Am I overreacting to my friends' values about future pets?
March 11, 2013 7:43 PM   Subscribe

My younger friends are roommates and want to jointly adopt a kitten. When I asked some follow-up questions about who would be the real owner of the cat (since they'll likely not live together for the animal's entire lifespan) it seems that they assume they'll just give the cat up if neither wants to take it to the new home. I am, shall we say, not a fan of this plan. They both think I'm overreacting. They are also not very keen on simply fostering instead of adopting. What to do?

The friends are both lovely people, but they're fairly young - 21 and 25 years old - and live together in NYC. While I could see them living together amiably for the next few years, I highly doubt they'll be life partners for the next foreseeable 15 years or so of the cat's life. Right now they're seriously considering using a fostering agency that allows foster families to adopt cats quite easily. They are not interested in fostering long term, as they claim to want their own pet.

As a cat owner (and unofficial member of Metafilter's Cat Care Crew that advocates against declawing and adopting baby kittens over adult cats etc etc etc) I naturally started asking them questions about the arrangement with this animal. Who would pay for vet bills? "Both of us!" What if said bill is REALLY expensive? "We both pay!" So who actually owns the cat? "Both of us!" What happens when you guys inevitably move out? "One of us takes the cat!" Do you know how long cats live? "Uh.... 7 years?" Um, no. Often like... 12-20 years. So what if neither of you can take the cat further down the road? "We'll find it a home!"

I am not freaking out, exactly, but I'm definitely uncomfortable with the glib idea that they had no idea how long cats live and that it is perfectly fine to adopt an animal with the plan that they'd just give it away if it gets too inconvenient (especially because adult animals can be hard to re-home). I realize that a lot of people adopt animals with this Plan B in mind, but I don't like it anymore because of that.

Two questions:

1) Am I overreacting? I mean, plenty of people give away their pets, but in my perfect world it would be because of REALLY GOOD reasons like, My New Baby Is Deathly Allergic and not because a 21 year old living in NYC suddenly wants to travel the world at 25 and a cat can't tag along. However, I do not live in my fantasy world so please help me snap out of it if that's the case.

2) If I am not overreacting, what are some good, moderately-worded resources I can send their way to impress upon these two lovely young people that adopting pets is a lifelong commitment and not a fling?

Please remember:
-They're already going down the fostering route, but as someone who did this and wound up with our third cat after swearing up and down I couldn't have any more cats, I know how easy it is to get attached. So while this is definitely the most rational option for them, I don't really trust their ability to remain superhumanly detached from an adorable kitten and not opt to adopt him. Since they're already gungho on owning a cat, I see this happening sooner rather than later.

-No, I am not going to print out this question and simply give it to them. I'd like some articles and other professional resources on this subject.
posted by Viola to Pets & Animals (45 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
* 21 and 25 are really not that young when it comes to Time for First Pet Adoption. I think most of the cat owners I know got their first cat in their early 20s.

* "Both of us!" combined with "We'll figure something out!" is an entirely normal and sane way for people to handle being a couple and getting a pet. I mean, if neither of them wants to take the cat to their new home, what else would they do but find it a new home? I know a lot of people who've had a cat, moved, and had to find the cat a new home due to a move. For that matter, that's how my parents got 2 of their last 3 cats. A friend of mine got a pair of cats 3 years ago; this past winter she executed a plan six months in the making and moved to Australia. Finding new homes for her cats was part of that plan and worked out splendidly.

Thinking cats live 7 years rather than 12-20 is a minor failure in cat-knowledge. But the rest of it seems entirely normal to me. I mean, what do you want them to say? People get pets without always knowing exactly what the next 12-20 years of their life are going to look like, or they do and then they turn out to be wrong. Nearly always, "oh shit kitty cannot come with me" has enough lead time that a person can find a new home for kitty.

