On the brink of divorce, don't know what the hell to do about our cat
February 20, 2013 11:35 AM   Subscribe

I think my marriage may be irreparably broken. The idea of splitting up is agonizing, but if things don't turn around soon, I can't stay. But. I don't know what to do about our cat, and it's tearing me apart.

He's old, and he has serious health issues. He usually doesn't act sick or old at all, but he is. He could live another three months, or three to five years if we're very lucky. Odds are that he has another year, or two, and when he does get sick it could get grim in a hurry.

The prospect of me taking him someplace else seems cruel. This is the only real home he's ever known, and moving is traumatic for cats at the best of times. Also, the best housing situation I could swing right now would probably be to rent a room in a stranger's place, and he's an indoor cat. It would be complicated and awful, and probably unworkable.

So, maybe the sensible thing would be to just leave him here, but that prospect is just as awful, if not worse. He is very loving and dependent on me, and he acts absolutely distraught when I'm gone. I don't even want to think of living without him. It'd be like leaving my kid behind, only he's a kid who will never understand why I had to leave.

I'd rather take on a lot of pain myself than ever see him suffer, but if indeed I do split up with my spouse, I don't know how to do it without also causing my cat to suffer a lot. And even if I left him here, and he bounced back right away and forgot all about me, that hurts me too damn much. I can't stand the idea of him hurting because I'm gone, and I can't stand the idea of him forgetting about me.

Right now our marriage is in a highly volatile state. For a long time I was kind of the one pushing for us to stay together, and if I admitted how close I was to leaving right now, that'd probably be the end for us. So I can't even really discuss the cat situation unless I'm ready to split up for good. I do think my spouse would probably accept my taking the cat, but with great reluctance. So, there'd be that guilt, too.

I apologize for this little meltdown, but my whole life is falling apart and I feel like I'm kind of trapped here because of this damn cat I love so much. I can't even go away for a few weeks or months as a trial separation, because I've gotta worry about the fuzzball. It's this deep, primal, embarrassingly parental kind of love, and right now it's inconvenient as hell.

Suggestions would be very, very welcome at this point.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (39 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
moving is traumatic for cats at the best of times

Not always, not for all cats. Our indoor cats have moved between 4 and 2 times, and none of the three ever had much of a problem, aside from the very easily stressed out one who peed in our laundry once or twice at the most recent move.

Obviously, there is no ideal situation here, but maybe that knowledge can tip your decision one way or another.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:40 AM on February 20, 2013 [10 favorites]

And I'm really sorry you are going through this. It sounds tough.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:40 AM on February 20, 2013

Poor you and poor kitty.

Moving is stressfull to a cat, but I think being without his favorite person would be moreso.

If you decide to leave, plan on taking the cat with you, and move to a cat friendly place.

I suspect that your cat will feel at home as long as you bring things that are homey to him. A duvet you both like, his litter box, his toys, etc.

Sure, you'll be squinched up a bit, but I think he'll be fine with the transition.

If you're lucky, you might fall into a roommate deal where there are other folks who are cat-friendly and he can make new friends.

Also, he's a cat, and while he may be streessed for a while, he'll settle down and be fine. As long as he has a clean litter box, his noms and his person, it's a good day.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:40 AM on February 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

You sound like you're his human. He'd want to be with you.
posted by royalsong at 11:40 AM on February 20, 2013 [14 favorites]

Put on your own oxygen mask first before helping others. The cat is currently in a good situation. You are not. Fix your situation, then deal with where the cat will live.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:41 AM on February 20, 2013 [26 favorites]

Is it possible you are projecting your fears about the impending dissolution of your marriage onto a pet? Because it sure sounds that way.

Decide what you are doing in your marriage. Then decide what to do about the cat.

