How To Find The Right Cat For You
First, Know Yourself
You've decided to adopt a cat--congratulations! Cats are wonderful companions, and they have a wide range of personalities, so it's not hard to find one who's just right for you. To do that, though, you have to ask yourself a few questions to identify what you really want in your feline friend.
1. What is your own energy level? Are you a quiet, sedentary homebody? An extroverted talker, always on the go and with lots of people in and out of the house? More in the middle?
2. How much attention do you want to give to a cat? Do you want to dole out lots of petting and cuddling and spend lots of time playing? Would you prefer an independent cat who likes you but doesn't demand a lot of interaction?
3. Do you like chatty, vocal cats, or prefer quiet ones?
4. Do you want your cat to welcome your friends and be in the middle of things, or would you prefer one who stays out of the way?
5. Do you live alone? With another adult? Are there children in the house? Are other animals living there?
6. Is your house empty at times? For a few hours? All day? Overnight? Do you need a cat who can handle being on his own?
Being clearly aware of your preferences and your situation before you start looking for the right cat will make it much more likely that you'll find one who suits you well.
Now let's look at some basic cat personalities. You may be surprised at how different cats can be. These personalities are drawn from the combinations of two basic measurements: 1) degree of independence, and 2) level of activity. Since there is always a middle ground, this gives us nine portraits of catness to study.
1. High Independence/Low Activity: The Ghost
The Ghost is there, but you don't see him much. He spends his time behind furniture, in closets, under the bed in the guest room, anywhere that makes him feel safe and allows him to keep an unobtrusive eye on you. He likes to know you're there, but doesn't have much need to interact with you. A pat on the head or scritch under the chin as you're passing will usually be enough to keep this solitary cat happy; he's unlikely to want to be picked up or held. He'll let you know if he needs something, but otherwise he's content with his own company.
The Ghost generally avoids children, who are too loud and often too rough for him. He'll find a safe place away from their notice, and give them a wide berth when he's moving through the house.
If a mouse appears in your home, he'll watch it with interest, but won't hunt unless it's quiet and there's no one around to disturb his stalking. And the hunting is done without fanfare; you may not even be aware of the intruder until you find it left on the floor for you to dispose of, with the Ghost nowhere in sight. Or he may just eat it, in which case you'll never know the Ghost has struck.
Whether he's timid, fearful, or just standoffish, the Ghost will not be happy to have visitors in the house. He doesn't want to be approached by strangers, and the additional noise disturbs his naps, which are long and cherished. If your house is quiet, if you live alone or with another adult, and you don't have time for a high-maintenance cat, you and the Ghost may be just each other's cup of tea.
2. High Independence/Medium Activity: The Lone Ranger
You'll see more of the Lone Ranger than of the Ghost, since he's a purposeful cat. He makes his rounds of the house every day, checking every room and looking out every window for items of interest, and he won't mind if there are people around as long as they're not too noisy. Like the Ghost, he's not too fond of children, and will generally stay out of their way, though if they treat him well, he'll put up with some petting and playing.
He'll come by to see you while he's on patrol, but in an impersonal, "Good, you're fine, now on to my next room" sort of way. He has his rounds to make, and can't stay to be petted for more than a minute or two. He likes being where he can see you, and will curl up within view (on top of the furniture rather than beneath it like the Ghost), but it's as likely to be in the next room as in the one you're occupying. He'll come over for a treat or to head-butt you for attention, but a few minutes will satisfy his need for contact, and he's off to take a nap or explore an interesting sound in another part of the house.
The Lone Ranger hunts, and does it well. He'll continue his stalking if someone enters the room, but is annoyed and may leave if you interrupt him with petting or toys. Once he's killed something, he's likely to bring it to you for praise, but if you're not around or unavailable, he may eat it or he may leave it for you to find, depending on how the spirit moves him.
Like the Ghost, the Lone Ranger isn't too happy to see strangers come to the house, but he'll appear occasionally to see what's going on and whether there's anything in it for him. He may accept being petted by visitors, though he's unlikely to tolerate being picked up or held, but his appearance will be short-lived since people don't interest him that much. A busy cat, he'll prefer to get back to his other activities, such as exploring, playing briefly with something that interests him, looking out the window, and checking to see whether you happened to leave a laundry basket with warm, fluffy towels in it for napping.