Basically, you haven't said anything that would make me, a dedicated cat person, flip out if those were my friends. Okay, maybe not the world's most ideal cat owners, but shelters are full almost everywhere - get some cats some homes. If something happens, there's two of them that might take the cats. Two people to try to find new homes for them if neither can take them. The odds are good that these cats will have a pretty good life.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:52 PM on March 11, 2013 [25 favorites]

And you forget that one or both of them is likely to really get attached to the cat. It's one thing to think of a kitty in the abstract-but once they have THEIR cat at THEIR house, you can't tell me that the real thing to worry about won't be them fighting over who gets custody.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:56 PM on March 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

I don't think you're overreacting. I might ask them how they thought they were going to be able to give away a full grown cat and walk them through some scenarios including the worst case ones. Like what if the no-kill shelter is full and you have to turn it over to the city shelter? What if the shelter stresses the cat out so much that it's behavior changes and is deemed unadoptable?

Here's a link about the numbers of animals put down at NYC shelters.

Also depending how you feel about it you could tip off the fostering org at least so they migth grill them more if they were considering adopting a foster.
posted by oneear at 7:59 PM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

So while this is definitely the most rational option for them, I don't really trust their ability to remain superhumanly detached from an adorable kitten and not opt to adopt him.

Then why do you think they'll want to give it away later?
posted by empath at 8:08 PM on March 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Being put down in a kill shelter is so very far from even being the worst case scenario; in my opinion it is actually one of the better ones. Worst case scenarios are closer to "bunchers" who collect "free to good home" pets to sell to laboratories for gruesome, painful experimentation; people involved in dogfighting who need "bait" animals to raise the confidence of their fighting dogs, and so many other horrifying things.

OP, there should be information on the website of your city shelter about what percentage of their cats are put down in a given year without being adopted. I'd start there. You can also email local rescues and find out how what percentage of unwanted cats they have to turn away from their rescue. Most of those rescues will not even take unwanted cats from private parties anyway, they usually pull from kill shelters. I can guarantee almost all of them will be full.

Don't expect to get through to these friends though. When people feel like they just wanna get an cute kittie, they just get the animal and it's rare that anything you say will make a dent.
posted by cairdeas at 8:11 PM on March 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yes, you're overreacting. It's none of your business, you have no idea how the future will shake out, yet you're assuming the worst.

Chillout, this is not a situation you can control.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:12 PM on March 11, 2013 [19 favorites]

Then why do you think they'll want to give it away later?

New toys get old eventually.
posted by cairdeas at 8:13 PM on March 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I agree with St. Alia that at least one of them is likely to get attached to the cat, and I think their own experience with the cat is more likely to change their thinking on this than anything you might say to them.

However, to look at it from a different angle:
There are more cats in NYC shelters than people who want to and are able to adopt them. For this cat the choice is probably not between a) get adopted by people who might give me away after a few years vs. b) get adopted by people who plan to commit to caring for me for the remainder of my life.

The cat's choice, if it was the cat's choice, is probably something like a) get adopted by these kids b) stay in the shelter c) um, if it's not a no-kill shelter ... well.

So from your perspective it looks like "this cat SHOULD be adopted by people who will make a serious long-term commitment."

Whereas to the cat it might look more like "5 years of living!" Because the people who can and will make that serious commitment already have a cat. Or two or three.

It may not be the ideal option, but it might be the best option this cat is going to get.
posted by bunderful at 8:15 PM on March 11, 2013 [15 favorites]

And if they already think you're over-reacting, it might be best to drop it.

I've changed my values a few times in my life, but never through arguments made by another person, however intelligent and persuasive - only from my own experience. Let them have this one, try to let it be about them and the cat and not about your disagreement.
posted by bunderful at 8:19 PM on March 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't think you're over-reacting. Not too long ago, I spent a few years as a "refosterer" - taking on cats as a stop between a home that couldn't care for them anymore on their way to a more permanent place - and, man, it's hard to place grown cats! Especially in big cities.