Not the other way around.
posted by modernnomad at 11:42 AM on February 20, 2013 [33 favorites]

First and foremost, you have to take care of yourself. All the situations laid out sound acceptable for the cat; I know plenty of cats in group living situations in NYC and they're fine. Don't use the cat as an excuse to put off taking action in your marriage. The cat is going to survive.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:43 AM on February 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

I think this is one of those things where the big problems are so overwhelming that you're latching onto and focusing on a relatively small problem instead.

Take the cat, or don't take the cat -- it's probably going to be rough on both of you either way. But don't let the cat get in the way of your decision-making about the marriage.
posted by ook at 11:43 AM on February 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

When you say your marriage is volatile: Do you mean you are in danger of being hit or otherwise abused?

Under those circumstances you have to put your wellbeing above your cat's.

Other than that, maybe a vet checkup, to see how much life is left in your little darling, and then start searching for petfriendly accomodations, assuming you can afford to take your time.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:43 AM on February 20, 2013

At first I thought your second and third paragraph were about the husband, not the cat.

Take the cat. The cat will be fine. Yes, cats hate moving. And then they get over it within a month and they're fine. The way you talk about this, though... it sounds like you can't QUITE bring yourself to end this marriage and are using the cat's welfare as an excuse.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:43 AM on February 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

When my mother moved, and moved her elderly (15 years old) cat, who hadn't lived anywhere else since she was two months old, she discussed it with the vet and he gave her a low-dose tranquilizer pill. She boarded the cat for the day of moving, so that the cat wouldn't be freaked out by all these large, loud people tramping through her territory and moving all her stuff, and gave her the tranquilizers for the first week or so. The cat pretty much hid under the bed and slept the time away, and when she stopped being drugged, she took the move pretty philosophically after that.
posted by telophase at 11:43 AM on February 20, 2013 [5 favorites]

I'm sorry you're going through this.

Do you have a friend in a more stable living situation who could take in the cat? Someone who you could come visit once a day maybe? If you were one of my friends, I would happily take in your little dude for a while until you got yourself figured out, even if I couldn't offer you a room.

Even better - as you make plans to leave, find a place that is cat friendly. Explain to your new roommate or whoever that bringing the cat is non-negotiable and you'll keep the litter box in your private space.

Good luck! (and get out).
posted by sparklemotion at 11:43 AM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am not going to tell you that you're overly-attached to your cat and need to get over it -- we can't always help the things we care about, and if you say you feel parental about your cat and would be really sad to leave him behind or cause him stress, then I believe you.

That said, I've noticed that in times of extreme stress, it's much easier for things like this to seem like completely overwhelming obstacles -- like when you've had a shitty day and break down crying in the kitchen because you can't find the salt, only times a hundred. (or a thousand, really.)

So I'm telling you: you will figure out what to do about the cat. The cat will be fine. You'll work out a solution that's compatible with whatever your situation ends up being, and while it may not be ideal your cat will not suffer and you'll both be fine. It's a problem of logistics and you'll be able to find a solution.

Right now, please concentrate on taking care of yourself while you figure out what you want to do. If that involves going away on a trip on your own, I'm sure the people here on MeFi will have lots of solutions for how to make sure your cat isn't overly stressed while you're gone. If that involves asking your spouse to give you some time alone in the house with your pet, hopefully they'll do you the kindness of helping to make that happen.

You're going to be okay, your cat is going to be okay. Take a deep breath. Go for a walk. Don't borrow trouble, and try to concentrate on what needs to be done or considered right now. You don't have to figure everything out at once all in advance.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 11:46 AM on February 20, 2013 [5 favorites]

OK, just putting it out there... if you told your spouse that the relationship is over, is there a way that they would agree to leave the house, for the sake of the cat? Probably not the most popular answer, but my cats are like my kids, too, and I would do more for them than I bet a lot of parents would for their own children.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:48 AM on February 20, 2013

Moving isn't always stressful to a cat. Some cats get freaked out and run under the bed if you get a haircut and some cats can be taken across the country and dumped in a new house and end up snoozing in a sunny spot in a matter of minutes.

There's really no way to be sure.