If your home has a moderate level of activity, and you want a friendly but independent cat who can be left to his own devices most of the time, the Lone Ranger may be just what you're looking for.
3. High Independence/High Activity: The Ninja
Though he's an independent spirit like the Ghost and the Lone Ranger, you'll never have any trouble finding the Ninja. This high-energy cat is rambunctious and always into something: playing in and knocking over the wastebaskets, trying to jump from the bookcase to the chandelier, and chittering loudly at the birds outside the window. While he may be struck suddenly comatose after encountering a sunbeam, it won't last long--life is way too full of adventure, and he doesn't want to miss anything.
The Ninja is friendly and approachable, but very independent, and therefore not a snuggler. He may sleep briefly in your lap, but is just as likely to start playing with the hand you use to pet him, sometimes quite aggressively. He loves attention as long as it involves activity; you can drag toys around in front of him for hours. But once you stop, he's off to find something else to do. The Ninja can also be quite vocal, leaving you in no doubt about when he's hungry or wants to go outside.
The Ninja likes children because they're as active and rambunctious as he is, and he'll happily join in a game of "Let's pull all of the toilet paper off the roll!" But he can play too aggressively for small children, and any mistreatment from older kids will result in a quick retaliation by tooth and claw before he races out of range. With well-behaved children, though, he can be an endless source of entertainment and fun.
Ninjas are fine hunters, and chasing a mouse is another exciting activity. He's a noisy hunter, too, meowing at his prey, racing through the house after it, knocking over wastebaskets and even lamps as he charges over and around furniture. When he catches it, he'll proudly bring it to you for praise, usually refusing to eat it until you've petted him and told him what a great hunter he is.
Your Ninja will be happy to see people come into the house, since he regards anyone new as a potential source of fun; he will circle around expectantly, waiting for toys to be tossed or dragged in front of him. He'll accept a visitor's petting as a courtesy, but what he really wants is something to do.
This isn't a cat you want to leave alone with no activities, because a bored Ninja can be a destructive Ninja. But if you're generally at home and there's a lot of activity there, you'll find a Ninja to be an entertaining and self-reliant companion.
4. Moderate Independence/Low Activity: The Quiet Friend
The Quiet Friend is an ideal cat for someone who likes an affectionate but low-maintenance companion. Less independent than the Ghost, he enjoys your attention and will willingly curl up in your lap for petting, but if you're busy, he understands and can happily occupy himself elsewhere. Napping is his favorite activity, and he spends a lot of time at it. This cat can spend the whole day gazing dreamily out the window through half-closed eyes, and he doesn't get too worked up about anything he sees.
The Quiet Friend is a good cat for a house with children, since he enjoys some attention but will not scratch or bite a child who pulls his tail; he simply makes himself unavailable to that child from that time on. When you have visitors, he'll stay out of the way unless invited in, and then he approaches hesitantly, wanting to make sure the experience will be pleasant before he allows any interaction with strangers. Once he's reassured, however, he'll be happy to treat them as friends, purring and arching his back to be petted. If the visitors show no interest in him, though, he's just as happy to take himself off to his favorite nap spot. He will sleep tranquilly through a fairly high noise level, especially if he's accustomed to it.
The Quiet Friend can be a good hunter, but like the Ghost, he won't hunt unless it's quiet and peaceful, and his energy level isn't high enough to keep him engaged if the mouse hides for long periods or decides to climb the drapes. Unlike the Ninja, who will try to go right up the drapes after it, the Quiet Friend isn't nearly determined enough to create a ruckus; a mouse that obligingly runs right across his path is more in his line.
If your house is moderately quiet and peaceful, and you need a cat who can be left on his own while you're at work or if you have to make an ovenight trip out of town, the Quiet Friend can be just what you're looking for.
5. Moderate Independence/ Moderate Activity: The Buddy
If you're looking for a cat who wants to be your pal but is also content to entertain himself when you're busy, the Buddy may be the cat for you. He is easy-going, but active enough that he likes to be around whatever you're doing. He is affectionate, but he'll accept it if you push him away when you need to be left alone. Not one to take offense, he'll curl up nearby and wait until you welcome him back.