The future kitten has no ability to advocate for itself, and the fostering org sounds like it's open to whatever happens next, so a voice of knowledge and experience is a good reality check for folks like this. Well-meaning people are the number one generators of unwanted pets, after all.

If you feel kindly toward them, consider providing details on pet insurance, a cat care and behaviour book, encouraging a joint account for kitty-related expenses, and then maybe including a list of places that will take a non-kitten in for safe rehoming on short notice, along with the donation amount they require. Maybe a list of trusted pet-sitters, too. All good cat-auntie advice.

Aside from that, though, there aren't really statistics that will sway folks like this, I don't think. Not even kill statistics. Not even all of the really dire truths about how overwhelmed Animal Care and Control is, not to mention the various shelters and rescues trying their best to be supportive. One thing that might work is seeing if they'd be willing to go down to a local kill shelter to give comfort and maybe do a little manual labour to the cats and kittens stranded there. Since they're kind of bumbling into this with a collection of assumptions (like most guardians of living creatures), perhaps seeing the extreme side of things will help put the pieces together for them.

Accept, though, that it might not have an effect. Or, you might not need to do any of that and they'll turn out to be devoted cat-keepers all on their own. But speaking up for the voiceless isn't overreacting, as long as you are kind, helpful, and able to accept that they may not accept the knowledge you're trying to help them with.
posted by batmonkey at 8:21 PM on March 11, 2013

I think you're overreacting. You have no idea whether or not one or the other of them will become attached to the cat in the future. Just because they say that they'll rehome the cat now IF they have to doesn't mean that this is what's going to happen.

Calm down and let them adopt their kitten.
posted by patheral at 8:26 PM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm 22 and I adopted the world's greatest cat last year, after owning pets my whole life and fostering a lovely 9-year-old girl who was placed in a great home. I thought a lot about the concerns you raised with your friends, including the fact that I don't know exactly what my life will look like for the duration of my cat's life. But one of my friends told me, "You will just factor him in from now on. He will be part of the plan." That's how I approach my cat ownership - he's a part of my life now so I will do what I need to do to provide him with a good home.

You asked your friends "what if neither of you can take the cat further down the road?" That question sets them up for failure. What are they supposed to say? "We'll take it anyway"? "That will never happen"? I think the only fair answer to that is theirs - "We'll find it a home!" That doesn't necessarily mean they'll dump the cat when it becomes inconvenient - that's an assumption you've made. It just means that if they CAN'T take take him they will still provide for him. That seems like a responsible attitude to me.

The biggest thing I worry about in joint pet adoptions is not that the animal will have no home, but that it will have two homes that refuse to relinquish it. Animals don't understand joint custody, especially cats, who value consistency. That's the issue I would discuss with your friends.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 8:26 PM on March 11, 2013 [15 favorites]

They're not ideal cat owners. But they're not horrible potential cat owners either. And I think there's lots to what St Alia said-- it's easy to give away $abstract_cat, not so easy to give up your friend. Or if it is, maybe said cat will be better off. I don't see the sort of screaming red flags that should make you try to interfere.
posted by tyllwin at 8:28 PM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

What is the right answer to the question of "So what if neither of you can take the cat further down the road?"

It's like asking a politician when he stopped beating his wife.

They gave the best answer possible without challenging the premise of the question. I would educate them some, but then back off an have faith that they will handle this responsibility like the adults that they are.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:32 PM on March 11, 2013 [8 favorites]

I don't think you're overreacting. When you give an animal a home, you should at least have a plan for securing a home for that animal for life. Pragmatically, yes, getting a cat out of a shelter is better than not getting a cat at all, but they want a kitten which presumably would be easier to place than an adult cat. Everybody loves kittens. Not everyone loves cats.

