CLOSE
iStock
iStock

11 Surprising Facts About Cat Adoptions

iStock
iStock

Adopting a furry friend can bring a lot of joy into your life. In addition to providing a pal for life, getting a cat can lower stress and potentially save your life, so you should get one (or two) immediately. In celebration of National Adopt a Shelter Cat Month in June, here are 11 things you might not know about cat adoptions:

1. FEWER CATS ARE ENDING UP IN SHELTERS THESE DAYS.

While plenty of cats still enter shelters each year, that number is on the downswing. The ASPCA estimates that across the U.S., about 3.2 million cats enter animal shelters each year, which is down from just a few years ago.

2. ADOPTION IS ONE OF THE MOST COMMON WAYS TO GET A NEW CAT.

When it comes to getting a new cat, most people are heading to a shelter according to the ASPCA's figures, not a breeder. About 31 percent of cats entering new homes come from shelters, according to the association’s estimates, while 28 percent come from friends or relatives. Just 3 percent come from breeders. (Some 39 percent come from "other" sources.) The American Pet Product Association’s annual survey is even more hopeful: The 2016 survey found that 46 percent of people acquire their cats from a shelter, up from 43 percent in 2013.

3. KITTENS ARE EVEN MORE POPULAR THAN YOU THINK.

Gray kitten playing on a mat.
iStock

People prefer adopting kittens over cats more than they do adopting puppies over dogs, according to an analysis of Petfinder.com adoptions by Priceonomics. While 95 percent of puppies get adopted compared to 75 percent of young dogs and 68 percent of senior dogs, the rates drop much faster for cats. About 82 percent of kittens get adopted, but as they get older the likelihood drops, and once they pass around 18 months old, only 60 percent of cats get adopted.

4. BLACK CATS DON’T HAVE TROUBLE GETTING ADOPTED.

It’s a myth that black animals are adopted at lower rates than pets of other colors, according to data compiled by the ASPCA. In a review of 14 regions of the U.S. and about 300,000 dogs and cats up for adoption, the study found that black cats comprised 31 percent of cat adoptions, compared to 20 percent gray cats and 18 percent brown cats. The overabundance of black kitties in shelters may just be a matter of numbers: The genes that cause black coloration are dominant, so it stands to reason that there would be more black cats in general.

5. BUT COLOR DOES SEEM TO MATTER.

According to that same Priceonomics study, tuxedo cats—meaning black and white—get adopted at lower rates than any other color. Gray cats and orange tabbies get adopted at the highest rates, according to their numbers. (However, those numbers vary from what the ASPCA estimates—in the Priceonomics study, brown cats were more likely to get adopted than black cats, for instance.)

6. MANY CATS END UP IN SHELTERS BECAUSE OF HOUSING ISSUES.

Person's hand petting a cat who is sitting in a cage.
iStock

The kitties that end up waiting for new homes at rescues and shelters aren’t necessarily there because they were strays or because of behavioral issues. A high number of people who relinquish their cats do so because they have to move and their new housing situation doesn’t allow pets. In a study of pets given up for adoption from dozens of shelters run by the Australian Royal Society for the Protection and Care of Animals, the most commonly cited reason for giving up a cat was housing related. Only 4 percent of relinquished cats were given up because of behavioral issues.

7. TWO MIGHT BE BETTER THAN ONE.

Adopting a pair of cats might actually be less work than getting a solo kitty. That’s because bonded pairs can keep each other company, meaning they need less attention from you, and are less likely to take out their boredom or anxiety on your house. Since they’ll be eating at the same time and likely using the same litter box, it’s not that much different from dealing with a single cat. Shelters often give discounts to adoptees who take home a pair of cats, too, so it’s much cheaper (not to mention less stressful) than going back and getting another pet a year later once you realize that you can never have enough cats.

8. OUTGOING CATS GET ADOPTED FIRST.

In a 2012 study of 1600 people who adopted dogs and cats, behavioral characteristics tended to influence cat adoptions more than any other factor. While dog owners were more likely to cite appearance as the deciding factor in choosing their new pet, cat adopters were more concerned with how their new kitty acted, and how shelter workers described its behavior. Most cat adopters reported that their new pet approached and greeted them at the shelter, indicating that people like to adopt cats that are outgoing from the start.

9. IF YOU WANT TO ADOPT, YOU'LL NEED REFERENCES.

Gray Maine Coon kitten looking at camera.
iStock

Getting a cat from a rescue group often requires more than just showing up with the adoption fee. You’ll probably need to fill out an application that asks about your experience with pets, your plans for caring for your new cat, and a list of references that can vouch for the fact that you're a compassionate human capable of taking on a new pet. Sometimes these applications can be extensive, but they exist for good reason: In a survey of more than 570 pet adopters in several U.S. cities, 11 percent relinquished their pet back to the shelter within the first six months [PDF].

10. YES, YOUR CATS CAN LEARN TO GET ALONG.

While experts recommend introducing a new cat into the household gradually to ensure a good relationship between it and the cat you already have, getting the process just right might not be totally necessary. A 2005 study of 375 cat adopters found that 44 percent of owners introduced their new cat to their established pet immediately, while 22 percent introduced the cats to each other after a few days and 33 percent introduced them more gradually. However, the method of introduction didn't make or break the situation, at least when it came to overt fighting—22 percent of owners, regardless of introduction method, said their cats accepted each other immediately, while 40 percent said it happened within a month. While gradual introductions might help reduce the stress of meeting a new cat and ensure they become friends later, many cats will learn to at least tolerate each other regardless. (But again, almost all experts do recommend the gradual introduction approach to keep everyone happy.)

11. IT'S A LONG-TERM COMMITMENT.

Even if you adopt an adult cat (and you should!), your new friend will likely be with you for years to come. While the 38-year lifespan of Creme Puff, the world’s longest-living cat on record, might be unusual, indoor cats live for an average of 12 to 15 years. And it’s not rare for well-cared-for cats to live longer, depending on the breed—the average lifespan of a Persian is 17, and it’s perfectly normal for some cats to live to be 20 years old.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
arrow
Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Animals
15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
iStock
iStock

People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios