Honesty, or Deception for the Greater Good
April 23, 2010 2:08 AM   Subscribe

Should I tell my parents that their cat, which I am looking after, has gone missing, considering that they are about to go on holiday for a few weeks and so won't be able to do anything about it except worry?

The full story: I'm taking care of my parents' two cats (who are mother and son) while they are on holiday; they leave on Monday. The cats have been here since last Monday, and have previously stayed for a couple of weeks quite happily, getting on well with my cat (who is brother and son of my parents' two cats). All seemed well until at some point during Tuesday night one of them (the brother/son) disappeared; I haven't seen him since.

I've done all the usual things: flyered nearby houses, told the pet microchip registrar that he's missing and to call me, looked around the neighbourhood calling and so on. My question is this:

Given that he's only been missing for two days and that I've taken all reasonable steps to get him back, should I tell my parents that he has gone missing before they go on holiday? I won't be able to contact them easily once they are gone. The dilemma is between telling them and upsetting their enjoyment of their holiday (my mum in particular will likely spend the entire time worrying), or keeping it from them (in particular when they call me before they set off). This is all compounded by the possibility that he will turn up in a few days anyway.

TLDR: Is it better to keep them in the dark about missing cat and spare them of a holiday clouded with concern, or should I hew to the principle of honesty and keep them informed?

p.s. Any suggestions about finding a lost cat also welcome, although I think I've covered that one.
posted by larkery to Human Relations (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
So last month, we were cat-sitting for my in-laws while they were on holiday. And their rather elderly and unwell cat had a stroke two days before they got back.

We ran around panicking, taking her to the emergency vet and her regular vet and paying for boarding and IVs and taxis and just generally doing everything to keep her alive, and, all the while, we told my in-laws the cat was fine.

Why? Because they were in another country. There was nothing they could do about the cat. They couldn't get an earlier train, they couldn't magically fly back, there was nothing they could do about it.

It was hard, especially when my mother-in-law asked about the cat, but they were grateful that we had taken care of her, that we had made her comfortable, and that they had a great holiday without worry.

So do not tell them. Let them go on their holiday, have a wonderful time, and only when they return break the news to them.

Besides, it's only been two days. He might be trapped in a shed, or relaxing in some crazy cat lady's house, or who knows?

(And my in-laws' cat has very nearly fully recovered - just has a few issues with her back legs, but is walking around and being the bitter old lady she always has been.)
posted by Katemonkey at 2:16 AM on April 23, 2010

I think it depends on what type of people your parents are. Some people are more upset about the tragedy of a missing pet than their child lying to them, and other people are the other way around. Some people are capable of prioritizing and choosing to enjoy themselves when they have no power to change the situation, and others can't handle the idea that's something is wrong and they can't fix it. If this were my mother, I would tell her right away, but that's because I know she can handle this kind of thing and still enjoy her vacation, and she raised me with the ultimatum that honesty is mandatory in her case, no matter what. But if this were my grandmother, who is a very different person, I would lie in an instant. You know your parents better than any of us. Think of any past situations that are remotely similar and try to remember how they reacted and handled it. Personally I don't see fault in either choice, as long as you are doing everything in your power to find the cat.

Speaking of, have you actually checked out your local animal shelters for this cat? Cats can sometimes get adopted out at a very fast rate, depending on the shelter and the city. Also, since your missing cat doesn't know your neighborhood very well, leave something that smells very strongly of his companion cat outside for him to find.
posted by Mizu at 3:02 AM on April 23, 2010 [6 favorites]

Mizu is right. It also kinda depends on the cat - one of my cats regularly goes walkabout for a few days, the other, we're lucky to get her out of the house for 10 minutes. So with my beasts, if it were Chris-cat there would be no cause for concern but if it were Katy-cat I'd be worried.
posted by handee at 3:09 AM on April 23, 2010

I'd want to know.

While I appreciate your sentiment, it breaks down at the point where you think you've done everything possible to find them. You may well be right, but there may be other things the owners know or would do - like types of places he favored to hide in, noises that might attract him back, or a pet detective they'd pay for (I'm stretching here, but you get the point).