My friend had to place a cat and a kitten in NYC when she moved. She was able to place the kitten easily, but the cat? No. After six months, she didn't have the heart to put him in the pound, so he's still with her.
posted by mochapickle at 8:35 PM on March 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I can't tell if you're overreacting or not. At least two of my friends from college adopted cats in roommate/sharehouse situations in their very early 20s, and kept the cats (happy and well-cared-for) for the cats' whole lifespan. Both of them moved state-to-state several times, carefully ensuring that housing situations were cat-friendly even though the deposit, if not the rent, is usually higher. They fretted about vets and about leaving their cats alone and about cat-allergic boyfriends. Young people are as capable of committing to the well-being of a pet as anyone else, even if they have no clear idea what their own futures may hold. I think you're over-reading the significance of their ignorance about cat lifespans.

But if neither of them has ever had a pet, you might not be overreacting.

Googling got me lots of resources on the importance of commitment in cat adoption. Iowa City Adoption Center (cat-specific). ASPCA (all pets) A foster care manual for an animal shelter (pdf).
posted by gingerest at 8:38 PM on March 11, 2013

I think you're overreacting. You can't predict the future any better than they can. If your friends have a history of under-thinking big plans, failure to follow through on things, or have never been responsible for a pet, I might re-consider, but based off of what you wrote? Best idea ever? Maybe not, but probably not the worst either. Spend time educating your friends rather than trying to convince them not to adopt a cat -- I bet the former would be more effective and appreciated than the latter.

Also, at least in all the places I've adopted pets, it wasn't like you just walked in and grabbed one off the shelf and walked out. One had to apply, read through a buncha materials, etc etc. I don't know jack about animal shelters in NYC but if the fostering agency does any type of screening, might they also do some sort of educating for first-timers? Is it even likely that a first time pet owner could get a foster? I'm just wondering if it's even something that would get off the ground.
posted by sm1tten at 8:45 PM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

she didn't have the heart to put him in the pound, so he's still with her.

Which is why everything will probably be fine.

I've seen some seriously irresponsible people adopt animals under misguided circumstances and handle it great. My brother bought a puppy (from god knows where) when he was a 20 year old frat bro and part time barback. I thought it was going to be a disaster, but in the ensuing years he turned out to be a great pet owner and she turned out to be an awesome dog. I've seen him make MANY hard life choices wherein he had to take his dog ownership into account, too.
posted by Sara C. at 9:17 PM on March 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't think you're overreacting to their current attitudes, but I agree with other posters that this will probably turn out positively.
posted by radioamy at 9:23 PM on March 11, 2013

I don't think you're wrong to bring this stuff up, but (a) you have no control over the situation, and (b) you don't live with them, so you don't get a veto vote. But depending on who they are getting pets through, the adoption organization may bring this up too. The SPCA is known for being fairly thorough about asking about your previous pet history, the state of your relationship (my cousin said that one of the good things about getting married was that she and her fellow wouldn't get the stinkeye when they wanted to adopt another pet, because "what happens if you break up?"), medical bills, etc.

I think it'd be easier if one of them officially claimed the cat so there'd be less of an issue in a few years, though that may shake out one way or the other in the future too.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:38 PM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I know how you feel, but if they're your reasonably intelligent friends, everything will probably be okay.

me and my exboyfriend lived together at 22 and got 2 cats together, with no contingency plan for us breaking up, but when it happened, we just worked it out. I took the cats, they're happy and healthy and have never needed to worry about where they'll end up, and he relinquished them to me without a giant fuss, and will pop over to visit them occasionally when he can.

they're not THAT young, they're grown ups with a NYC apartment, they'll figure the cat having out. it's a hassle sometimes, but not a big one. besides, you wouldn't be friends with them if they were totally stupid, right? ;)
posted by euphoria066 at 10:37 PM on March 11, 2013

I understand, but hear me out.

I grew up in NYC, and like you, I eventually ended up with 3 cats.

There are literally tons of people who will take this cat in if down the road these roommates decide, for whatever reason, they can't take care if the cat any longer.

NYC is great for networking! The cat will be OK!!

