A free kitten can be hard to pass up. Crossing the parking lot on the way to the grocery store, you spot someone sitting next to a box with a sign that reads, "Free to a good home." Against your better judgment, you peek in the box, and see a litter of tiny kittens. Their high-pitched mews begin to tug at your heartstrings and melt your resistance. Should you seize the opportunity?
Keep reading to learn why offers of free kittens for free should make you think twice.
The True Cost of a Free Kitten
On the surface, accepting a kitten someone wants to give away might seem like a good thing. The kitten needs a home, the person making the offer can't or doesn't want to keep them, and you're in a position to help. But the truth is that there are many hidden costs to adopting a free kitten from a stranger. Here are a few that you should consider:
- The Unknown: You know nothing about the kitten, or the person giving her away. While you can certainly ask questions about the kitten's parentage, disposition, medical history and other pertinent information, keep in mind that you're asking a complete stranger — one who is probably desperate to hand off the baby cat. How can you trust that you're not just being told what you want to hear?
- Health Concerns: Your new kitten will need vaccinations, deworming and treatment for fleas and other parasites, and when she's old enough, she'll need to be spayed so that you won't be the one standing in front of the grocery store with a box of free kittens someday. These things can really add up. Petfinder points out that the initial veterinary bills for a "free" pet can run hundreds of dollars—much more than the typical adoption fee you'd pay at a shelter, where they have these things taken care of before the kitten is made available to adopt. And while the person giving away the kitten might claim to have had these things done already, the only way you can know for certain is to have her checked out by your own vet.
- Under-age Kittens: The kitten might be too young to adopt. People who give away free kittens are often in such a hurry to do so that they don't wait for them to be properly weaned and socialized, which can lead to behavioral problems as your kitten grows up.
- Feeding the Demand: You'll encourage the production of future free kittens. Those giving away free kittens have already shown an unwillingness to get their cats spayed or neutered. They'll have no incentive to do so if they find it's easy to give unwanted kittens away.
- The Remorse Effect: More often than not, those who accept free kittens, even from friends or family, come to regret their decision and either turn around and give the kittens to someone else or end up leaving them at an animal shelter. Petfinder cites a study conducted by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy that found that cats that were obtained for free from friends or family were surrendered to shelters at a much higher rate than any other way.
- Adopting a kitten from a stranger comes at a cost: even if the person relinquishing the kittens (or even cat) in the first place may ask for payment, this is not necessarily an indication that they are a reputable person from which to accept the cat. There are lots of kittens that become available in shelters all the time, so consider this route rather than going to a site like Craigslist to look. If you are considering a purebred cat, make sure that the breeder is reputable and can provide proper documentation of their lineage and vet checkups.
Better than "Free"
If you think you're ready for a cat, a much better alternative is to adopt from a reputable shelter. Shelter cats are fully vaccinated, spayed or neutered, and given a clean bill of health. They are also screened for any behavioral issues.
All of these services are covered by an adoption fee that is much less than the cost of having each of these things done on your own. Another advantage of adopting a shelter cat is that shelter staff are trained to match the right cat to the right home. Not to mention, not only will you be giving a kitty a new home, you'd also be creating space at that shelter for another kitten to be saved.
Deciding to adopt a kitten should never be a spontaneous decision. It should always take careful consideration and research. So, while you might be tempted by the allure of a free kitten, consider the hidden costs of "free," and weigh that against the good you can do by adopting from a shelter instead.
Jean Marie Bauhaus
Jean Marie Bauhaus is a pet parent, pet blogger and novelist from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she usually writes under the supervision of a lapful of furbabies.