Should I give up my cat to a roommate?
July 22, 2013 9:43 AM   Subscribe

When my partner and I wound up living apart for grad school, our girl cat went with him to his new shared house. In the past 2 years, his roommate has become very attached to the cat. However, my partner is moving to my place to share an apartment with me and our male cat - these cats have managed together in the past, but some specific challenges (within)... What would be best for everyone, but mostly the girl cat, in this situation? Warning - long!

(Scroll to bottom for TL;DR)

Suki (12)(girl cat) was originally my family’s cat, who did not get along well with a very dominant male in their home. At that time, she had lousy litterbox habits, and was generally stressed out. When my partner and I moved in together to a 4-floor home, we brought her along with us. Suki thought my guy is the best person ever - they’ve even got hand signals as he has taught her to lift her paws to make requests. After a year together, we met a lovely male cat, Sigmund (10), at the local shelter. Brought him home, thinking that since Suki had lived with a cat before, it was obviously a do-able scenario. Sigmund is very mellow and loves to play, a bit shy and nervous around strangers.

When we brought Sigmund home to Suki, there was the usual cat quibbles to start with. But no major fights resulted; at worst there was some major territoriality about “who gets to sit on the bed” (each one took an opposite corner). There were some chase games initiated by Sigmund, but inevitably Suki would growl at him at some point. She would also yowl sometimes when we would pet her. Wondering why she was cranky, took her to vet: wound up extracting a number of teeth. Suki’s general mood improved, though the relationship between the cats didn’t get any warmer (as of summer 2011). They tolerated eachother, some minor positive interaction, shared food bowl and litterbox. Suki spent most of her time in front of the fireplace.

My partner and I have been in separate living spaces for the past 2 years as we attend grad school. When we initially moved away from eachother (fall 2011), we chose to have Suki stay with my partner, as she liked him a lot (and Sigmund is stuck to me like glue). Over time, my partner’s roommate has fallen completely in love with Suki. This lady had never had any sort of pet or interest in animals (according to her), until Suki came to live in her home. Suki spends most of the day curled up on the roommates couch, and cuddles with her while watching TV. Suki used to spend most nights with my partner, but now moves between the 2 bedrooms. In turn, the roommate thinks Suki is just great - buys her toys, treats and fancy food dishes, has photos of her as her phone backdrop, etc. My partner can overhear her conversations, and the roommate constantly tells stories about what Suki is doing to whomever is on the phone. Even the roommate’s parents are crazy about the cat!

In summer 2012, Sigmund and I came to live with my partner temporarily for summer work. Shared litter (regularly cleaned) and foodbowl, same as it used to be. Sigmund was a happy camper, initiated a lot of play and chase with Suki - who was completely upset and unimpressed with him. Through the summer, we woke up many times to scurrying cats and yowling blue murder. At some point, Suki decided she was sick of sharing a litterbox, and started peeing/pooping in a remote corner of the basement, away from the shared litterbox. Putting in another litterbox appeared to solve this issue; however, the cats were still at odds (mostly on Suki’s part)

This past fall (2012), Suki stopped eating. My partner took her to the vet, where we decided to extract her remaining teeth - $600 later (on a grad student budget) and a few days, we had a brand new cat! The difference in personality before and after is remarkable - she is behaving like a kitten, full of life and high energy play. Much more mellow and happier. This change encourages me that seeing as how the whole disposition has changed, perhaps she would get along with another cat now?

At this point, my partner is coming down to share a rental apartment with me - we are trying to figure out what to do about the cats:

- My place is a small 1 bedroom, mostly carpeted floors except kitchen and bathroom - will need to be vigilant for any litterbox issues.
- The 2 cats had shared whole houses when they were together - I don’t know how they will do in a smaller place without the ability to have more separate territories.
- His roommate has made the comment more than once that “when you move, this cat stays here”. She loves this cat like crazy.
- Suki is queen of her current domain - only cat, own litterbox, roommate slave on hand who yields to her finicky tastes.
- Suki’s personality has really changed; my cranky old lady has done a 180, and is like a kitten again after teeth-extraction - maybe she would like having Sigmund around now, or tolerate him better?