Might I suggest you recommend they split health insurance for the cat? Similarly, if they are anywhere near SOHO TRIBECA ANIMAL HOSPITAL... That should be their vet! They are pricey, but the level of care there is unsurpassable. The insurance will help cover costs there.

It took me 8 years in Los Angeles to find a comparable vet (Dr. Robert Goldman at VCA Petville in Mar Vista, between Culver City and Venice, if anyone is interested...)
posted by jbenben at 11:35 PM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I co-owned a cat in college with several roommates, and the sharing of vet bills/food costs/etc never was an issue (though we were fortunate enough that we never incurred any large ones). That said, while we were all responsible for raising her, the cat did have one technical owner for when we graduated (with the understanding that if someone else really really bonded with Cat, and was in a position to take Cat post-graduation, ownership could be transferred). However, Technical Owner's parents were also on board to take Cat if, upon graduation, none of us could (the woman who ran the rescue wouldn't actually adopt out a kitten to college students without such a precaution in place). So...the situation was a little different. I've heard other stories of roommates co-taking on a pet, having one roommate end up shouldering all the responsibility and resenting it, and things generally not ending well.

In terms of the "we'll find it a home!" response to the question "what happens if at some point neither of you can take the cat," I don't think they necessarily gave the wrong answer. As others have pointed out (and you acknowledged as well), even the most responsible, devoted pet owners could end up in a situation beyond their control where they can no longer keep the animal--in that (awful) scenario, finding the cat a home is pretty much the most responsible thing you can do. Of course, if the subtext was clearly along the lines of them being cavalier about someday giving the cat away because they just don't want it anymore, then yeah, that's a problem. It's hard to tell if that's their attitude without hearing the full conversation. But if they're prone to getting superhumanly attached, I'm guessing that's probably not going to be an issue. (Though it might present its own problem down the line...I'm currently superhumanly attached to my roommate's cat, to the point where I almost decided to stay in an otherwise really toxic and unhealthy living environment just to keep being with him. So you never really know what issues could come up down the road...)

I think they're already demonstrating responsibility by choosing to start out by fostering. Yes, they might get attached and adopt one, but they might also realize that the responsibility of a cat is more than they are ready to take on forever.

In terms of adopting a kitten, instead of an adult cat...sure, it is more noble to adopt an adult cat who has a harder time finding a forever home. But wanting to raise a kitten doesn't automatically make one an irresponsible cat owner, or a bad person. Sometimes, that's just the best fit.

tl;dr Without knowing your friends, it's hard to tell if you're overreacting just based on the information given. (Gently) educate them on the responsibilities behind pet ownership, even if that's just sharing your own personal experiences as a cat owner (sorry I don't have any specific resources to pass on--hopefully someone else can chime in on that front). But in the end, it's their decision to make, and if they're that gung-ho about it, there's probably little you can say to sway them.
posted by tan_coul at 11:51 PM on March 11, 2013

I don't think their plan is terrible, exactly, but it is not ideal, either.

I had roommates who did this (springing it on me by arriving home with the cat!) and then one by one the first two left the country, leaving the remaining one(s) solely responsible for the cat, and then the third roommate went home over summer, had some crisis and never came back, leaving me (who had never been officially an owner of the cat) in sole charge. Eventually I had to find it another home, as I was not in a good situation for looking after a cat. But I did manage to rehome it with friends-of-friends and it lived happily ever after.

I think the vet bill scenario is a bigger issue. None of us back then would have been able to afford anything beyond the annual vaccinations. And even those didn't actually happen very regularly, since each roommate thought the other would handle it.

I think they'd maybe be best to adopt a cat who is in a terrible situation otherwise (e.g. from a kill shelter, or in imminent danger of ending up in one) so that no matter what happens you can be reassured that it is better than its original situation. (By "no matter what happens" I mean, for example, if the roommates don't vaccinate it regularly, or if they give it away and it loses its new stability, or if it gets badly injured or ill and they decide to have it put down rather than forking out $$$ for vet bills.)

But finally, I don't think there is much you can or even should do about the situation unless you are another roommate of theirs and likely to end up cat-owner-by-default, as I was.
posted by lollusc at 12:54 AM on March 12, 2013

yes, i think you are overreacting. i'm sure at least one of them will become totally attached to the kitten/cat and want it if they break up. it's pretty hard not to have that happen with cute balls of fluff. try to chill out an not hassle them about this. the cat will be fine. we all know 98.9% of the things we worry about don't happen anyway.
posted by wildflower at 3:09 AM on March 12, 2013

The perfect is the enemy of the good. Are these the ideal kitten adopters? Probably not. Are they better than no adopter? I'd argue yes. There is simply no shortage of adoptable pets nowadays, and even if you make the argument that they're "taking the good stuff", every single pet adoption reduces the overall adoption pool and increases the likelihood that the harder-to-adopt members of the pool will get adopted.

(I bet that huge numbers of upstanding MeFi citizens such as myself have adopted kittens and cats in similar less-than-ideal circumstances. I bet very few of us wound up having to put an adult cat back into the shelter system).
posted by drlith at 3:19 AM on March 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

I don't know if you don't respect your friends ("they claim to want their own pet"?) or are just excessively worried about this potential cat, but yes, you're overreacting. Sure, bad things can happen in any situation, but there's nothing here screaming that it will. They have an agreement to co-own the cat, they have a plan to try to find it a good home if need be, and if anything one or both of them are likely to get attached and fight to keep the cat if they move out separately.
posted by J. Wilson at 3:42 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Something else that may put your mind more at ease - I think you may be somewhat overestimating the difficulty of rehoming an adult cat, in the event that your friends do need to do so at some point. I know of two different apartment complexes (my current one and another that I looked at) that will not even allow any pets under one year old. Even if that weren't the case, my BF and I simply didn't feel we were in a place to get a baby animal. It was a far better choice for everyone concerned to adopt some already-socialized, potty-trained, neutered kitties, and I know everyone's MMV but I don't think this would be particularly uncommon.

I do appreciate your concern, and I think it's great that Potential Cat will have someone to watch out for them in the event that it's needed! I just think, as several others have said already, that once Potential Cat becomes Actual Lovely Furry Kitty, they aren't going to want to give it up come what may.
posted by deep thought sunstar at 4:36 AM on March 12, 2013

Am I overreacting?

Yes. You're also being something of a busybody; if a couple decides to adopt a cat, they do not need to be married or otherwise permanently attached in order to do so. Heck, even married couples sometimes can't keep a pet "forever".

Unless these friends have asked for your explicit approval prior to adopting a cat, it isn't your place to grant or deny it.
posted by ellF at 4:38 AM on March 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

I think a really good question would be - what would the Plan B option that you would like to have them say? Their Plan B sounds the best it can under the circumstances.
posted by corb at 5:56 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do either of these plan to have kids? What happens if there's a divorce. Send the kid back to the hospital? You should, in no uncertain terms, tell them they are not ready to own a pet. Merely thinking that giving it up to a shelter when it is no longer wanted, or when it becomes the focus of a dispute tells me they should be limited to stuffed animals until they grow a better attitude towards pet ownership.
posted by Gungho at 6:56 AM on March 12, 2013

I think you are probably overreacting.

When I adopted my cat 4 years ago, the MSPCA made me fill out this form that set me up for failure the same way you did your friends. The questions were along the lines of "What if you move to a new apartment that doesn't allow cats?" and inside my head I was like Why am I moving to an apartment that doesn't allow cats if I have a cat? but the question was posed such that I had to answer it.

The cat will be part of their life, and they'll just make life choices that involve the cat. As I learned when I did in fact move 6 months ago and as it turns out it is really difficult to find an apartment that will let you have a cat. But I did it anyway, because, you know, I had one.
posted by CharlieSue at 7:14 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

My best friend and I adopted a cat together pretty much on a whim while we were living together. We are both extremely responsible people and we each had a small dog as well but we basically co-parented them (the exception beings that each of us paid for our own dog's vet needs). We split everything down the middle until she had to move back to California. He is now my cat.

