The decision to bring home a new cat or kitten is very exciting, and is not a choice to be made lightly. Cats can live 20 years or even longer, and getting a new pet is a lifelong commitment. When you’re sure you want a cat, the next question is, just where do you find him? In the newspaper, the humane society or animal shelter, your best friend’s cousin’s farm, or at a prestigious cattery? Each of these may contain the feline companion you’ve been seeking. A little more information may help with the decision.

Consider first whether you would like to live with pedigreed cat, or whether a mixed breed would be right for your family. This is a decision that is mostly based on personal preferences. The greatest advantage of purchasing a pedigreed kitten or cat is that his appearance and, to a lesser degree, his personality, are predictable. If you want a vocal, mischievous cat who is demanding of your attention, you may want a well-bred Siamese. If you want a laid-back princess, a Persian may be more to your liking.

If you want a pedigreed cat, where do you go? Pet stores are not set up to encourage responsible breeding, and do not have and therefore are not recommended as a source for kittens or cats. Pedigreed cats may occasionally be re-homed through breed rescue organizations or newspaper ads, but it is probably safest, from a behavioral point of view, to go straight to a reputable breeder who can regale you with information about your cat’s parents and other relatives. You can find responsible breeders at cat shows and through the cat registries (check our Resources section for contact information).

If there is no particular breed that has won your fancy, and your goal is simply to find a family pet, you might consider the colorful world of mixed breed kittens and cats (the most thoroughly mixed of which are typically categorized simply as either domestic shorthairs or domestic longhairs).

If you’re thinking about cost, mixed breed kittens and cats are generally inexpensive or free, while pedigreed kittens are sometimes quite costly. Of course, no pet is truly “free,” because responsible ownership includes the cost of quality food and veterinary care. Shelters usually require a donation of some kind, and if you are given a free kitten the initial inoculations, blood tests of serious diseases and spay or neutering can run into hundreds of dollars. (That’s why a shelter donation is often a much better deal than it seems, at first.)

Some people feel that adopting mixed breed cats is preferable because, by taking one home, you can provide shelter and love to an otherwise homeless animal. Others believe the pedigreed cat-owning community is deeply committed to feline welfare, and does not perpetuate the cycle of irresponsible breeding. Whatever your feelings, it is undeniable that many mixed breed kittens and cats need homes. Perhaps the best decision is both: If you have always dreamed of living with an elegant Turkish Van, get one. Then, maybe your next companion will be the gentle soul gazing at you from a cage in the local SPCA.

A breeder, a shelter, a friend or neighbor, or someone advertising kittens, may have the perfect pet for you. But wherever you decide to get your kitten or cat, just make sure a few basic criteria are met.

First, be sure the kittens and cats in the facility appear to be healthy. While this may present less of an issue in a private home, it certainly can be a problem in some cats housed in groups. Most private owners and some shelters will allow you to take your new pet to a veterinarian for a physical examination, including tests for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency viruses, before making a final commitment. Mild problems such as respiratory infections or parasites can easily be treated.

Second, consider the social background of the kitten or cat. You may not ever know the parents’ identities, let alone their temperaments, but you can certainly inquire about the amount of social interaction and handling kittens have had. Unfortunately, feral cats and kittens (such as barn cats or timid strays found in fields) may permanently bear the effects of poor socialization. If even a tiny kitten acts very fearful, hissing and trying to escape, assume this behavior will not change significantly as he matures. Noisy, active households are probably not the ideal environment for fearful kittens and cats; instead, consider the friendly, outgoing kitten who reaches out to you.

Just remember that sometimes, despite all the careful preparation, reams of pro-and-con lists, the reading and talking and Internet searches, ready or not, a cat finds you. Perhaps your cat will simply turn the corner to find you, and capture your heart.