A perfect storm of awful.
November 21, 2011 5:39 PM   Subscribe

Help me decide what to do with my cat.

I got Sick. While I was Sick and getting it dealt with, a Relative was taking care of my cat, hereafter known as Cat. I'm unemployed and money is tight right now, which is why Cat wasn't at a vet or at a cat hotel.

Cat was a rescue cat and I took her in when her old family left her behind when they moved. She's never been an 'indoor' cat and manages to escape outside* regardless of what I do, wandering back to food and cuddles whenever she's done sauntering about - one time she did this, she got mauled by a raccoon. I could afford the vet bills back then. While I was Sick and not at home, Cat got away from Relative and got into another raccoon fight.

The same night this happened, Relative also got Sick - the type of Sick requiring multiple visits to the ER. When Cat limped back home, Relative took Cat to a local no-kill shelter with an in-house vet, saying they found Cat on the street** before having to take care of themselves. Cat has no identification on her.

I found out about this afterwards. As far as I know, there's two options here.

1. Go to the shelter and reclaim Cat, telling them what happened. Pay whatever bills accrued for her care.
PRO: Cat.
CON: The vet bills are going to be substantial. I'm still Sick and unlikely to be able to work for at least three months. Relative is nice enough to help out during this time, but they've had to deal with their own brand of Sick just now and I won't be able to take care of Cat very much, which is putting a lot onto Relative. The longer I wait, the more substantial the vet bills will likely become. The longer I wait, the higher the chances are that Cat will end up adopted.

2. Leave Cat there.
PRO: Money for medical bills. The shelter Cat's at looks very nice, and Cat's getting old (10+ years). I've worried about her constantly breaking out and getting lost and getting into fights - at the shelter, there's indoor and outdoor areas, large enough for a whole bunch of cats to prowl around. The shelter has the vet services to keep her healthy and lots of volunteers.
CON: No Cat. No Cat cuddles. No Cat. She's old, so she doesn't like other cats. Maybe Cat isn't happy there. Maybe she ends up in a cage because she can't get along with other cats.

There's also a third option, but it smacks of bad karma to me. I'm not comfortable doing this, especially since shelters around here are run off goodwill and private donations.
3. Go to the shelter, 'adopt' Cat and pay the nominal adoption fee.
PRO: Cat. I end up out a hundred or so dollars instead of a thousand.
CON: I lie and turn myself into a complete shit.

I'm not looking for sympathy or a handout and I don't want them. I can't think about this or look at pictures of cats without wanting to cry or feeling hopeless and all I need is an outside perspective. I don't know what to do and it's making me sadder, because all I can see is Cat crying in a cage and it's making me completely irrational. Help me figure out what to do. Throwaway: poorcat@hushmail.com

* - Please don't call me an idiot for not cat-proofing my place better. I already feel like a useless fuck.
** - I'm hoping people don't comment saying Relative did the wrong thing or is a terrible human being or whatever. As far as I'm concerned, they did what they thought what was best, taking into account my finances, their own state of health and Cat's health. They could've let Cat die. They didn't. What's done is done.
posted by anonymous to Pets & Animals (26 answers total)
Your first option is to claim the cat as your own, and pay the vet bills.

If you can't do that...

The second-best option is to leave the cat there in a safe, comfortable place, and hope it gets adopted (con #1 is irrelevant, and con #2 has not happened yet)

The third-best option is no option at all; if it is an option, then why not do something equally unethical, such as shoplifting electronics and selling them on Craigslist to raise money?
posted by KokuRyu at 5:46 PM on November 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

No judgement here. It sounds like you are doing the best you can to take care yourself and your cat.

What happens if you call the shelter and, without identifying yourself or your cat, explain the situation exactly as you've explained it here - you want your cat back, but you simply cannot afford to pay the vet bills your cat has accrued? Would they consider adjusting the bills to a level you can afford? Perhaps they would be willing to work with you - after all, as a no-kill shelter, I'm sure they want to see Cat adopted into a loving home.

Another thing to consider is, if you take Cat back in and if she needs future vet care, whether you will be able to afford that care. That might factor into your decision.
posted by insectosaurus at 5:46 PM on November 21, 2011 [16 favorites]

maybe call them with option one, explain the situation, and see what they say. it's not like they're going to be able to trace your call or anything. maybe they can give you a break for some of the bills.
posted by cupcake1337 at 5:46 PM on November 21, 2011

What if you contacted the shelter and let them know the details, and then offered to pay the adoption fee + any other amount that you would be able to pay, perhaps even with the understanding that you would try to donate more later when you got back on your feet? I wouldn't think the chances of someone else adopting an older cat would be that great, and at least they would have some reimbursement and one less cat to take care of. I'm sorry that you're having to go through this -- it's getting kicked when you're already down. :/
posted by bizzyb at 5:47 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm certain they will work with you. Go in there in person, check on your cat, tell them your situation.

If you can not go in, call them, same thing.

And please update!
posted by jbenben at 5:53 PM on November 21, 2011 [5 favorites]

Please - ask them what they'll do for you so that you can take Cat back. No one wants animals to stay in a cage, unloved, unadopted, and they will hopefully understand the situation. Everyone knows the state of the economy and that should help.

Vets and shelters are really, really used to setting payment plans so that people can take care of their animals without having to sell a kidney.

Good luck. No judgement - you're doing your best.
posted by guster4lovers at 6:08 PM on November 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

Poor you and poor kitty boo. I definitely don't think you did anything horrible. I agree with those who've said you should call the shelter and explain what's going on. I think they'll be happy to work with you so kitty can go home again. Aw, I really feel for you here. Good luck, hope things turn around soon.
posted by sweetkid at 6:12 PM on November 21, 2011

I'd assume the shelter would be willing to help you out. You were sick; your relative was watching the cat; the cat escaped and got injured and your relative also got very sick and didn't know what to do, so brought the cat to a shelter. As soon as you found out, you went to the shelter. But you cannot afford the vet bills. I'd be surprised if you had to pay much more than the adoption fee.

But you should try to escape proof your place in the future. I know to a certain extent a cat who wants out will get out, but you want to make that as hard as possible. (I don't think you were an idiot for not doing it in the past, but two major fights with other animals makes it a bigger deal than it used to be.)
posted by jeather at 6:13 PM on November 21, 2011

About option 3 - they might not let you have Cat if you're truthful about your situation. I'm not criticizing you - cats can be sneaky about getting out - but some shelters can be pretty insistent that you maintain a 100% indoor habit for the cat as an adoption requirement. So there's no guarantee that the Pro would be Cat.

For someone who is retrieving a lost animal, I don't think even the fussy shelters are usually as fussy, especially when it's clear the pet's welfare is central to the person's happiness. I think you should talk to them about option 1 and negotiating a longer-term payment plan.

I know this isn't your question, but it seems like you are (forgive this, it's not intended to be a pun, I just don't know an alternative term) thinking catastrophically. I am not minimizing your situation, just saying - you have a lot going on, and at the moment, Cat is safe and warm and dry and recovering. Cat will be okay, and this is probably going to work out all right for both of you. I knew a person who didn't know how she was going to pay for her next meal who still managed to keep a good relationship with her vet by being honest and paying when she could, and by showing them she really provided a good loving home to her kitty. I can't imagine she was in the minority, either - money is not the center to being a good pet parent. Please don't let this derail your recovery from The Sick by letting it make you despair.
posted by gingerest at 6:14 PM on November 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

I think jbenben might be right. When they had the vet look at the cat, they couldn't have thought they would ever recoup that investment. You've acted on good faith. If you come clean with what happened, the moral debt clearly resides with your friend. There is no guarentee that they'll give you the cat, and it could end up being very awkward, but they also may appreciate knowing the story of the cat, and you are agreeing to pay their adopting fee anyway which isn't slight.

There is no guarentee of getting out of this without some strife and/or browbeating, or the cat, depending on who is working there. But as with most things, knowing more is generally better than knowning less, because it helps all parties to make better decisions.
posted by JHarris at 6:16 PM on November 21, 2011

Go and be honest. You were sick and did the best to take care of your cat; your relative got sick and did the best they could. If it's possible for you, ask if you could volunteer or offer some service to help with paying them back. Ask for their help in catproofing your place (though it's never entirely possible to do so). Even if they say no to you having the cat back at least you know you tried and you can see the cat properly at least once. But I doubt it will come to that.