I'm just saying it can work out. I think it is likely that one of them will either want the cat more or one of them will be in a better place (financially or housing wise, etc.) to take the cat.
posted by magnetsphere at 7:15 AM on March 12, 2013

Merely thinking that giving it up to a shelter when it is no longer wanted, or when it becomes the focus of a dispute tells me they should be limited to stuffed animals until they grow a better attitude towards pet ownership.

They answered they would "find the cat a home" to the question of, "what if neither of you can take the cat further down the road?" This question has only one answer-- if neither of them can take the cat, then alternate arrangements have to be made. What other answer could there possibly be?

More likely, they will find a way to keep the cat. Odds are nothing will happen to cause them to have to give it up.

The flaw in logic that's going on is this: since these people are fostering a cat, the arrangement is only temporary. If for various reasons they can't/don't want to continue taking care of it, they can return it to the foster system. That's the entire point. But the OP assumes that the act of fostering the cat will cause the roommates to become so emotionally attached to it that they won't want to give it up. In THAT CASE they will want to keep it and take care of it, come hell or highwater. They'll figure out a way to manage, if that's what happens, and they WON'T need to find the cat another home.

The nightmare scenario that the OP is constructing is one in which they both get so attached to the cat that they don't want to give it up AND are so unattached to the cat that they will just blithely give it up when they get bored. So I think there's an overreaction. I don't think ANYONE is ready for their first pet. You have to start somewhere.
posted by deanc at 8:18 AM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I wonder whether the people who think the OP is overreacting have any idea how many cats (and dogs) are simply abandoned when their owners move and can't take them, or don't want to be bothered with them any more. These poor animals, who have never had to fend for themselves, suddenly are expected to find the wherewithal to survive on their own and stay out of harm's way. I'm glad that Viola is raising these questions with her friends and is concerned about a potential cat's future.
posted by Dolley at 8:24 AM on March 12, 2013

I got a dog in NYC when I was 20 and still in college. That was almost 10 years ago and the dog's still here. It can happen. You are overreacting about something that's totally not your business. Butt out.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:29 AM on March 12, 2013

I think you've done the right thing in terms of raising these issues and making sure they've thought about them. Continuing to press the issue is unlikely to change their resolve to have a cat, and would be closer to overreacting.

Getting people to seriously consider that one day they will not want an animal they plan to love is basically impossible.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:57 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Unless these friends have asked for your explicit approval prior to adopting a cat, it isn't your place to grant or deny it.

I was asked to weigh on the cat adoption as their feline owner friend who has fostered and worked at a shelter, otherwise I would have just stayed out of the entire situation sticking my fingers in my ears. They then asked me to come with them to pick out the kitten and I declined, which is how the entire conversation started.

However, I'm getting a mix of "you're overreacting" (which is what I was hoping for) and "Hmm, that doesn't sound awesome" (which it doesn't), and I think both responses are totally appropriate. It really does make me feel better to read the advice that leans towards overreaction, too. Thank you.

To address a few things: I didn't think these people are too young all together to get a pet, but they strike me as a bit naive about certain responsibilities that animals require. I wanted to poll others to see if I was just being overprotective or, yes, a busybody.

I also didn't explain the part in our conversation where they said they might re-home the cat. I was asking something closer to, "Is either of you willing to keep this cat for the next 10-20 years?" and they both just shrugged and said if they weren't, they'd give it up. That's a-ok in some people's books, but I think that if you adopt an animal you should really be in it for the long haul as best you can. And maybe they are! But right now they just don't seem to be thinking of the animal as a longterm commitment past a couple years. That strikes me as irresponsible, especially since I've seen firsthand how hard it is for adult cats to find homes.

