Cat drama. Must fix. Winter is coming!
December 1, 2014 12:29 PM   Subscribe

A couple of weeks ago, during a raging, frigid rainstorm, a strange cat showed up on our back deck, desperate to get into the house. We kept him for the night, and in the morning discovered he belonged to our new next door neighbors. We returned him, and there was much relief and rejoicing. Then, the next night, he came back. And the next. And the next. And the next. What do we do now? Wall of text and snowflakes inside.

Let’s call this cat Murphy. The first time Murphy showed up, he was a stranger. We herded our three cats into the basement and let him in, because it was sleeting and raining - your typical mad “wintry mix”. He had no collar, but he was neutered, his claws were very well trimmed and he was, to be kind, a giant pudding of a cat - clearly just lost, not a stray. He was a very sweet, friendly cat. We kept him overnight intending to start looking for his owners the next day. But while my housemate was putting up flyers that morning before work, I met our new next door neighbors, and asked if they might be missing a cat. They were, huzzah!

The next night, Murphy came back to our back door. He REALLY wanted in. It was well after midnight - too late to go wake up the neighbors (and their children) by taking him back. Also we were in our PJs and it was freezing out. We kept him in the sunroom that night, too, and took him back in the morning.

We’ve had to take him back to his owners five or six times now. The last time we took him back, his owners seemed slightly chilly (I don’t know why; they don’t seem to be losing any sleep over him!) They informed us that they’d decided Murphy was now an indoor/outdoor cat, and if we saw him out again not to worry about it. Our own cats are indoor/outdoor cats, so we’re cool with that idea; but we tend to keep a much closer eye on ours, because we live very close to a heavily wooded nature reserve. After dark there are raccoons and coyotes who tangle with the neighborhood pets if they’re out too late. There are more of them if it’s cold out, and in New England right now it is really freaking cold at night (and getting steadily colder). We know a lot of people leave their cats out overnight; some of our friends do, too! But those are cats that want to be outside. Murphy really, really does not.

We successfully ignored him the next night, when he was waiting for us on the deck when we came home from the movies. Saturday night came and went with no Murphy. But last night he was back again -- yowling, all fluffed up, in a lot of distress after a tussle with something scary and hurling himself at our door. We didn’t have it in us to leave him out there terrified, so we let him in for a few minutes to calm down. After a while we put him out on the other side of the house. We thought he went back home, but then around midnight he was at our back door. He stayed there all night, yelling, desperate to come inside, with our cats screaming and hurling themselves against the glass to scare him off. He didn’t scare. Sleep was impossible. When we crawled out of our beds in the morning, bleary-eyed, and stumbled downstairs to see if the screen had finally surrendered to the onslaught, HE WAS STILL THERE.

He doesn’t just want food, because he’s clearly fed well at home. It’s not a heat thing, he’s neutered, and from the pudge of him he’s likely been that way for a good long while. We know cats can be great actors, but he doesn’t seem to be conning us. It seems like he just wants to be inside where it’s warm and safe and there are people.

This is breaking our hearts. We’re really fond of animals, and hate to see a pet hurt or scared or cold. Murphy is in obvious and utter distress every time he comes to our door. Maybe if he went and yowled at his owners’ door they’d let him in - but maybe he does, and they don’t. We don’t know. I mean, cats are weird! But this seems to go beyond that. At this point we don’t want to annoy NewNeighbors further by bringing him back every time he comes to our door. But we can’t stand seeing Murphy in so much distress (and so often!) and we can’t understand why they don’t seem to care that this is happening. They talk to us just long enough to get him in their house and no longer; they’re highly disinterested in the whole proceeding.

Our ideal resolution here is for the neighbors to start keeping Murphy in at night. He would be warm and safe, and we would be able to sleep, and we would not have to hate ourselves for ignoring a distressed animal in adverse weather conditions. But how do we get this to happen? Talking to them doesn’t seem to get us anywhere.

Some pertinent facts:

- He doesn’t just cry to get in - he hurls himself at the house. He pitons up our screen door, yelling his head off. One night I was by the door and heard a noise; I turned and he was RIGHTTHERE, like a five-foot-four Catman staring at me with crazy desperate eyes.

- It’s amazing that the screen hasn’t been damaged - he weighs about 18-20 lbs and hangs from the screen by his claws - but it hasn’t. We can’t tell them he’s damaging our property because he hasn’t yet.