For me, I’ve always taken the perspective that I commit to my animals for their entire lives. I’ve never given up any creature to the shelter or anyone else. I make sure they get the vet care they need so that they can be as comfortable and happy as possible (hence teeth extraction). I feel like Suki is my responsibility for life; I love her, and so does my partner. He tends not to be as expressive about it when I ask him directly, but he admits he really likes her and would be sad to not have Suki with him.. but at the same time, he wants what is best for her.

WRT the roommate, I don’t know what her sense of committment is to this cat. Suki is a senior now, and will probably start to experience a number of old age health problems. I don’t know if the roommate will be willing to provide necessary vet care to keep the cat comfortable, decide she’s bored of her, etc - I don’t know how she views that responsibility. I don’t want Suki being put down for being too old, or whatever stupid thing non-pet people might rationalize. I don’t know if I trust this lady to take care of my cat the way I would.

Part of me says, “My partner and I love this cat - meh, they are cats, they will sort it out - we only have 6 months left in this place before we get a bigger spot elsewhere”, while the other part says “Well, the cats didn’t ever really like eachother in living together for 6 years, why is that going to change now? And more importantly, is that fair to either cat?.... what about the roommate, she loves this cat, and the cat is happy there?”

I was thinking that perhaps

- I could bring Suki down, have 2 litterboxes, and see how it goes with the two cats. I know that it will take a number of months to sort out. If it doesn’t sort out after say, 4 months, then I would be willing to return Suki to roommate (if the roommate wants her) [Happy partner and me, potentially happy cat, sad roommate]


- Kiss Suki goodbye, and leave her with the roommate - Visit when possible. [Happy roommate, happy cat, sad partner and me].

Either way, the cat would only leave us with this caveat: if for whatever reason the roommate no longer wants/can keep Suki or pay the vet bills, she will come back to us. I promised that I would commit to this cat for life.

What do you think we should do in this scenario? Have you had a similar situation?

(Thanks for reading - this was a lot longer than I expected!)
posted by NorthernAutumn to Pets & Animals (18 answers total)
It sounds like the cat has a nice home, and I think she should stay there. Why would you question the roommate's commitment to the cat? She's been living with the cat, not you. Whatever you do, don't bring that attitude into any conversation you have with the roommate. She's done you a great favor these past two years loving your cat.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:53 AM on July 22, 2013 [9 favorites]

Best answer: First: committing to an animal means not throwing it away but finding it the right home. Giving Suki to your friend who adores her is not giving up on a pet and counts as taking care of her.

I think both options are fair options. The roommate sounds like she loves the cat and will take care of it; you will otherwise take her back. But she's your cat and you love her and will take care of her too. I would guess that Suki is unlikely to start liking Sigmund, teeth or not, but if they managed a detente before they can manage one again.
posted by jeather at 9:56 AM on July 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: To be honest, I think either of your options are fine. My personal guess is that the cats' conflict goes deeper than a toothache, but who knows. I have seen cats move from owner to owner (or "caretaker," or whatever your word of choice is) without, like, lasting abandonment issues, and Suki is attached to the roommate and to that house already, so I do think it would be quite a fine solution to leave her with the roommate. But if that will make you super-sad, then it might be worth a try to bring her.
posted by salvia at 10:00 AM on July 22, 2013

Response by poster: Just to clarify - I am sure the roommate loves the cat. My partner and I love this cat deeply - I didn't send Suki with him without initial trepidation.
I question the committment aspect because the roommate has moved from self-professed "don't really care for cats or dogs, never had a pet, don't want one" attitude, to "OMG AWESOME CAT!".
My cat is very important to me, and I want her to be with someone (ideally me) who will love her for always, even when she is old and requiring a lot of vet attention. I don't know that this roommate will DEFINITELY do that for Suki, and I don't know whether I can live with that risk. She's never taken care of an animal before (at age 37), nor expressed interest before (according to her).
(Yes, I know that it would be inappropriate to bring up my misgivings with the roommate - that's why I haven't done so.)
Hence the dilemma.
posted by NorthernAutumn at 10:00 AM on July 22, 2013

Best answer: Either way the kitty will have a good home, so if you want permission to leave Suki with her new lady, you have it.

But, if you love Suki and still want her to be you, that's valid too. Either way your kitty will be loved and adored.

Suki is the winner here, do what YOU want to do. In your heart of hearts.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:01 AM on July 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

My take is that when you have a senior cat who is happy in a living situation, you allow her to remain in that situation if practical. Your duty is to ensure that she remains in a loving home, not your specific home.

As a courtesy to both cat and person, I would sit your partner's roommate down and go over the vet bills you've had with Suki over the recent past, and let her know that vet care ain't cheap. At any time a health problem could result that may require a decision between expensive treatment and a humane end for the cat, depending on her ability to pay, quality of life and prognosis.

Then if your partner's roommate is still on board, it becomes her cat. She makes the decisions, you don't argue or interfere. If for whatever reason she asks that you involve yourselves or take the cat back, you can consider it depending on the circumstances. But pets are not children of divorce. There are no absentee parents with the right to second guess decisions from the brand of food the cat eats to what to do in case of a serious medical condition.
posted by rocketpup at 10:03 AM on July 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

I don't know that this roommate will DEFINITELY do that for Suki, and I don't know whether I can live with that risk.

So, talk to her about it?

Do you think this woman is fundamentally untrustworthy for some reason, or are you looking for an excuse to keep your cat because you just want to keep your cat?
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:04 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I know a number of people who never thought they wanted pets, lived with one, then found they adored it. I don't think that's should be a concern: she's lived with Suki for 2 years, she knows what it takes on the day-to-day side. That said, you should clarify vet costs for her.

It sounds like you think Suki would be happier with the roommate but you want her with you. This is okay. You don't need an excuse to keep your pet.
posted by jeather at 10:07 AM on July 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I would have a conversation with the roommate (esp. since you say she hasn't dealt with pets before, so may be unaware of the expenses of elder care), and with the caveat that if something happens and she is unable or unwilling to care for her, that you will happily take Suki back, with no judgement.

However, if it were me (and I am the same way - I do not feel that animals are things you just get rid of when you're tired of them, you commit to them!) I would leave Suki with the roommate.
posted by needlegrrl at 10:07 AM on July 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

(Yes, I know that it would be inappropriate to bring up my misgivings with the roommate - that's why I haven't done so.)

Why on earth would it be inappropriate? The roommate has told you guys that she doesn't have much experience with pets, and she's also said she would like to keep Suki with her. I think it would be appropriate to go to her with something like "Hey, roommate, how serious are you about wanting to keep Suki? What do you know about care of older pets and vet bills? This is what the expenses might be like... does that still sound like something you want to sign up for?" It's very very okay for you to bring your doubts to the potential cat keeper--not in a "I think YOU personally are NOT RESPONSIBLE ENOUGH!" way, but in a "Hey, you might not be aware of the full nature of this commitment, let's discuss" way.

Then you can decide either way, to keep Suki or leave her with the roommate, but you would have peace of mind about the roommate's commitment to her care.
posted by snorkmaiden at 10:11 AM on July 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I think you are rightfully concerned about whether she understands the implications of being responsible for an older cat. I think it's fine to talk to her about these things. If she is prepared to care for Suki as she gets older, great, but it's also great that you will take her back if this person cannot deal with taking care of her.