However, I think it's a really good point that the dynamic could easily shake itself out: someone will bond more with the cat than someone else, and the problem is resolved. Even if it turns into a custody battle, that's far more preferable than both parties losing interest.

If there's one thing I disagree with in this thread, it's that giving up an adult cat is generally easy and problem-free. Yeah, sure, your roommate did that when she moved cross country and it was all really easy, but as someone who's worked in shelters I have seen the majority of animals dropped off at age 7 or 12 with far fewer prospects than the adorable babies who disappear in weeks.

Thanks for all the responses, I'm mulling a lot them over.
posted by Viola at 9:13 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Cognitive disconnect in operation here.

Their cat is a doll with a litter box, not an animal with complex emotions. Lots of people are that way. They like the idea of having a pet, but the pet is an ornament, not a living creature. I can restate this several ways, but it still comes out that people can be real assholes without meaning to be, or ever realizing it.

This is not limited to cat or dog owners. As a farrier for many years, I ran across a lot of horse owners who were like this. Interestingly enough, mule owners didn't seem to swing that way.

anyhow: Oh, we want the little kitty for now, and later on we'll just shuffle him off to another owner. Shame on you. Get doll.
posted by mule98J at 9:40 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

FWIW, "they'll just give the cat up" is essentially the same moral decision as "they'll just leave it to die slowly of disease and malnutrition on the streets"... just without all the icky realizing that's what they're doing part of the equation.

Unless they fully intend to see to it that the cat obtains a new, safe home, that's exactly what a cat dumped out of a home is likely to encounter.

There's a reason that most farms have one or more cat litters a year amongst their barn cats, and yet the number of cats on the farm doesn't increase year to year.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:04 AM on March 12, 2013

I wonder how much of this is because they're fostering kittens rather than grown cats? Would you be as concerned if they were fostering an older cat who'd been in shelters for years, or is it more because they're doing this with kittens who are generally more adoptable, but who also have their personalities change a lot as they grow?
posted by corb at 12:00 PM on March 12, 2013

Without meaning to, I just found the perfect resource to explain how a cat becomes an integral part of your life (and thus is not to be taken on lightly). One Cat, Three Lives, by Hiroyuki Ito.
posted by gingerest at 4:48 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

One more question you might ask them to consider: "What if, 12 years from now, it would be mind-bogglingly inconvenient for either of you two to keep the cat, and neither of you can find it another home? Which one of you keeps the cat? Would you rather (a) flip a coin now; (b) make a pact in writing, witnessed by a notary public and whatever forces you hold sacred, to abide by the coin toss which will occur at that future juncture; or (c) choose a cat whose life expectancy is less than 12 years?"
posted by feral_goldfish at 6:20 PM on March 12, 2013

We are moving in together and have decided not to get a cat as it is near-impossible to rent here with pets. Even though there is a friend with a cat who may possibly take it if we needed to, we don't want to work on that assumption. I really, really want a pet as I miss having animals around - I once took a houseshare partly because it had a resident cat, and we became best friends - but it's going to wait until we have a place of our own and don't run the risk of eviction if a landlord spots kitty hair.

I also have a colleague who has a diabetic cat - this has cost her a lot in both time and money to treat. Although he is doing well now, it reminded me that if you own a pet, you have to have a contingency plan in case it gets seriously ill. I've grown up with pets so I have a good idea of the day to day responsibility involved, but you need to know you have the resources to deal with this - and with the possibility that you may need to go through putting it to sleep if that is the kinder option, which is a very, very difficult thing to do.
posted by mippy at 5:34 AM on March 13, 2013

Well. if they're bound and set on getting a cat, maybe suggest they each equally pay in monthly / yearly / whatever to get pet insurance? That eliminates the majority of the "what about the sudden vet bill" scenario and keeps things equitable.

I ended up with a 14 year old cat that a friend couldn't care for. It was supposed to be a temporary measure. She has become my kitty, and I can't imagine giving her up.
posted by skittlekicks at 12:23 PM on March 14, 2013

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