two-seater. Yes, cats like to scratch—it can relieve stress, it feels good, it’s part of playing—but cats are not finagling to ruin your furniture specifically. So get a scratching post. The one claiming to be the best in the world is actually very decent and not too much of an eyesore. Then if you find your cat scratching something you don’t want it to scratch, simply pick it up and take it over to the scratching post. Cats learn quickly—and you can speed up the learning with treats. (An empty spray-cleaning bottle filled with water can also be used if you want to embrace a bad-kitty-cop tactic, and in my experience the occasional accidental spritz with a Swiffer WetJet can give your cat’s coat something of a pleasing luster.)
Congratulations: You now have an almost zero-maintenance pet that will happily sleep for about 20 hours a day yet still purr with delight when you decide to grace it with your presence. Life is good in that moment. Go ahead and Instagram it.
Phillip Mlynar lives in Queens, NYC. When not writing about rappers for Red Bull, NYLON, and the Village Voice, he muses on the feline form for Catster. His Twitter claims he's the world's foremost expert on rappers' cats.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby.
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