I've adopted two cats from shelters. The first one was actually for my mother who needed a new animal companion after her dog died, but was getting too old to look after another dog. I wanted to get her a very friendly cat that would enjoy her company and sitting on her lap. I was looking for a cat at least a year old so that my mother would have it for a while.
The second adoption was for my own family. We had a 6-month-old Burmese who had just lost his sister. He really needed the company of another cat, so we went looking for a playful cat of similar age that liked being with other cats.
In both cases, knowing what characteristics I wanted was crucial. In the first instance, the shelter did not provide much information about each cat's temperament, so I entered the large room housing the adoptable cats and first looked for the ones that responded to me with interest and friendliness. I observed which cats enjoyed being petted. One very quickly rubbed against my hand and followed me around the room as I checked out the others. She was the one! And a great success she was too. She and my mother adored each other and lived together for many years.
The second adoption occurred with more technological assistance! My family found her on the shelter's website where her photo and biography were posted. We put her on a list with the other cats of the right age that liked cat company. Although our Burmese was initially defensive about the new arrival, after a couple of days we knew we had made the right choice as they started to play with each other the way the two siblings had done. She loves her humans as well.
How can you be sure you'll have similar success choosing a shelter cat? When you get there, look at all the cats and interact with them as much as you can. Read the information available on each cat - the staff and volunteers will have described their temperaments and any special needs. Notice which cats are good with other animals and children if these are requirements. Do you want a quiet or outgoing cat?
Ask to hold and play with particular cats. If there are toys to play with, try to engage with the cats that interest you. If you want a mouser, you'll want a playful cat.
Often shelter cats choose you! That certainly seemed to happen with my mother's cat. You'll most likely have stronger feelings towards one or two cats. If you can't decide, try asking the shelter staff for help. Tell them what you're looking for, where you live, whether you intend the cat to be indoors or outdoors, how many hours a day the cat will spend alone and so on.
If you can't decide, just sit or stand quietly and see which cat comes to you. If worst comes to worst, you can always get two!
Jenny is a cat lover and webmaster of Pictures of Cats You are welcome to reproduce this article on your pet or family related web site, as long as you reproduce the article in full, including this resource box and link to her website featuring photo and video galleries of beautiful cats.