The Buddy will unobtrusively follow you around the house so he can see what you're doing and whether there's any way he can participate. He'll sit watching you do the dishes or the cooking, and will occasionally come over and put a paw on your leg to ask if there's anything he can do to help. He likes it when you strip the bed and remake it, so he he can get under the top sheet as it goes on and kick at each successive blanket or quilt as it comes down, pouncing on imaginary prey under the sheet. He'll help you wind or unwind your yarn, read the newspaper, and write in your journal. If you happen to be mechanical, he's down with that, too. He'll come out to the garage with you and watch you change the oil and filter on your motorcycle, preferably from his perch on the seat.
The Buddy is good with kids; he'll welcome being petted and played with as long as the children aren't too rough. If they are, he won't retaliate; he'll just leave and avoid them until he's sure that whatever happened won't be repeated. Relaxed and forgiving, he doesn't carry a grudge.
The Buddy hunts the way he does everything else, with enjoyment and a minimum of fuss. He'll chase the mouse enthusiastically if he's alone, but if there are a lot of people around, he may decide just to keep an eye on its hiding place from the back of a chair or sofa, where he's not in the way. What he'd really like, of course, is for you to hunt the mouse with him.
Visitors are a source of enjoyment for The Buddy. Like the Ninja, the Mischief-Maker, and the Commander, he assumes people have come over to see him, and he doesn't hesitate to make friends. He'll quietly sniff the at the tools in the dishwasher repairman's toolbox, and try to look into the dishwasher to watch the repair work. He'll be happy to be petted by any visitor who sits down, and may even jump up onto a welcoming person's lap, though he may not stay there long. On Halloween, he'll watch the trick-or-treaters with interest, and at Thanksgiving, he assumes one of the chairs at the table is for him. However, he won't be annoyed if you chase him off; the Buddy is too easy-going for that. He'll simply get out of everyone's way and then assume a perch on a piece of nearby furniture where he can enjoy the festivities.
6. Moderate Independence/ High Activity: The Mischief-maker
If you have a busy household and want to share it with one of the most entertaining cats around, choose the Mischief-maker. This high-energy charmer is on the go from morning 'til night, but unlike the Ninja, he's happiest when he can make you a part of his fun. However, when you're too busy to play with him, he's fully capable of entertaining himself.
Everything is a potential toy to the Mischief-maker: a tissue box, your jewelry, pens and crayons, your children's smaller toys, papers left on your desk, the curtain drawcords, small objects on your display case, and other pets. He plays with gusto--where a quieter cat might hide inside a paper bag and peer out of it, the Mishchief-maker charges into it and rampages around inside as though he's fighting off his enemies, often tearing the bag apart in the process.
The Mischief-maker does well with children since their high energy level matches his own, and since he likes interaction with humans more than the Ninja does, he'll happily play for as long as a child will drag something in front of him or, even better, toss it up in the air so he can leap for it. His lower level of independence from people also means he won't react by clawing or biting if a child is too rough; he'll simply leap away and run out of the room. He can be coaxed back before too long by gentle petting, a kind voice, and the appearance of twinkly, sparkly things to play with.
At the sight of a mouse, the Mischief-maker flings himself into the hunt with zest and brio. He's a verbal hunter, like the Ninja and the Commander. His stalking is accompanied by soft, gutteral chirrups, and if the mouse hides under a cabinet where it's temporarily safe, he'll pace back and forth in front of the cabinet with tail lashing and eyes intent, uttering his hunting yowl every few minutes. There will be no rest, no food, and no sleep for the Mischief-maker until the mouse is caught and dispatched with happy savagery.
Visitors are a welcome change of pace for the Mischief-maker, new people to befriend and delight. He accepts the appearance of the electrician as a wonderful opportunity to bat at little shiny objects laid out on the floor for his enjoyment, and if coils of wire are to be pulled through the house, he's right there to pounce on them and try to run off with them. He assumes that any seated person must want him on their lap, and if he's feeling restless, he may respond to their petting with bunny kicks and not-so-gentle biting.