I agree with you that giving a cat to someone else is quite serious, in that we make these decisions for animals that can't voice their opinions, and we're relying on our judgement to make long term projections about their well being. This is why when we adopted ours, the agency had a long list of requirements/agreements and one of them was that we would return the cats to them if we couldn't rehome them, should the need arise. Your concerns are perfectly normal in the world of pet rehoming and being forthright and honest with her about caring for an older pet is good for everyone.
posted by Medieval Maven at 10:13 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It is true. "OMG, awesome pet" is quite distinct from "I want responsibility for this pet day in day out for years or decades to come." But being 37, she should be able to figure out what she's comfortable with. Whether or not she has a history of pets, she apparently loves Suki through and through, and for must people, that will translate to a willingness to buy cat food and get her help when she is sick. (Not everyone, it is true. It is worth having a conversation.)

I say that to reassure you that you're not abandoning Suki if you leave her with the roommate, which is what the facts in your post point to. But if you want to give her a try in the new place, that would not be wrong either.
posted by salvia at 10:16 AM on July 22, 2013

When you adopt a pet from the Humane Society, part of the contract you sign with them requires that if you have to/want to give up the pet, for any reason, you will bring it back to the Humane Society, and you cannot give it/sell it to anyone else. I'd make a similar agreement with roommate. Let the cat stay in her current home, but with a promise that if she ever can't keep her or decides she doesn't want her, she will return the cat to you to care for.
posted by decathecting at 10:22 AM on July 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: In addition to talking about the vet bills of an elderly kitty (and oh, do I know about and sympathize with those), you may want to talk with her about views on when it's time to let an elderly kitty go. If she's never had a pet before, she's probably never had to think about this before, and she should think about it now. Is she going to feel willing and able to make that decision? Does she have any sense for how she'd make that decision? Are you comfortable with leaving Suki in her hands, based on that? Or are you going to beat yourself up when Suki passes, wondering if you would have made different choices?

I consider this separate from the expense issue. Personally, I will throw any crazy amount of money at keeping my cats healthy and comfortable. When I have sadly drawn the line on elderly cat care, it's been about the cat's quality of life, not the expense of the treatments that might have kept her going a few more weeks. That might be a discussion to have to be sure that both you and the roommate are going to be able to live with her making that decision when the time comes.

For what it's worth, I think you are asking exactly the right questions and considering exactly the right things. You clearly love her and so to even be considering leaving her with the roommate, the roommate must also really love her. I think whichever choice you make, Suki will be okay. And so will you.
posted by Stacey at 10:23 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think you should talk seriously with your roommate about those logistics issues. Also, people can change when it comes to pets: I always said I never wanted a dog because they are too high-energy and high-maintenance for me. I know the loveliest ball of love in the form of a puggle and I have to tell you that I would move heaven and earth for her if needed, and she's not even my dog. These weird little creatures have a way of just worming their way into our hearts sometimes.
posted by k8lin at 11:07 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you for the thoughtful answers thus far; my partner and I just read these over the phone together, and are thinking about them together - some of the posts are really making us consider this situation from a few angles... particularly the point about what we have chosen in terms of healthcare for Suki in the past. We've always looked at quality of life over cost at the vet - perhaps that needs to be the guiding principle that we use in this choice too. Excellent mental health is just as important as physical health for her.
posted by NorthernAutumn at 1:46 PM on July 22, 2013

If you are considering leaving her with the roommate, do have the conversion about when it's time to let an elderly kitty go. A disagreement between you and her about whether it was in the kitty's best interest - it's highly likely you might be thinking 'should have paid the vet bill', while she might have been thinking 'I couldn't bear seeing her struggle to breathe' at 21 years of cat age. This isn't a disagreement you want to be having right after she's passed away.
posted by Ashlyth at 4:11 PM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all for your thoughts - Miss Cat will be staying with the roommate from now on, with caveat that she comes to back to us should the roommate's situation change. We figured it would be too hard on both the cats and the roommate to go back and forth for a trial period. Hurts, but it will work out in the long run, I hope.
posted by NorthernAutumn at 10:22 PM on July 26, 2013

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