When Do We Take Responsibility For A Cat?

Marc got me thinking about this. In a comment, he tells us of the story of people who cared for what seems to have been a domestic cat who had no home. I would call this cat a community cat – a tame stray cat who may have moved between homes. Anyway he was a domestic cat and he was being fed by people (a couple?) who lived in their own home in Sacramento California, USA. I don’t know if the home was rented or owned. It does not matter that much.

I suspect that the cat made himself known to these people. The people took pity on him and fed him. Marc does not know if they let the cat in. I am not that that makes much difference either.

When a cat becomes dependent on a person or persons even though the person had no intention of the cat becoming dependent, does the person have an obligation to continue to care for the cat?

It is like a slow motion adoption process. Surely it is fair to say that at some point in time what was once a stray cat then becomes a domestic cat? At that point the cat is legally “owned” by the person and the person from that point on has the obligation to care for him or her. I believe that is a fair assessment. But it may be too tough an assessment for the majority of people.

The difficulty lies in deciding when that point is crossed and whether the person caring for the cat has recognised that.

To return to Marc’s story. The people who cared for this charming and friendly cat, who would make a great companion, decided to move home and left the cat behind.

Was that the right or wrong thing to do? Of course it depends on the detail of what happened. Perhaps these people believed that this cat had other homes to go to where he was fed. Perhaps they knew that. However, Marc writes…

“..the neighbours justified leaving the cat behind since it was never their cat, just a stray who they took in…”

My personal view – and I accept the views of others – is that if a person “takes a cat in” they accept responsibility for that cat. The responsibility should continue for the lifetime of the cat in the usual way. Sadly, a lot of people don’t believe that they have responsibility for a cat for the cat’s lifetime and it does not matter how they adopted the cat.

This is an important point. How many people take on board the idea from the moment they take their cat home that they have a firm and unbreakable obligation to care for that cat for the next 15+ years? A lot of the time that commitment is not in place. There is an “opt-out clause” in their heads.

When it comes to taking in stray cats the opt-out clause is not in small print but a major factor in the deal. “We’ll take care of him but if we don’t like it anymore we’ll stop”. When does that attitude become morally wrong?

I say these people who were kind hearted enough to care for this cat should have followed through and taken the cat with them. Or found a new home for the cat. As Marc says, I don’t think taking the cat to a shelter was an option as he may have been euthanised there unless it is a genuine no kill shelter. Did they check that out?

A lot of the time it is about convenience. It was convenient for these people to feed this cat. They themselves received some benefit in that process. But taking the cat with them or looking for a new home would have been inconvenient. Too troublesome. I can understand that because life is difficult for lots of people. They have neither the time nor the energy to do that kind of “work”. However, I believe they had the obligation to do it.

My assessment is supported by the person who is currently living near the home where these people lived. The cat is still in the area. He is deliberately avoiding the cat. Instinctively, this person realises that if he starts caring for this cat he will take on an obligation that he does not want.

8 thoughts on “When Do We Take Responsibility For A Cat?”

  1. I recently heard from a friend who’s allergic to cats, that a stray cat has been coming to her door. She barely has enough to live on, but has been feeding the cat outside. She was going to list it for free on Craigslist, but I asked her not to, because of potential cat predators. She hadn’t thought of that.

    I asked her to take the cat to the shelter to get chipped, which she hasn’t done. She lives in an area of Lake County, CA where there were serious fires a couple of years ago, and it could be a cat that belongs to a displaced person. I would do it myself, but she lives far from me, and the roads to get there are curvy and dangerous. I haven’t even visited her since she moved a year ago.

    Now, she’s wanting to make an outdoor shelter for the coming cold season. I’m helping her to find YouTube videos of how to do this, and I will order what’s needed once she decides which one she’ll make.

    I’ve read that straw is suggested, but I hesitate on this, because it seems that they could get poked in the eye or nose with this material. So, I’m looking into other non-absorbing material, and maybe a self heating pad.

    I don’t actually have much money myself, but I will spend what I can to help this situation.

    My biggest hope is that the cat is not an un-neutered female, and that my friend will end up with kittens. It may also be a male, but my friend doesn’t know how to check.

    If anyone has a simple cost effective shelter solution, please let me know. Right now I’m thinking plastic bin, with styrofoam lining, but unsure about the bedding material.

