Can I exchange my cats?
December 28, 2010 5:50 AM   Subscribe

I don't love my cats. Can I humanely surrender them and find a better match?

I always had cats growing up. When I was a young adult, I adopted two 8-week-old kittens (brothers) and I cherished our 12-13 years together until they died of cancer. We were close, and they were never apart - they'd sleep together, groom each other, etc.

After the second brother died, I grieved a few weeks and then adopted two new 8-week-old kittens. I wanted brothers again, but came home with a brother/sister pair. Or so I thought. At neutering time, turned out I had two sisters!

They're 20 months old now, and though they get along, and occasionally play together, they aren't close to either each other or me, and the (er) "older" sister gets aggressive if I have female visitors. They sleep at the foot of my bed; that's about as close as we get to cuddling. The "younger" sister is friendly, but she wants only play time, not affection.

In short, we're not bonding. I'm unhappy, but I'm also feeling guilty about not giving them an energetic, loving home. Yet I fear that if I surrender them for adoption, even at a no-kill shelter, I'll be placed on a do-not-adopt list; I can't just trade them in like an old car. And they're past their "prime" adoptive age, so they might end up living in cages for months. I'd rather take them back than cause them trauma, but I'd prefer even more that they find a loving home and I find a better match.

Is there an ethical, responsible, and humane way for me to find them a better home? Or is giving them up as adult cats inherently inhumane?
posted by Jay Levitt to Pets & Animals (43 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What's wrong with a Craigslist ad that says basically what you said here? I don't see anything unethical with giving the cats away (together, I bet they've bonded to each other even if they don't play all the time) to a loving home.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 5:55 AM on December 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I've read that many adoption contracts require you to return the cats to the original shelter rather than place them privately. I don't know if mine does, but even if not, I assumed it would be a Bad Thing not to.
posted by Jay Levitt at 5:59 AM on December 28, 2010

First, when you adopted those cats you made a commitment to them for life. Shelters understand that circumstances can occur that can leave someone unable to care for their pets such as serious illness or major financial upheaval. But, not being fulfilled by pets is simply not an acceptable reason to "return" pets.

That said, there are ways to make things better: donate at least $250 per cat to the shelter when you return them to offset some of the costs to the shelter and bring them in with all of their shots and other vet care up-to-date. And, this is key, do not adopt another cat.
posted by Pineapplicious at 6:10 AM on December 28, 2010 [28 favorites]

20 months is not that long for cats. I'm giving up a 10 year old Siamese for anxiety issues since the birth of our son. We put the word out to rescue friends and someone wants him. Humane rescue places did not want him because of his age and his habits (peeing everywhere).

Try contacting dog/cat rescue groups. Usually people in that mix are animal lovers and will take the cats.

I'm sorry you're having a hard time.
posted by stormpooper at 6:12 AM on December 28, 2010

I've had cats that had periods of their lives where they weren't close with me, and then we bonded many years later.

Cats are weird, but what are you doing to bond with them? Are you playing with them? Petting them? Feeding them special treats? Grooming them?
posted by melissam at 6:12 AM on December 28, 2010

Best answer: It sounds like you understandably miss the lovely cats you used to have. But it's not realistic, fair, or mature to trade animals because their personalities simply aren't as loving as cats you've had in the past. Let me illustrate one possible scenario should you go this route:

1. You surrender the cats or give them away.

2. You go get another pair of cats. Probably brothers, since that seems important to you.

3. The new cats, yet again, don't bond with you and don't have the loving personalities you're looking for.

What is number 4?
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 6:21 AM on December 28, 2010 [18 favorites]

And, this is key, do not adopt another cat.

That's ridiculous. The OP is a seasoned pet owner, and, if he's not fulfilled by his relationship with his current cats, it's certainly his prerogative to place them somewhere else and adopt new ones with which he has a chance of bonding. If the contract requires him to return them to the shelter, great. Otherwise, there's private adoption or, I'm sure, other humane and responsible methods. But to not get new pets for... what reason exactly? That's just silly.
posted by The Michael The at 6:21 AM on December 28, 2010 [30 favorites]

If your adoption contract doesn't specifically forbid it, there there's nothing ethically problematic about posting a Craigslist ad to find them a new home. Nor does this experience somehow disqualify you from being a cat owner. It also doesn't make you a bad person.

