[quote]Here's a new question: how can you best judge a cat's personality(I wouldn't get one say under a year old) when you are trying to pick one out at a shelter. It would be great to know what quirks you are or aren't getting. Not that they would emerge at the shelter, but the general personality might provide hints. How can you get the cats to show what they are really like to you at first? Is it always a gamble when you get one?
You can tell a lot with shelter animals. Most dogs go through standardized temperament testing, but cats are a bit more difficult, though not impossible.
Do they try to attract attention when you walk near the cage? Do they cry out or stick their paws through the bars, or do they sit quietly and calmly? That may be a couch potato cat that won't get into too much mischief.
Does it relax in your arms and start purring right away when a stranger (you) picks it up? That's a sign it may be highly adaptable to a living situation and is seeking companionship. Often those cats are described as having "dog-like" personalities -- they follow you around and are happy with company. (Not good choices for someone who works or travels a lot.)
Most cats are motivated by affection, food and play. If you take out a cat, what does it want to do first? Cuddle and be petted? Get down and explore? Meow for a treat?
See if the shelter has a playroom or a "get to know you" room. What does the cat do when you take it in there and close the door? Is it hesitant? Does it immediately start playing, or try to entice you into play? Does it ignore the toys and crawl into your lap, begging for affection? A super-playful cat may drive you crazy with its need to play all the time; a super-affectionate cat may have some separation anxiety.
Ask to see the shelter's file on the animal. There you can find out its circumstances: if it was turned in as a friendly stray, if it was found in a litter, if it was an owner surrender. Surrenders can range from new babies in the house, to hoarders, to people who moved and didn't take the animal -- almost anything.
Some of the best, most balanced cats (and dogs) who arrive at a shelter were the property of an elderly person who died, or who wasn't able to take care of them. Often the animals are middle-aged themselves and are very confused as to why they are there.
Yes, it's always a bit of a gamble, of course, but you can tell a lot more in just a few minutes with the animal than most people realize. If you're open to choices you may not have considered (many people aren't; they want "a kitten" or "an orange cat" or whatever) and look at the personality first, you'll have a good shot of finding what you are seeking.