  2. I can never move. Bigfoot would come easily. Yellow cat would be impossible. I’ve still have never stroked her. Though we can sit close together quietly, and she gives my hand a sniff when I feed her, it would be cruel to even think about moving her from her whole life home, not to mention the trauma. Marvin too. He has to live out his life here in his own ‘hood. They are both probably 9 or 10 years old. They are both well cared for outdoor cats, such as is possible (Marvin is working on moving indoors I think) so they will hopefully be around for a while. I wouldn’t sell the house to anyone who wasn’t willing to take them on. Fortunately, the house isn’t for sale!

    By the way Marc, you’ll be glad to know, Marvin is sleeping on his heated bed on a covered porch. I think it just had to be cold enough. I’m so happy. Yellow cat (small female) has two in her back garden territory. She uses them both!
    Even Bigfoot who prefers to stay indoors full time has a cozy heated bed that he loves.

    I believe that if you care for a community cat, it becomes your responsibility to see it through. There is always a way.

    • Great. I am pleased we agree on this. You are a true friend of the cat, particular the cat who needs a friend. And I love those outside heaters. I’d like you to tell me more about those with winter coming up. Please remind me what they are, Dorothy.

    • I totally agree with you Dorothy – they become your responsibility. Thats lovely to hear about Marvin. I have a thing for ginger cats, he sounds like a real nice boy. Yes, in your situation, even if I had reasons to move, I suspect unless they were really strong, that the reasons to stay – for the cats – would outweigh and I would stay. I couldn’ t just leave them. It would be if I was in some way forced and even then I’d try to take them with me.

  3. Ok now it gets more strange. I have seen a photo of this cat and its a tortie without question. Aparently it is an unaltered male. They are sure of it because they can see quite clearly that its a male.

    • Thanks for the update Marc. I hope this post does not cause upset to anyone. I agree with you. I don’t think people can dip in and out of caring for a cat. But I do understand the difficulties.

      If this cat is a male tortoiseshell he is very rare. Because the gene that produces the coat is sex linked. Almost all torties are female. Only males with certain chromosomal abnormalities can be tortoiseshell. If he really is a male tortie he is a special cat. Maybe that will help him to get adopted. It should do.

      Also the fact he is whole (not sterilised) seems to mean he might have been a feral cat. Or certainly someone failed to neuter him.

      I wonder if it is possible to breed from this cat as he is so rare. Not that I am encouraging it but…. You might like to double check that he is male πŸ™‚ !

  4. You really have got to the point here. I just was instant messaging with my friend saying that I thought that by ‘domesticating’ or creating a reliance on them, the people owed it to the cat to make sure she remained ok. I saw a photo, she is a shorthair tortoiseshell. Aparently she has been loving the food my friend brings and yesterday she fell asleep on his lap. He is quite taken by her and I think feels quite sorry for her since he can really see firsthand the nature of dependance that cat’s have on humans. He’s never had a cat – only seen and played with mine when I was living in Canada. I have told him to tell his friend who lives there that I will send him money via paypal if it means he will at least continue to feed the cat and eventually make her a little shelter for the winter. My friend said we will talk on skype at some point, but he understood my request. His friend who is the nieghbour to the people who moved away, lives in a house and therefore has a ground floor and hopefully a garden. This is a massive plus because it means the cat could live in his garden safely with a little shelter if needed. I am assuming this guy wasn’t planning on owning a cat or letting the cat inside. I will offer to pay for all the litterbox and everything to get him started if he is considering taking the cat in. I guess he doesnt want the cat in because he was shoo’ing the cat away to avoid attachment until my friend showed up for a 2 week visit. We are at the beginning of the 2 week visit so there is time for me to work on this guy a bit and see what options we can come up with for the cat. For now he is getting fancy feast and attention from my friend, who smokes and must go outside to smoke, so is there with the cat outside alot. Aparently the cat meows at the door after they go inside. This makes me sad to think about it. I hope we can work out something with the guy before mr friend leaves πŸ™‚

    My personal opinion is that the people who moved away interfered and therefore had a responsibility to the cat. But what makes me sad is that they were so cold hearted regardless of whether they should or shouldnt. I would not be able to care for a cat and then suddenly not care. Some people are just alot less connected I guess, but then why did they want to care for the cat in the first place then if they didnt really care? It’s rather sad. I’ll update after my skype call with my friend Terry and his friend there.


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