I love love love cats, but they're not spouses or children; they're pets.
posted by DWRoelands at 6:24 AM on December 28, 2010 [17 favorites]

No matter what you do, you need to understand one thing. You cannot replace your deceased cats.

Let me say this again: You cannot replace your deceased cats.

Every animal is a unique being who will have a different relationship to you than any other animal has or will have. It sounds like you want the same relationship you had with two cats originally. What you have currently is a totally different relationship and you're missing the first. Even if you find two very lovey cats who get along, it won't be the same relationship and you need to let yourself experience the new relationships for what they are and not what you miss.

What if you find two lovey cats who are bonded but aren't littermates? Does that really matter? Would it have mattered that you have girl cats if they were super lovey? When you adopt an animal, you need to think about what personality traits are important to you and what works well in your life.

For example, our cat Aiko was a white ball of cuddly, soporific love. She was confident and playful. When we adopted the Evil that lives in our house now, we went looking for a confident, playful cat who could get along with dogs and kids. What we got in Cedar (that Evil I mentioned above) is a cat who in no physical or relational way resembles Aiko. Cedar is definitely confident and playful. She is becoming more lovey as she matures (she's 3 now). She's unflappable to a degree I've never seen. Cedar has a totally different relationship in our home than Aiko did. We still miss how Aiko slept with us and her knack for knocking you out with her purr. But, Cedar's not Aiko. Cedar brings her own qualities to the relationship that are worth every time she's attempted to eat our toes.
posted by onhazier at 6:37 AM on December 28, 2010 [10 favorites]

I'm not a fan of breaking contracts, but if you can find a good home for the cats then wouldn't that save the shelter the resources of taking care of the cats? Also, 20 months is almost two years. I know the shelter wouldn't expect you to give back an animal you've had for 5 or 10 years if you're moving to a place you can't take the animals.

The Michael The: "And, this is key, do not adopt another cat.

That's ridiculous. The OP is a seasoned pet owner, and, if he's not fulfilled by his relationship with his current cats, it's certainly his prerogative to place them somewhere else and adopt new ones with which he has a chance of bonding. If the contract requires him to return them to the shelter, great. Otherwise, there's private adoption or, I'm sure, other humane and responsible methods. But to not get new pets for... what reason exactly? That's just silly

I read that statement as don't get another cat right then, at the time of returning the ones the OP currently has.

I agree, not getting another cat ever is just stupid. But it seems reasonable to me that a shelter would think you wouldn't be a good home if you're trading in one animal for another.
posted by theichibun at 6:39 AM on December 28, 2010

Best answer: I think if you decide to adopt another pair of cats, that you should go for a bonded pair of adult cats. Kittens are too unpredictable, you don't know how they're going to turn out. A pair of bonded adult cats have a much harder time getting adopted, and usually they will have to be split up. Plus they will be mature enough that you will know what their personalities are like.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 6:42 AM on December 28, 2010 [9 favorites]

Response by poster:
Cats are weird, but what are you doing to bond with them?
Mostly talking to them and playing with them, since that's what they want to do most. But it's tough; Bobbie* (nee Bobby) has poor rear-leg development and can't jump at toys (she falls over), and when Cindy comes over, Bobbie backs off. But Cindy, though aggressive, is also shy, so SHE backs off. Within a minute, they're both sitting there, grooming themselves and staring awkwardly at the toy, like they're on a bad first date from OKCupid.

I've tried grooming them, and they love it, but they get overstimulated and start running around, and I can't run fast enough to groom them in motion. Bobbie loves being clicker-trained - she chuckles to herself when she learns something - but again it turns into a passivity-contest with Cindy. I've been trying to encourage "your turn/my turn" behavior, but it's not happening yet except at feeding time.