I'd say that the cat is bonded with you and should come with you. As long as he has some things around that smell familiar, there is a good chance he won't give a hoot.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:54 AM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is the only real home he's ever known,

You are his home. Take your cat with you and even if you're penned up in one room, you'll have each other.
posted by kimberussell at 11:57 AM on February 20, 2013 [7 favorites]

I have been in the position myself and known people who put off break-ups, sometimes for years, because of paralysis over the pets. Animals are more resilient than you think, and it doesn't sound like either situation would be actively unhealthy for the cat assuming you find a cat-friendly place to go, but if you don't it seems like the cat will be in an okay situation.

I hope you're able to take him with you, because it seems like you really want him with you during a tough time. But you can put that item some ways down the list for now.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:02 PM on February 20, 2013

You sound like you're his human. He'd want to be with you.

Exactly. Cats brains tend to work differently from ours and it's easy to think a cat will care about a thing they will not care about. It's especially easy to do this when you are undergoing great stress about a thing that is tough for YOU. If you have a friend or close companion, it may ease your mind to talk to them about this and hear it from them and not just the internet peanut gallery. I am sorry you are going through this. At the same time I think "cat goes with you" is the best plan and that the cat will be fine and you will, eventually, be fine.
posted by jessamyn at 12:02 PM on February 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have a kitty of advanced years who is bonded to me and there is not the faintest question in my mind that it would be more stressful for me to leave her than for her to move with me. Moving is a pain, but as long as my bed and my smells go with me, she's pretty much fine in two or three days - but if I go on a ten-day trip, she doesn't move except to eat and pee the whole time. And I'm not sure she really eats.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:04 PM on February 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Cats are very loyal to people, and much less loyal to places. He will almost certainly be happier with his human than in a house without you. Also, cats love certain places because they smell like their owners (hello couches and bed). Over time, it will no longer smell like you and be distressing.
posted by zug at 12:06 PM on February 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

I moved with my cat twice. I agree with people saying that YOU are likely your cat's home, not the actual house. My cat minded all the noise and chaos around the move, but settled in to her new home quickly. Key to the successful moves was that she still had her gross-ass old purple blankie that smelled of her to curl up in. That was always the last to "pack" (aka, tossed in the car beside my purse when I drove off) and the first to unpack (aka put on the floor just outside her carrier so that the new place immediately smelled familiar). Her giant bed (aka. my bed) and the blankets and pillows all still smelled like me. I still smelled like me. It was all the same stuff, just in a different arrangement, so she was cool with it after a day or so. One bout of barf on the carpet, a poop behind the couch, and she was good to go and settled in.

Take care of yourself first. Your kitty will adapt. Kitties adapt. Just don't wash all the bedding and stuff for a little while before and after you move....
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 12:07 PM on February 20, 2013

Take kitty with you. He would rather be with you, I think, than not, even if he does take a turn for the worse after you move because of the stress of a new place.

I moved two cats to a couple of different places. They settled right in. I don't think taking your kitty to a new place is cruel at all. It will also do you good to have a creature to take care of what with all the stress and sadness flying around.
posted by Currer Belfry at 12:07 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have drug cats all over the country with me many, many times. There is an adjustment period for them, but it will be shorter than you think and your kitty will be absolutely fine. Cats are territorial, but they're also resilient. Take care of yourself first and foremost.
posted by something something at 12:08 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can't imagine going through my separation without my little buddy, who is a cat. She has helped me cope in ways that I should be embarrassed to even talk about, but you know what? Some days, she is what keeps me alive.

I think that for your sake, you should take the cat with you. It sounds like it is in both your best interest and the cat's best interest for him to be with you right now.
posted by sockermom at 12:09 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, one of the reasons I got a cat (I got her right after I left my abusive ex) was that it would prevent me from going back to my volatile situation.

If your husband yells a lot, that alone is probably traumatic for the cat. If your marriage is volatile in that way, I imagine that negatively affects the cat.