Good luck.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 6:23 PM on November 21, 2011

Go re-adopt your cat and don't tell them, then spend the next year or two volunteering at the shelter. You win, they win, everybody's happy.
posted by Slinga at 6:27 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Everything else aside, animal shelters are brimming full of cats right now. Adding another cat to the shelters doesn't help anyone. Yes, you should pay the vet bills. But on balance, bringing a cat, any cat out of the shelters is a good thing. They're continuing to feed your cat and pay for all its other bills, and the space your cat is taking up means another cat will need to go to a kill shelter. I say you should just go get your cat, and make sure this doesn't happen again.
posted by cairdeas at 6:27 PM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

I came to say what Slinga suggested, if you go with option 3 make a nominal donation every year until you're even (or even beyond!) and/or volunteer at the shelter.
posted by addelburgh at 6:31 PM on November 21, 2011

Adopt Cat.
Donate in multiples the amount you owe (and then some) to the shelter whenever you can get back on your feet again.
Good luck!
posted by june made him a gemini at 6:32 PM on November 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm voting for going to get the cat and keeping your karma clean by donations and volunteering, if you feel like that's best for you and your cat mentally and physically. Do what you can to cat-proof the place. You can even ask for help from the shelter folks or here to do it up as tight as possible. You're not wrong to want your loving lil'buddy back. It might do you both good.

Please keep us posted.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:41 PM on November 21, 2011

My vote is adoption and donations to the shelter and volunteer work for the shelter as you can. Your kitty would rather be with you than in a cage. It might be sneaky, but if they are hesitant to/don't give her back, it is a big lose for everyone---your kitty, you and the shelter too since I would imagine it is hard to adopt older cats.

However, you should make a solemn pledge to pay back the vet bill (plus "interest") in volunteer work and donations when you can. That way, you can make good on your debt and provide assistance to other kitties who will be brought to the shelter in need.
posted by murrey at 6:48 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

If this lie is the worst you've ever done, you're living pretty clean. Lie, get that cat you love and need, and worry about paying them back after you are in a situation to keep yourself afloat.
posted by Houstonian at 6:50 PM on November 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

Yeah, shelters don't quite work like that usually. You should be honest and tell them this story.

Older animals are exceedingly difficult to place. They will be, in the end, likely to happily reunite you with your cat.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:06 PM on November 21, 2011 [5 favorites]

Please don't lie. It will bite you in the ass. If it works, you'll feel ashamed of yourself for stiffing the shelter (at least in the short term, until you are well enough to volunteer and/or work so you can donate) and lying to folks honestly trying to do good in the world. If it doesn't work, there is no way back. "Uh, yeah, I know you turned down my application, but um, y'know, it actually is my cat." Riight.
posted by likeso at 7:07 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I say leave the cat at the shelter. I grew up with many pets, loved them all, but they are a luxury. A luxury that you can't afford right now. The cat has a history of escaping and incurring large medical bills and will probably do it again. You need to focus on your own health right now, and that means making tough sacrifices... like letting the cat go.
posted by sbutler at 7:16 PM on November 21, 2011

There might be a place in your area which helps low income people pay their vet bills.
posted by brujita at 7:17 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I keep thinking about this.

I see sbutler's point, I really do, and you had already said that you constantly worried about Cat escaping and getting injured. Not good for you. So, there's that.

But I think you have to do what you can live with. She may be happy enough at the shelter, and might even get adopted by a fantastic new person, true. But can you live with the uncertainty?

The other thing to consider is your commitment to your cat. Did you promise her a forever home with you? If so, can you live with breaking that promise?

And then there's your Lack of Cat. Serious.

I think you have to do what you honestly believe is in Cat's best interests (if not your own) and what you can live with - what will make you proud or at least not ashamed of yourself. Important for peace of mind = better health.
posted by likeso at 7:42 PM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Get your cat back, lie if you have too. Even if you can't donate or volunteer (and you should try to do at least a little of one or both), KEEP YOUR CAT INSIDE. Stop letting it get chewed by raccoons. Take this seriously. Your karmic debt, in my opinion, isn't to the shelter for getting kitty back under false pretenses but in keeping kitty safe. And warn next cat sitter about her sneakiness/cleverness/ninja escapes skills so that this doesn't recur. Cats don't actually have nine lives and you need to make sure she stays safe and inside.
posted by shoesietart at 8:54 PM on November 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

the shelter i adopted my kitty from made me sign papers that i'd never let her out. so your shelter will probably do the same, and is probably a good idea given a raccoon has injured your kitty twice now. so be ready to make that concession. if you come clean the shelter may understand or work out a payment plan. good luck, you should reunite with your kitty -he/she needs you.
posted by BlueMartini7 at 9:59 PM on November 21, 2011

I absolutely think they would rather see the cat return to a home than keep yet another cat on their rolls. They will work with you.
posted by Miko at 11:10 AM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

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