* She was almost Bobbi, but then I'd have to write it with a heart and buy a glitter pen.
posted by Jay Levitt at 6:46 AM on December 28, 2010

Response by poster:
You'll never be 12 again.
Just to be clear, I was 25 when I adopted the first kittens. That said, I'll never be 25 again either.
posted by Jay Levitt at 6:48 AM on December 28, 2010 [8 favorites]

They may settle down and become more cuddley as they age.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:51 AM on December 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

Response by poster:
Most animals don't bond like the way you're describing
Do you mean "Most animals bond, unlike what you're describing. That's weird." or "Most animals, just like what you're describing, don't bond. That's normal."?
posted by Jay Levitt at 6:52 AM on December 28, 2010

For obvious reasons, I'd strongly recommend against the "tied burlap sack taken to the creek" method favored by most of my neighbors during my rural upbringing. I'm putting that at one unrealistic (and to my tastes, "unethical") extreme on the continuum of advice you'd likely receive if your answer pool was large enough.

On the other end of "unrealistic extreme" I'm putting the laughable argument that because you had entered into a "lifetime-commitment", nothing short of a $250 dollar (or more) donation and a solemn oath to never again come within 50 meters of a cat will absolve you of your profound spiritual darkness.

The correct course of action, OP, is somewhere between those two extremes. Make every effort to get your cats into the best living situation you are capable of getting for them, and then begin your new-cat search by first carefully considering how you are going to avoid this mistake in the future. I would advise that you undergo a more rigorous vetting process for the next one. (Serious question: do any shelters/breeders have a "test-drive" deal for cats? Might be very useful, for instance, for someone like me: moderately allergic to some, specific cats; completely asymptomatic for others.)
posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj at 6:56 AM on December 28, 2010 [13 favorites]

Have you considered getting a dog, perhaps in addition to your cats? The affectionate bond you are looking for is pretty much guaranteed with a dog.
posted by Wordwoman at 6:58 AM on December 28, 2010

"Is there an ethical, responsible, and humane way for me to find them a better home?"

Yes! Maybe you should have open houses for cat-interested parties. You should at least put the word out among people you know, for starters. People are sometimes looking for cats, and you never know when. There is nothing wrong with seeking a new family for the cats.

"Or is giving them up as adult cats inherently inhumane?"

No, not necessarily. Sure, they might be upset to move somewhere new. Or maybe they'll be thrilled! Maybe they totally hate you! Heh.

I say this as an insane cat person: there is nothing wrong with you, and there's nothing wrong with your cats. Sometimes these things don't work out, and no one's quite happy. Though it's true that things may change as the years go by, you should know. Some of my most intense and wonderful cat relationships (Oh God! That is so humiliating to type!) took years (even a decade!) to develop.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:08 AM on December 28, 2010 [4 favorites]

Best answer: New generations of cats are different, especially when you miss the ones that are gone. But you are probably also different than you were 15 years ago. Have you put the time in with the new cats?

I was feeling the same way in a similar scenario, but three years in I realized I wasn't putting the time investment in with the "new" cats, playing with them, grooming them, hassling them to the degree that I had with my old cats. I changed that, and now we are thick as thieves.

Bonding with animals takes time spent engaging them. Maybe 15 years ago you had the time and the desire to be infatuated with your old cats that you don't have now with your new ones. Maybe you could change the vibe and find it rewarding.

In any case you sound like you want to rehome them, and that's totally fine. You also sound conscientious about it, so I have no doubt that if you trust your instincts, you'll find a good home for them.
posted by quarterframer at 7:21 AM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Cats change SO MUCH as they grow up. If your two boys were just perfect for you from the beginning last time, it was just a fluke, really. Our two are brother and sister, and in the beginning, Daksha was very much into cuddling and sitting on the couch and so forth, but Daeva took a while to warm up. She was loved us - slept on the bed and clearly knew we were "mom and dad" (I realize I'm anthropomorphizing, don't judge) - but just wasn't quite the snugglebug that Daksha was. She was a satellite cat - in the same room but not all up in your biz. I'm not sure when the shift happened, but in the last year or so she's gotten to love snuggling.

So your cats may change. In fact they almost 100% definitely are going to become slightly different animals as they age. You mentioned that one of them has a disability with her back legs -- keep in mind that at this age, cats are not that coordinated. Not nearly as coordinated as they get when they're mature. She needs to play and gain mobility and coordination like any other cat, and as she gets older her ability to compensate for her back leg will probably get better.

I'm sorry that you're having this problem. But if you're going to keep these cats (which, I think you may have to even if you really want to re-home them) you're going to have to love them on their own terms. Keep showing them how you want to show affection. They learn from their mothers and litter mates social behavior, and you can teach them social behavior, too. It's not too late. But they're never going to be perfect and they're not going to be dogs (which, since you selected cats at least twice, I don't think you want).
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:21 AM on December 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

I gave up a cat a few years ago, a full-grown guy cat, mainly because I just had never bonded with him since I had gotten him. I found out that adult guy cats are pretty damn hard to un-adopt. I wasn't going to give him to the shelter as that was pretty much the same thing as putting him to sleep. It took me about 6 months to find someone who actually wanted him - I tried the major online listing services and I talked to a lot of people, friends of friends and such. I felt good about it afterwards because I was able to say to myself that I was pretty sure I had gotten him into a better situation. For me, that meant talking to several casual prospects and visiting the homes of serious prospects. It was such a huge pain in the ass, though, that I have been put off cats, possibly permanently.
posted by facetious at 7:22 AM on December 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

Within a minute, they're both sitting there, grooming themselves and staring awkwardly at the toy, like they're on a bad first date from OKCupid.

Your cats are not Sims. Having had several rounds of cat pairs growing up (my parents adopted any cat that crossed their paths), sitting together relatively calmly, albeit perhaps not as charmingly as you'd like, is a treat.

My cat of over six years was about as old as your cats are now when I adopted her, and the shelter from which I adopted her was thrilled. She'd come to them pregnant, all the kittens had been adopted out, and they feared they'd never find a home for her. She was an aggressive, prickly cat, prone to biting and fussing, and she hated other cats. She bit and scratched me frequently during our first few months together, and she took a dump on my bathmat the first time my now-husband slept over. Forget about picking her up or petting her for more than a few seconds - she would get overstimulated and bite. I thought about telling her adoption center that it wasn't working out.

However, I loved her and had wanted a cat so badly that I stuck it out. She calmed down about a year later, and six years on, she's a wonderful, loving cat. She's very much a chill, hang-out cat - she's never all up in my face like my cats were when I was a kid, but she sleeps with us every night, waits by the door for us to come home, and sits on my husband's feet while he plays video games. She follows me from room to room, and when my husband nearly died from swine flu last year, she was one of my biggest comforts. She's not a perfect cat; no cat ever will be, but she's perfect for me, and I'm so glad I gave her a chance.

Wait some more. Give your cats a chance.
posted by timetoevolve at 7:54 AM on December 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

theichibun: "I'm not a fan of breaking contracts, but if you can find a good home for the cats then wouldn't that save the shelter the resources of taking care of the cats? Also, 20 months is almost two years. I know the shelter wouldn't expect you to give back an animal you've had for 5 or 10 years if you're moving to a place you can't take the animals.

Actually, the shelters and rescues I work with DO expect (hope?) that you would offer the animal to them first at any time, even 5 or 10 years down the road. One reason is they can do a better job vetting new owners than you can. (Whether they really can do this is up for debate of course.) But they basically want the option for first refusal, so that you don't, in the stress of a situation, unknowingly give the animal to someone who will mistreat it or worse.

That said, they won't know if you gave the animal up or not, unless it finds its way back to them at some point in the future. If the animal is microchipped, it's possible the chip is in the name of the group/owner who first got it chipped. Most second owners never think to get that changed.

jjjjjjjijjjjjjj: (Serious question: do any shelters/breeders have a "test-drive" deal for cats? Might be very useful, for instance, for someone like me: moderately allergic to some, specific cats; completely asymptomatic for others.)

Yes! Most rescues do have a trial period where you can see how things go without making a formal commitment. Such an arrangement is in everybody's best interests, as it makes for better adoptions in the long run.

Jay Levitt, from the answers you've marked as best, it seems as if you are leaning towards keeping them, and trying some different things to engage them? Don't forget your vet as a source of good info too. If cats are chronically not feeling well, they tend to be aloof. So perhaps a vet check is in order? Also, some cat owners report good results will a pheromone spray like Feliway, to calm cats down and get them loosened up. And don't forget catnip!
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:04 AM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was in a similar situation many years ago. I had to put my beloved dog to sleep, the dog I had grown up with. Then I adopted a shelter cat, and less than a year later I had to put him to sleep for medical reasons.

After a petless month, I caved and adopted two kittens from the shelter. For a long time, they were kind of like furry roommates. I enjoyed their company, more or less, but they were kind of a pain.

For a while I dated a guy with a cat allergy, and I seriously considered finding new homes for them, so that he could spend more time at my place. I actually went so far as to ask a few people who had expressed an interest in owning cats, "Hey, you want my cats?"

I can't say when exactly things changed for me, emotionally. It took longer than I would have expected. Maybe three years? Four?

Anyway, they will be 14 next spring, and I tear up just thinking about a life without them. For Christmas I got them a huge pile of crumpled tissue paper on the living room floor, which according to them was the best present ever. Here's a pic of them studying it together.

I think you will love your cats eventually. It's hard to become that emotionally available after going through such grief. Loving a pet means both being fully vulnerable, and knowing How It Will End, and roughly when. This is not a simple matter, nor is it a trivial process.

If you stumble on a good home for them, then so be it. I have given away pets before, for various reasons, but only after being ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN I had found them good homes. But a shelter? No. Who knows what will happen.

The likelihood is slim that they will find owners that will care for them as well, as compassionately, as considerately as you will. (The fact that you have gone to all the trouble to post this question and curate the responses is proof of that.)

If you asked them, I'm sure they would prefer to stay with you! If you can afford it, and if circumstances permit, then why not keep them around.
posted by ErikaB at 8:49 AM on December 28, 2010 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Since you've started marking "best answer" on some responses that encourage you to keep Bobbie and Cindy, I'll add some encouragement in that direction too.

When I was younger I had the Best Cat Ever and we were strongly bonded to each other. Several years after she died of old age, I adopted a male/female pair (not littermates) of two-year-old adult cats from a shelter.

I went through a phase of disappointment that these two were not like the Best Cat Ever. They wouldn't let me pick them up and cuddle them; they wouldn't sit on my lap.

I assumed that since they were adults, their personalities were set for life and this was just the way things were going to be.

But over the two and a half years I've had them, they've changed. They're still not Best Ever, but they've gotten a lot more cuddly, especially the female. About six months ago, to my amazement, the female suddenly decided that my lap was a good place to be. I don't know how she arrived at this conclusion, but one day she hopped up on my lap and sat down. I gave her some light strokes but otherwise let her be until she was ready to hop down. After we repeated this exercise a few times, she became a lap cat and now will curl up on my lap in purry bliss while I pet her as much as I want.

A couple things that I think have helped the cats get closer to me:

1. I give them individual attention when the other cat is out of the room, which gives them a chance to bond with me without the interference of feline dominance politics. You mention that you have a hard time playing with Cindy and Bobbie because they disrupt each others' play. How about choosing a moment when they're in separate rooms to close the door between them and play with just one at a time?

2. I built up their tolerance for cuddling and grooming. Since you do clicker training, you already know about patience and gradual habituation. When I first got the cats, they wouldn't let me hold them for more than a few seconds at a time. I just kept picking them up and holding them as long as they would let me, multiple times a day. I also tried to give them extra motivation to be in my arms, such as holding them up to a window. Now (if they're in the mood) they'll hang out in my arms indefinitely. I wonder if you could train some cuddliness into your cats--can you clicker-train them to lie down next to each other?
posted by Orinda at 8:56 AM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Honestly, unless your cats are completely unable to be in the same room together, they ARE getting along.

I've got a super fiesty pair of cats, one is a slightly older female, she's 5 and a 2.5 year old male, both fixed, and they hiss and spit and fight in the best of times, but neither has caused any damage to the other despite constant wrestling, and when I've had to take one to the vet for extended periods of time, the other is a ball of anxiety waiting for them at home. Yours sound practically angelic in comparison.

All cats are so different, some do tricks, some sleep 20 hours a day, some cuddle in laps, others sit beside you on the couch and demand headrubs but no holding. I've had or lived with over 10 cats in my life and of them, 3 were cuddlers, 4 were proximity detectors (always underfoot or in my presence) and 3 were aloof. Very few cats actively 'cuddle' with humans, so if you're expecting all cats you own to want to be lapcats, you will be sorely mistaken. It sounds like you've had a very affectionate pair of cats in the past, that is lovely and sweet but they were different cats.

Clicker training can only do so much, if they don't want to do stuff together all the time, play with them separately, they are not children that have to be taught to 'play together' as long as they aren't spatting constantly, its fine.
posted by darlingmagpie at 9:08 AM on December 28, 2010

Best answer: Good luck either way you go; I just throw out my opinion agreeing with those who don't think it's a big moral issue for you to give the cats away. Cats are fostered all the time, and do just fine when they get to their permanent homes. Just pretend you've given your girls a foster home for 20 months. :)

And speaking of that, IF you give the cats up, maybe you could volunteer to foster cats for a while until you find a good match? You'd be providing a service to the cats (and shelter) while also having a chance to get to know the cats before adopting.
posted by torticat at 9:57 AM on December 28, 2010 [4 favorites]

Cats change. Even adult cats change. My parents had always been cat owners and, after about a five year lull, adopted a big, fluffy, grey object. He spent the first month under the bed. He'd emerge at night to eat, drink, and poop and then go back under the bed. If they managed to get hold of him he'd shiver with fear. My parents were unhappy and were wondering what to do next. I, and a few other people, convinced them to wait it out.

It's a few years later. I have seen the cat exactly twice, because he always hides under the bed whenever strangers are in the house. To my parents, however, he is a constant presence. He will follow them around after they enter the house to get his tummy rubs. He comes running to be brushed. He collects all his catnip mice in a pile and waits to be told how clever he is. He helps with making the bed. He likes doing Sudoku. He doesn't sit on laps, however.

Your cats may not end up like this. No one knows. But it's quite possible that their personalities will change over time. They may not be the bed sleeping lap cats that you want, but that doesn't mean that they can't be great cats in their own way.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:04 AM on December 28, 2010

I have said similar before on AsKMe, but I'll mention it again. The Humane Society told me PointyCat was a sweet lapcat. They didn't say or didn't know that he had a serious aggression problem. One bite sent me to the ER. But because I got PointyCat after my divorce and Ex strictly prohibited a cat, I was damned determined to make this work. Months of behavioral work later, he started to change. And now 3 years later, he gets complainy if I don't pick him up as soon as I walk in the door. He sleeps on my feet and rests on the bathmat while I shower. If that cat can change, I bet almost any cat can. Good luck if you decide to keep them; I encourage you to give them time.
posted by pointystick at 10:19 AM on December 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

I just want to say that I thought this awkwardness you mention when your cats get a toy is the way cats are. Ours are just like that. I've never seen cats take turns. It helps to find toys one likes more than the other.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:16 AM on December 28, 2010

Your cats are still teenagers, so they want to play more than they want to snuggle. I think they'll change over time and become more focused on you.
posted by vickyverky at 11:16 AM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I went through something somewhat similar to you, although in my case I lost a cat very dear to me and then I got two cats who were not littermates when they were around 6 months old. It took me a while to really bond with my cats and looking back I do think I was comparing them to the cat I lost and like other posters have mentioned I knew in my head I couldn't replace her but it took a while for my heart to accept that.

Before you make the decision to rehome these two try really focusing on the good points of these two. If they are good hunters, come up with some fun chasing games. Notice how this one likes when the string is on the ground and the other one loves jumping when it's in the air. Make some tunnels out of things around your home and just have some fun with them, take the focus off of cuddling for a while and appreciate what you can do and what they are. Maybe when you accept them a bit more they will open up to you as well, cats are more perceptive than we know. Best of luck.
posted by heatherly at 11:21 AM on December 28, 2010

If you had a child whose personality you didn't like, you wouldn't get rid of it, would you? Of course not, because you decided to have a child. Same goes for adopting cats. The cats depend on you for their every need. Don't let them down.

The only time I have ever gotten rid of a cat was when it attacked my other cat, causing him a serious injury. I felt horrible about it but I knew it had to be done to protect my first cat. I would never get rid of a cat just because I didn't like its personality. If you can't take the responsibility of committing to a pet for life, don't get a pet.

That said, it looks like you are leaning in the direction of keeping the cats. This is the right decision. Please stick with it. The cats did not ask you to adopt them; you chose to adopt them. You owe them your love.
posted by Lobster Garden at 11:29 AM on December 28, 2010

It seems as if you're trying to play/bond with both of them simultaneously and are getting discouraged because of the lack of interplay between the two of them. You can't really control what kind of relationship the two cats form with each other, but you can certainly influence how they bond with you.

Seconding Orinda's comment, I would suggest really focusing on one-on-one time for each of the cats. Give your full attention to only playing with Bobbie for a half hour. If Cindy comes along and wants to join in, fine. But your focus for that session is on Bobbie. Do the same for Cindy later in the day. Get to know each of them as individuals and let them get to know you. They'll work out their own dynamic on their own time.
posted by platinum at 12:51 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do you think one or both of the cats would prefer to be living in a "single cat" household? Because that would be a big motivator for me.

I hate to say this, but one of my adoptees in NYC had been shuttled around quite a bit before he landed in my household with 2 other cats. He never quite fit in, but he made due.

When the other two passed away, he bloomed into a whole different guy!

Even though your cats are lltter mates, if you think they might benefit from being the only cat in the home - go for it and find them individual homes.

(My two current females are not litter mates and they don't sleep together, but they do play together a lot. I was keeping an eye on it for a while, just to make sure everyone was living together happily. Your situation is not that unusual. I would have pulled the trigger and found the unhappier cat in my family a better home if that's what she indicated she needed. If this option becomes the better solution in your household down the road, you'll know it. Good luck!)
posted by jbenben at 1:27 PM on December 28, 2010

I think it is perfectly ethical to rehome one or both cats, as long as you find them a home where they will be well-loved, and well-looked after.

The cats may well feel happier in a different home, with someone else. And that's okay.

I also really like torticat's suggestion that you volunteer to foster cats for a while until you find a good match.

That way you'd be doing a good service to shelter cats in need of fostering, and helping to ensure that the next cat that you get will be more compatible with you.
posted by with the singing green stars as our guide at 2:53 PM on December 28, 2010

I think that giving the cats to a shelter -- even a no-kill shelter -- is unethical, and people who give up their cats to a shelter are bad people who do not deserve pets. (I make an exception for cats you find on the street and their kittens, but that's about it.) Finding them a home is, however, perfectly fine and a reasonable thing to do if animals aren't working out.

That said, it's very unlikely that you will find two cats who meet your perfect dream about what cats are like. If you do go that route, try fostering adult cats (try sick cats) -- kittens do not have the same personalities they will when they grow up, but adult cats do. While you are looking for a home for them, try the other things people suggest here -- give them more attention, singly and in pairs, and try to get more reasonable expectations. Sleep on your bed -- at teenage age -- is quite affectionate for a cat, and most cats get more affectionate as tehy get oldedr.
posted by jeather at 3:23 PM on December 28, 2010

Look, I'm a total cat addict and am usually more interested in meeting a new cat than a new person. I got in trouble just yesterday for being more excited to meet a cat than hug my friend who I hadn't seen in 3 months. That said, I'm adding another vote to the pile of folks who doesn't believe it's evil to re-home a pet. If you had come at this question for a different reason, no one would blink an eye.

When I was a kid, my family had a dog. In retrospect, she was too big and needed more attention and activity than our family could give her. At the time I just thought I was terrible with dogs. Then I dated a guy who was a dog whisperer and had my mind blown. We weren't lousy pet owners because we were assholes - we were lousy pet owners because it was a bad fit and we didn't really know jack about dogs. Looking back, I'd give my right arm to give her to a family that would have been able to care for her better than we could.

Cats vary in disposition by breed (and just being a living, unique bundle of stuff) just like dogs. I've lived with about 10 cats thus far. Some were awesome by default, some needed help becoming awesome, and some were weird no matter what I did and stayed weird up until the day they died.

I think it's worth trying out the bonding techniques suggested here for a while and seeing how it goes. There are so many things that could change this dynamic. Maybe they need some environmental changes. Are they indoor only? Some cats need outside adventure to not be psycho. Maybe they need different toys. Maybe some cat nip will have them rolling and drooling and unable to stop snuggling. Experiment!