It would be different perhaps in the cats had died. At that point telling someone will change precisely nothing apart from ruining the holiday.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:25 AM on April 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

Look into Find Toto.
posted by biscotti at 4:34 AM on April 23, 2010

This thread, while about a much more hopeless situation, which I hope yours never turns into, might be of use.

Good luck! I hope he turns up safe and sound soon.
posted by erstwhile ungulate at 4:36 AM on April 23, 2010

Have you looked under the house? You haven't looked everywhere yet.
posted by evil_esto at 5:13 AM on April 23, 2010

Have you gone to your parents' house? Cats can find their way home (and they hate being away from home). Maybe talk to your parents' neighbors and ask them to give you a call if they see the cat.

Personally, I would not tell them anything until they return if there is nothing they can do. If you think they might have some sort of magic advice for finding the cat, then by all means tell them. In your shoes, I would not tell them until they return, and at that point explain that it was simply because you did not want to ruin your vacation.

1) I know 3 cats who have disappeared for 2 days to 3 weeks and returned not much worse for wear.
2) There really isn't anything they can do, and I have a hard time believing that if they are rational people they could be very angry that you withheld information that would ruin their vacation.
posted by tastybrains at 5:23 AM on April 23, 2010

I might want to know, if I wasn't already out of town. I might feel that there was something I personally would have been able to do (perhaps calling in my voice would be more effective?) Telling might mean worries, but there will be less whatifing later.
posted by gilsonal at 5:39 AM on April 23, 2010

I've done all the usual things: flyered nearby houses, told the pet microchip registrar that he's missing and to call me, looked around the neighbourhood calling and so on. My question is this:

Given that he's only been missing for two days and that I've taken all reasonable steps to get him back

You haven't taken every step. You should definitely hoof it and go to the local shelters in your neighbourhood. Sometimes they will get cats in, chipped or not, not give a shit and not check the chips before adopting the cats out or putting them to sleep. I have heard many stories of people calling the chip registrars and shelters, being told the cat hasn't been reported, and then later learning that the cat was adopted out or even find the cat in a shelter after being told they don't have it.
posted by splice at 6:35 AM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I’ve read that putting a cat’s litter box outside can help it find its way home. Also, definitely look around the neighbourhood in detail. My neighbours found their missing cat 2 days later, huddled under another neighbour’s air conditioner.

Also, I vote for not telling your parents, as long as you are putting in as much effort as they would if they were home.
posted by yawper at 6:41 AM on April 23, 2010

Are you entirely sure the missing cat has gotten outside? Did you see it go out a door or window? It might well be behind a drawer or inside a box spring or inside a sofa or a recliner or the back of a closet or any number of tiny impossible places. They don't like new stuff so they den up. They're ingenious. It's most likely in the house.
posted by Lou Stuells at 7:05 AM on April 23, 2010

It sounds like they haven't left yet--in fact, they'll be here for an entire weekend. Tell them what's going on, so they can join in on the search. I'd be quite angry if I was in their position and wasn't informed before I'd even left.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:11 AM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I vote not to tell them. I wouldn't want to know.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:11 AM on April 23, 2010

Don't undervalue their local knowledge. Maybe that cat goes missing every once in a while and always finds his way home a week later. Maybe they know he sometimes winds up in a specific spot, or worse, he gets trapped there and will need help. If you tell them, it's possible they could prevent a thing from becoming a Thing.
posted by thejoshu at 7:18 AM on April 23, 2010 [5 favorites]

You have a moral obligation to tell them. Their knowledge of the cat and neighborhood could help you locate it and be the difference between it living and dying. Someone who failed to tell me, whether I was an hour away or on the moon, would never be forgiven.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:30 AM on April 23, 2010 [6 favorites]

If they're still home, then you're not ruining their vacation. Tell them! There may be something they know or could do that would make a pivotal difference in how this search turns out.
posted by hermitosis at 7:31 AM on April 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Also, I think someone who "wouldn't want to know" is more likely to forgive you for saying something than someone who WOULD want to know whom you told nothing.
posted by hermitosis at 7:34 AM on April 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

They're not leaving until Monday? Tell them. You have three days for them to help you find the cat.
posted by desjardins at 7:46 AM on April 23, 2010

Tell them, they can help you find the cat. There are things they can do other than worry if they're still in town.
posted by ishotjr at 7:58 AM on April 23, 2010

You know, they trust you. I wouldn't put that in jeopardy by concealing this information from them for their own good. Plus, they know their animal better than you do, and may well be able to help locate the cat before it is too late.