I think the kitty will be fine in a shared house, even if she has to stay in one room. My new apartment is 600 square feet and my cat rarely goes beyond her little spot on the couch. I think he'll be fine in a room in someone's house.
posted by sockermom at 12:13 PM on February 20, 2013

I've moved a lot of cats. They want to be with me, not in some apartment or house that they have lived in. If you rent a room -- you have an indoor cat, you can just keep the cat in your bedroom. Your cat will be fine, and it will help you to have him to love.

It does sound like you are projecting other fears onto this cat -- which is normal and which I have done a lot.
posted by jeather at 12:14 PM on February 20, 2013

I've moved with my emotionally and physically fragile cat 10 times in 10 years. She's fine. Cats are resilient. Take care of you.
posted by greta simone at 12:38 PM on February 20, 2013

I'm going through a divorce right now and we've already separated households. We had a cat together and I, too, felt sad about her home breaking up. If you want to talk about either subject, MeMail me.
posted by entropicamericana at 12:38 PM on February 20, 2013

I have moved kitties time and again. I have even become primary caretaker of cats the ex-whatever couldn't or wouldn't take in a split. What I've learned is that cats find more stability from having the reliable human in their lives, wherever that is, than in any arbitrary concept of "place".

Yes, they are territorial and their physical home does matter to them. But if safety guidelines are followed (being very careful to keep kitty away from doors and windows for the first couple of months after moving, mostly), they re-imprint on a new place quite well. It's more based on their support person being there with their routines intact or only mildly adjusted.

I've managed to achieve this even during periods of couch-surfing with near strangers, so I have faith that you can do it.

Don't let kitty be the barrier. Start looking at the other considerations, like talking to a lawyer, where you'll go, how you'll get there, etc.
posted by batmonkey at 12:59 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I completely feel for you - I don't know *what* we would do about the dogs if my fiance and I ever split. Hell, when my parents divorced, joint custody of the family dog was spelled out in the divorce papers!

The advantage that you have right now is planning. It sounds like the cat would be best coming with you - so figure out where you are going to live that will allow cats. Cheap studio/efficiency apartment? Extended-stay hotel? You probably have more options than you think, so start looking now.
posted by radioamy at 1:04 PM on February 20, 2013

I had a cat who was fine with moving to a new home. Admittedly he hated being in a car but that was because before I got him he'd been thrown from a moving car and almost died. We moved six times in six years, he was absolutely fine with it. So much so that we could let him out the very same day we moved and he knew where his home was. I was his person and where ever I was and my bed then that was his home.

He was a lot older than I thought when I got him. Apparently he was about 16 when I had to have him put down. He was a very tough cat who endured a hell of a lot because he loved me. I didn't realise but his body was riddled with cancer. He looked fine, his coat was glossy, his eyes bright and he was still eating a lot. He was a tiny bit wobbly but I thought it was due to old age. We only found out about the cancer because someone thought he belonged to a neighbour who moved and kept him in until the RSPCA picked him up. At that point he gave up as he obviously thought he was never coming home.

When I got him back just five days later he'd gone from a healthy looking cat to a cat who couldn't stand up, eat or drink. Yet the next day because he was back home with me he fought to live. He was so close to death and I tried to let him know he could let go, yet every time I spoke to him he started fighting again. Anyway my rambling about him does have a point and that is that just because your cat is old it doesn't mean he will be unable to cope. On the contrary he'll probably sense that you are down and need him and fight for you. He'll be fine even in a room with you because he'll be with you.