And at the end you may discover they want to be in single cat homes, or that you will never truly *click* with these animals, and there is some other scenario that would make you and the kitties a lot more happy and fulfilled in the future. That's ok too.

Also, in agreement with the poster above who recommended fostering. My 2 cats were hand fostered and they live to cuddle. I plan to seek out hand fostered cats for the rest of my life (unless I can find a way to make my two perfectly imperfect babies live forever. which I would prefer).
posted by amycup at 3:25 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: So many great answers here; I had a hard time even picking which ones to promote. Thanks for such a wide-ranging response to my very first MeFi question. I marked the ones that were most thought-provoking and unique, but every answer helped.

@Pineapplicious: I'd have loved to know why you think it's a lifetime decision.

@ImproviseOrDie: What is number 4?
Best of the best, with bonus points for style. You made me think, and if and when I can answer that, I'll know I'm doing the right thing.

@MedievalMaven: If your two boys were just perfect for you from the beginning last time, it was just a fluke, really.
They were - and that hadn't even occurred to me. Thanks for changing my perspective.

In the end, it's only the beginning. I'm just starting to think about this, and I'm certainly going to give the Brady kittens a second and third and fourth chance before I do anything rash - and if I rehome them, I'll foster first and find an adult pair. I'll probably be back with some "how do I bond?" questions, but I'm starting with the many suggestions here. Thanks, all.
posted by Jay Levitt at 4:39 AM on December 29, 2010

I agree with the majority sentiment to give these new guys a chance, and am happy to see you're inclined to do so. However, if you do decide to rehome them and get other cats, look into specific breeds and their characteristics to see if they meet your needs. Burmese, for example, sound like what you're looking for: extremely (and indiscriminately) affectionate. Not everyone's cup of tea, they need lots of attention and generally can't be left alone for extended periods of time. The ones I've met were in my arms and slobbering all over me within 20 minutes of meeting them for the first time. Do bear in mind though, that level of neediness brings with it its own set of responsibilities.
posted by =^^= at 6:08 AM on December 29, 2010

I wanted to mention two things - 1st is that I adopted my kitty when she was about the age of your cats - so I do not think your cats are un-adoptable. What helped is that the family that gave her up wrote an explanation (on the paperwork they submitted to the animal welfare league) regarding why they gave her in my case their child had developed an allergy. They wrote that she is a well behaved and sweet cat, which she really is. So if you do that, perhaps that would help get them re-adopted if you go that route.

On another note, I noticed with my kitty that our relationship since I got her (at the age your kitties are at right now) has morphed, evolved, grown and changed significantly and truly all for the better. We are closer, she's a bit more snuggly. I accept the fact that she prefers to sleep on the chair next to my bed rather than on my bed (though lately due to the cold she has been on my bed every night). Bottom line is that our rapport has grown stonger. One thing I do to bond with her is to brush her. She doesn't like toys or to play. She simply likes to be brushed, pet, and really she likes to just sit next to me on the couch. You may want to consider the possibility that your relationship with the two kitties might shift in a new and positive direction and you may regret giving them away.
posted by dmbfan93 at 7:11 PM on December 29, 2010

I got my beloved Matthew-cat when he was 6 weeks old, but didn't love me 'properly' until he was about 5 . . . but then he loved me enough to more than make up for it, and did so for another 15.5 years. I was blessed.

Matthew's heir to the throne is Roosevelt. Roo I got off the street when he was about 3-4 weeks old -- he has recently turned 3 and is just beginning to understand the full range of his responsibilities.

So sometimes it can take longer then one would expect for bonding to occur.

I think I would pick whichever of the two seems more attracted/outgoing to you, and focus on cultivating a relationship with that one. I suspect that will get your emotional needs met soonest, and the other one will begin to seek you out.
posted by MeiraV at 11:52 AM on December 30, 2010

"Bobbie loves being clicker-trained - she chuckles to herself when she learns something"

I have nothing to add here; I just wanted to say that this little observation made me love Bobbie with a white-hot love. And you, for noticing.
posted by rdc at 4:19 AM on January 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

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