This hits home a bit for me as many years ago, I came back from a long backpacking trip through Europe to learn my dad had a serious heart attack while I was overseas. We'd set up a contact mechanism and they never said a word -- my dad because he couldn't and my stepmom because she decided not to distract me from my trip. I've never really forgiven my stepmother for not telling me, or trusted her the same way since then.
posted by bearwife at 9:15 AM on April 23, 2010

Yeah, if they're NOT YET ON VACATION? Then you need their help! A lot can happen in a weekend. Sheesh!

It's absolutely not explainable if, upon their return, they're like "And when did he disappear" and you have to be like "Oh DAYS before you left!" They will beat you with a stick. Okay, that's projection. I WOULD BEAT YOU WITH A STICK.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 9:22 AM on April 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

I'm actually getting kind of angry right now at the mere idea that someone wouldn't tell me. Yes, you would never be forgiven. Tell them ASAP.
posted by naju at 9:23 AM on April 23, 2010

Yes, if they are not actually on vacation, this question is moot. Their help could be valuable, and given that they haven't left yet, they can still be an active part of locating the cat, whether with ideas or by actually coming over. They'll be upset if they realize that the cat went missing while they were still in town and they weren't even able to make the choice to get involved.

Also, check behind/underneath every appliance, including the fridge.
posted by questionsandanchors at 9:46 AM on April 23, 2010

Not to be too harsh, but I can't believe you're even asking this. I can't imagine the anger I would feel if my pet went missing and the person who was supposed to be looking after it didn't tell me, so I was blithely packing my suitcase thinking everything was fine when I could have been helping to find it. Please quit reading this and call them right away. Minutes can count when a pet is missing.
posted by HotToddy at 1:55 PM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I thought I lost my Dad's cat the day he dropped her off at our house. It turns out she had squished into a tiny, four inch space behind a drawing board. I had gone through every room three times already by the time I finally decided to look behind that board.

I agree with the people who say that your parents can help. It might just take the sound of their voices for him to turn up.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:07 PM on April 23, 2010

Have them come over and help look for the cats -- the cats may be hiding or run off because their normal people are missing.

If/when you find them, keep them inside!!! Don't let cats go outside in unfamiliar neighborhoods.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:09 PM on April 23, 2010

Thanks everyone. I have spoken to my parents who think it sounds like I'm doing the right things in looking for him and understand the dilemma (they can't easily come and help because they live a long way away). Hopefully this was the correct choice.

For any similar askers in the UK, specifically Bristol, don't worry about vets or cat sanctuaries failing to scan your cat or putting it to sleep if it's healthy. Having spoken to all of them I'm assured that there is no risk of any such thing here.

For those who want to beat me with a stick and so on, do bear in mind that I am not a moral vacuum. I do have a cat of my own that I love and care dearly for, and the local vets, cat rescue and a close friend who is also the vet to my parents' cats all said that past a certain amount of effort it is in the hands of fate. My desire to spare my parents anguish, in particular my mother who suffers from anxiety, is not some cruel pathology. In such circumstances it is not easy to see whether wanting to tell the bad news comes from probity or if is just a little self-deception to allow oneself to unshoulder the unpleasant burden of secrecy.
posted by larkery at 2:47 AM on April 24, 2010

Cats come back all the time. Just read yahoo for the latest tale once a month.
posted by chinabound at 9:14 PM on April 24, 2010

Chinabound speaks the truth: the cat reappeared yesterday night. Thanks again everyone!
posted by larkery at 12:54 AM on April 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

That's a relief. Thanks for keeping us updated.
posted by handee at 5:53 AM on April 25, 2010

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