I say take him with you and let him show you how resilliant he can be. Plus you'll be so thankful of him when he picks up on your emotions and comforts you.
posted by Ranting Prophet of DOOM! at 1:10 PM on February 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Our cats have moved a number if times, including overseas...twice. try not to subject them to the packing/unpacking part, ask the vet for some feliway, and if you can, plan on hanging out at home with him for a couple days...probably good for you too. He'll be fine, and so will you. I love my cats like children too!
posted by jrobin276 at 1:22 PM on February 20, 2013

I had a cat that lived for 22 years. I moved him a lot. All over the country. He was fine, as long as he had something that smelled like me to sleep on. The last time we moved, I was nervous because he was so old; but he managed like a trooper, and lived another 5 years. He didn't die until a few days before my son was born, when I guess he decided there wasn't room for two babies. I miss him terribly now, but I would have missed him so much more if I had left him with my first husband, and not had the last 12 years with him.
posted by dejah420 at 1:45 PM on February 20, 2013

I've had to leave a cat behind when a relationship/living situation imploded. Even though I did trust my Ex to be a great cat dad, I still regret it. Take the cat.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 1:54 PM on February 20, 2013

I spent about 18 months living mostly in a single room (I rented from friends) also following my divorce.

My cat was totally fine with it. She would occasionally make very plaintive noises (loud ones!) if I came home and hung out in the living room before coming in to see her, but other than that, she was just fine. It helped that she was a bit older, and not needing as much space to run around, but what she really wanted was me to pet her and sit by her, and so on, and as long as I was in that room with her (and paying her reasonable amounts of attention), she was a happy furball.

(She made it through that - and three moves in 18 months, got me through a couple of pretty rocky years after that, a cross-country move, and then died of a blood clot about six months after I'd settled in the current job and life. I have another cat now, who I also adore, but I am so so so glad my Athene was with me for all of that time, and she got me through some days that would have been so very much worse without her.)

I've found Rescue Remedy or various of the pheromone treatments handy for ambient stress (like packing and moving), but they weren't massively necessary.
posted by modernhypatia at 2:50 PM on February 20, 2013

I had this cat! TLDR, keep 'em!

I got her when I was in sixth grade, and she was an indoor/outdoor cat. She was declawed, but loved disappearing for days on hunting trips. She was aloof with everyone except me. When I went to college, she would sleep on my bed, and would forget hunting so we could hang out any weekend I came home.

When I got my first real apartment, I kidnapped her the second week. My mom was worried she wouldn't adapt to being an indoor only cat, and always left the door open for me to bring her back.

I had to leave open the blinds, and buy some hunting toys. But she would sleep on a pillow next to my head, and was always by my side when I came home. She eventually was diagnosed with pancreatitis and put on a special diet for her failing kidneys. After that, I moved twice. Once in town, the second time cross country to a small studio in San Francisco.

There might be a bit of projecting, but I'm confident that she was happier spending time with her human. In college I saw how happy she was being in a house where she felt comfortable hunting birds her whole life. And I agree, metafilter, don't let your cat hunt birds. But my point is that cats love hunting birds, and my aloof bird-hunting cat still missed me more than her environmentally-unfriendly kills.
posted by politikitty at 3:26 PM on February 20, 2013

Response by poster: It really depends on the cat. I've had a couple of kitties who hid for a few days on moving, and I've had kitties who rejoiced in the opportunity to explore new places and find new sunny spots. The skittish ones tended to be high-strung already and not super-attached to people. Cats that were more laid back or people loving did a lot better. So I'm sure as long as you were there your kitty would be fine.
posted by Anonymous at 9:56 PM on February 20, 2013

Take the cat. He sounds like he'll need you - and it sounds like he will bolster you too.

All of our cats, even the skittish ones, are people-centered to some degree. Your pet also sounds people-centered.

My most attached cat who follows me from room to room has travelled out of state with me (she's travelled through 12 states), and frankly, I think it's been a lot easier on her emotionally to travel, than to be apart from me. Same thing with my dog. And that's just travel - what you're talking about is a new permanent home, which he'll adapt to.

Don't overthink it. What's right for you is probably also what's best for the cat, based on your comments about feeling a parental, deep love, and the attachment it has for you.
posted by mitschlag at 4:33 PM on February 22, 2013

Take the cat with you since he is more comfortable when you're around. For the moving, don't worry, cats adapt easily. It takes a few days but they can make any place their home.
posted by daile at 6:55 AM on February 23, 2013

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