Like the Ninja, the Mischief-maker does not respond well to being left alone, but if you're at home most of the time and run a busy, noisy household, the friendly, energetic MIschief-maker may be your ideal companion.
7. Low Independence/Low Activity: The Sweetheart
If you have a quiet home and you want to lavish attention on an adoring cat, the Sweetheart is for you. Gentle, calm, and very affectionate, the Sweetheart is a perfect lap cat. Not only does he love to be held, he also personifies "snuggly," and his greatest desire in life is to sleep wherever you are. When being held and petted, he responds with loud purring and, if he is a vocal cat, a series of soft, happy trills like the tribbles in Star Trek.
Being so attached to you, the Sweetheart will follow you around the house and meow at you to sit down and take him onto your lap. If you're working at the computer, he may lie down on the keyboard to get you to stop and pay attention to him. A petting chair next to the computer is a good solution to his need for attention; show him that as long as he sits there, you'll pet him. It won't take long for him to catch on and curl up for a nap, though if you take your hand away, he may awaken and meow softly to recapture your attention. Being such a gentle cat, though, he won't persist to the point of unpleasantness, and he may even leave for a while to find a warmer place to nap once he's convinced that you're just not going to indulge him right now.
A Sweetheart doesn't warm up to strangers immediately, but if allowed to approach on his own, and assuming the strangers are quiet and calm, he will soon decide to make contact. A little petting and scritching around the ears, and the Sweetheart will be in his new friend's lap and ready to take a nap.
Sweethearts have no objection to children as long as the children are gentle with him. If they aren't, he'll simply move away and not come within reach again. You can coax him to trust the kids again by holding him in your arms and letting them pet him, but whether or not this works, you don't have to worry that he might hurt them. The Sweetheart will simply stay out of their reach if he doesn't trust them.
The Sweetheart is a poor hunter; he doesn't have the killing instinct. When a mouse appears, his instincts tell him to go after it, and he'll enjoy the chase in a happy, offhand way (though if it takes too much effort he'll quit and go take a nap). But if he actually catches the mouse, you can literally see the confusion on his face as he asks himself, "What am I supposed to do with it?" He often lets it go because he can't answer the question.
Sweethearts should not be left alone; they have abandonment issues and will become more and more upset if they can't find you or another member of the household--human or animal--with whom they have a bond. They will manage for a day if they have an animal companion, but after a full 24-hour absence, you'll be greeted by a traumatized cat who will meow incessantly to be picked up and petted, and it will take him a few hours to believe that you're really back and still love him.
If you have a quiet, loving home to offer the Sweetheart, you'll have a faithful and adoring companion for many years.
8. Low Independence/Medium Activity: The Personal Assistant
If you want an affectionate cat who thinks the most fun he can have in life is to participate in everything you do, you might find the Personal Assistant to be the perfect cat. He's devoted and loving like the Sweetheart, but his higher activity level leads him to express his love through helping you in every facet of your day. Do you like to read the newspaper in the morning? He'll lie on the paper to help you. Folding the laundry? He'll jump into the basket and knead the nice, warm clothes. Working on the computer? He'll sit at your side (on the desk, not the floor) and help you press the keys, and if he sees something particularly interesting on the screen, he'll be happy to bat at it so you won't miss seeing it. The petting chair doesn't work for this cat as it does for the Sweetheart; he's more energetic and wants to be right in the middle of whatever you're doing.
Like the Buddy and the Sweetheart, he'll follow you from room to room, happy to be part of your day. If you really need to be left alone to accomplish something that isn't helped by active cat paws, you'll have to keep pushing him away until he gets the message and settles for curling up beside you.
The Personal Assistant likes children, and they like him. He's sweet-tempered and will regard a little rough play as just part of the game, and his energy level means he'll be willing to play for a considerable time.
