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Picking a New Kitten

Relationships between people and cats don't always go that smoothly. There are kittens who daintily step into the litter box, only to abandon it later in favor of the houseplants. Or those who carefully sheathe their claws when playing, then turn into hand-scratching, couch-destroying tigers. Choosing a kitten is an inexact science at best, but there are ways to make good guesses about what kinds of cats kittens will grow up to be.

People don't ask all that much from their cats. A purr here, a rub there, some quiet time on the lap-these are the qualities (along with proper litter-box deportment) that make for perfect pets.

When you're choosing a kitten, the main thing to look for is how she responds to handling.

Let her make the first move. When you're looking over a litter of kittens, be a little standoffish at first. Wait to see which of the kittens approach you. These will be the ones who are adventuresome and eager for human contact-qualities that will only magnify over time. Look for wide-open eyes. Kittens who are born and raised without a lot of human contact sometimes grow up wild, or feral. Feral cats rarely make good pets. You can tell the difference just by looking at their eyes. Feral cats have a very distinctive look because they squint at visitors. Kittens should look at you wide-eyed and with curiosity.

Choose an adventurer. Kittens are born curious, and they spend a lot of time exploring their surroundings. Watch the kittens who pounce, play, and boldly go where no kitten has gone before-these are the ones who will be well-adjusted and fun to be with.

Do the Ping-Pong test. There are some things a happy kitten can't resist, and a Ping-Pong ball is one of them. Frommer recommends taking a ball with you to the shelter. Before choosing a kitten, roll the ball across her line of sight. If she goes for it- and most kittens will-you'll know she's eager and enthusiastic. A cat who ignores the ball or watches it suspiciously probably won't make the best pet later on.

Do the neck test. Kittens who get testy with Mom-or with motherly humans-are going to get testy with anyone. One way to test their temperament is to pick them up by the scruff of the neck, just like their mothers would. Most kittens will wiggle a bit, then calm down. Kittens who really struggle often grow up to be aggressive.

Lift her legs off the ground. Try this temperament test for kittens: Slip a hand under the kitten's belly near the hips, then hold her in the air so her front half dangles. Keep her up for about 30 seconds. A good kitty will kind of hang there for a minute and think about it. A more temperamental kitty, well, she'll try to eat you, and that personality is not going to go away.

See how they play. Litters of kittens, like packs of children, have bullies, babies, and leaders. You can tell a lot about them by the ways they interact.

• Kittens who are perpetually stalking their siblings' tails and generally horsing around will be the most outgoing and playful.

• Kittens who are willing to play but don't initiate a lot of games on their own will generally grow up to be more laid-back.

• Kittens who totally ignore their littermates and don't show much enthusiasm may not be in the best of health. They're not the best choices.

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