The Personal Assistant loves to hunt; it's fun and it's another way to be helpful to his beloved human. He especially likes it if there's another cat in the house to join the chase; they can spend hours happily crouched in front of the china cabinet as the mouse underneath it tries to find a way out. But like the Sweetheart, the Personal Assistant doesn't really have the killer's instinct--for him it's all about the chase. His idea of hunting is to catch the mouse and let it go so he can chase it some more, and he'll happily keep this up for two or three days until the mouse dies of fright and exhaustion. When that happens, he'll proudly bring it to you and lay it at your feet in loving tribute. This may involve meowing at your bedroom door at 3:00 a.m. until you open it and praise him for providing you with such a lovely and useful gift. If you use mousetraps under your cabinets, and the Personal Assistant hears the trap snap shut on a victim, he'll nearly dislocate his shoulder trying to reach the mouse, and if successful, will present you with the mouse, still in the trap. The fact that he didn't catch it himself doesn't matter; he's sure you'll be happy to know that he's on the job and helping you keep the house rodent-free.
Visitors are a treat for the Personal Assistant: more people to help! He'll walk right up to meet his new friends, and will be happy to play with their shoelaces, burrow under the jackets they've laid on the couch, and get onto their laps so he can plant his front feet on their chests and touch noses, purring all the while. The Personal Assistant will be surprised and a little hurt if all of this attention is met with a rebuff--or worse, being put out of the room. But with his happy, positive nature, he'll soon get over his disappointment and be ready to join in whatever is happening around him.
The Personal Assistant would prefer you didn't leave him alone in the house, but his sunny disposition results in the conviction that you won't be gone for long and will make it up to him when you return. Another cat in the house is an excellent solution if you and your significant other both work outside the home. If you have a busy, active life and want a happy cat who's delighted to be part of it all, try the Personal Assistant.
9. Low Independence/High Activity: The Commander
Would you like a cat who's loving, devoted, and whirlwind of energy and confidence? Then look no further: meet the Commander. He's a cat who knows the world is his oyster, and he believes he is master of all he surveys. He's known to run dogs off his property, and you must keep an eye on him for that reason; he's absolutely fearless and knows he's the toughest cat in town.
The Commander is highly affectionate, and vocalizes his love for you with a range of meows, chirrups, and other cat speech. He wants to know where you are at all times, and will happily occupy himself near you with anything that catches his interest. However, your participation is required, and if you don't provide it, he will frequently come over and head-butt you for attention, telling you all about what he's doing and that he wishes you'd come and do it, too. He'll feel free to walk all over you to get you to stop reading or doing the bills or whatever it is that's keeping you from giving him as much attention as he's giving you.
Like the Personal Assistant, the Commander likes children and they like him. His only problem is that he may become so enthusiastic that he forgets who he's playing with and may get too rough, with the gentle clawing and biting that other cats love but children hate. A vigorous game of fetch for 20-30 minutes before the children arrive is a good way to drain some of his energy, so he can be a gentle playmate suitable for children.
Like the Personal Assistant, the Commander is an enthusiastic hunter, and the whole household will know he's spotted a mouse. He races after it with the excitement shared by the Ninja, leaping across furniture and knocking things over as he goes. His hunting speech is loud and variable, letting everyone know where he is and what he's doing. Of course, what he really wants is for you to watch him, since the whole game is dedicated to you. You can count on being presented with the eventual trophy, and there's no chance he'll let a caught mouse escape--a captured mouse is a dead mouse.
The Commander loves visitors and wants to be the center of attention. He will circle the room, rubbing his cheek and arching his back along the legs of each visitor, accepting the resultant caresses with happy purring. People are just one more source of enjoyment for him, and he wants to make sure they all feel welcome. The idea that not everyone is a cat person has never crossed his mind, and if his behavior is too extroverted for some people, leading him to be put out of the room, he will immediately begin meowing, his first pleasant reminders quickly accelerating to loud, indignant demands, since he knows it was all a mistake and no one realizes he's missing. This is not a cat you should leave alone in the house with no companions--his high energy and need for company will quickly make him bored and upset, so that he may end up doing damage before you get home.
If your home is full of people and activity, and you want a loving cat whose high energy level makes him a constant entertainment, choose the Commander.
One Last Word
If you intend to rescue a cat from the pound or another rescue agency, be aware that previous neglect or mistreatment may have temporarily altered your cat's behavior. Ask the people who have daily contact with your potential cat for detailed information on his behavior, and if possible, arrange for some private time with him so you can get a feel for his personality.
Now that you know the differences that come from varying levels of independence and activity, you should be able to find the cat that is right for you!