- He IS damaging our ability to sleep through the night. The back doors are glass, and our own cats scream at him like crazy angry panthers every time Murphy shows up. (They don’t seem to mind very much when he’s in the sunroom, though, and that has a glass door, too. Cats really ARE weird.)

- He’s not sick, injured, abused, or technically neglected, so there’s no point in calling Animal Services. And even if we did, and if they did come out, it would just end up with him in a shelter anyway and we don’t want that at all.

- When we found him, we talked it over and decided that even if we could not find an owner, we didn’t really want another cat. Our tri-cat situation is stable and good, and we don’t want to cause a disturbance in the cat-Force. However, we would rather take Murphy in and deal with that possibility than see him out in the freezing cold rain/sleet/snow all winter and not be able to do anything about it. (“How do you feel about your cat? … can we have him?” seems like a potentially alienating conversation.)

- We don’t currently know his vaccination situation; we’re guessing he’s probably up to date because he’s got a vet’s trim on those nails, but we’re still taking precautions to make sure our cats aren’t exposed to him because we’re not certain.

- Talking to the neighbors is problematic because they don’t seem to want to talk about it at all. The next step in “talking to them” would be something really blunt, I think, and neither of us is at all good with confrontation.

We know we probably need to push the talking thing, but we need some ideas for how to approach it. I put this in "Pets & Animals" - it could just as easily be in "Human Relations." Scripts for talking to these people would be great. We're trying really hard not to judge, but when there's a giant wet ball of scared cat at our door night after night and they don't seem to care, it's almost impossible. We seriously disapprove. This is no barn cat; he's clearly not used to being outside all night in the cold, and he hates it. If we talk to them, we want to do it in a way that will at least sound like we're not pissed off at them for that. Left to my own devices, I’m afraid I’ll just say, “Hey, you take lousy care of Murphy. If he keeps showing up at our house begging to get in in the middle of the night, we’re going to assume he’s our cat, and act accordingly.”

We’re also looking for any other thoughts or ideas about what we can do that would be good for Murphy AND good for us.

I know this seems like a giant wall of text for a cat problem, but I really don’t think we’re being crazy cat ladies here (I think you need more than 4 for that, and technically each of us has 2 or fewer cats). He’s really, really upset when he comes to us, and he comes to us all the time; it’s getting harder and harder to pretend there’s not a helpless animal in need out there.

For reference, you can view the current cat population of our house here.
posted by kythuen to Pets & Animals (39 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
make and put an insulated cat house on your back porch.
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 12:38 PM on December 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I clicked through expecting to need to tell you to stop being such a crazy cat lady and just ignore the damn cat, but this is so far beyond that, poor Murphy!

I am also really bad at confrontation, so in terms of protecting your (and your cat's) sanity, could you try putting up curtains at the door where Murphy usually does his thing so that he cannot see you and your cats cannot see him?

Could you try videoing his "performances" on your phone so that the next time you have to bring him over to the neighbours you can show them how much distress he's in?

This is getting into the realm of crazy, but could you put out an awning or doghouse type thing outside so that Murphy has a place to hang out away from the elements when it gets bad?
posted by sparklemotion at 12:40 PM on December 1, 2014

make and put an insulated cat house on your back porch

A good suggestion, but there's no guarantee that Murphy will be the sole occupant. Cats can feel warmth a mile away.
posted by Fister Roboto at 12:40 PM on December 1, 2014

Best answer: You have brought him back five or six times but have you had five or six conversations about the impact on your life, or just the one? I would be really annoyed in your shoes too, but maybe the neighbours genuinely did not understand how disturbing he is and think you are encouraging him into your house every time you see him anywhere near you. So, maybe start with the assumption they honestly don't know what a problem you have and ask for their assistance in stopping his pattern of behaviour. You've seen ignoring him does not work, so if they suggest that out of ignorance, you can move on to the next suggestion.

Best thing I can suggest as far as a script is:
"Hey, your cat is really lovely but he is disturbing our sleep multiple times a week and I am concerned he has gotten into the habit of doing activities that may damage my property. I have tried ignoring him but that means I lose an entire night's sleep each night he comes over and makes loud noises, climbs the screen and bangs against the glass door all night. I have cats, I know they are weird, but this cannot continue any longer. How can we solve this?"
posted by saucysault at 12:43 PM on December 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I think you now own a fourth cat.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:44 PM on December 1, 2014 [45 favorites]

Best answer: I would video the cat, show it to the neighbors, and ask for their phone number so that you can call them the next time the cat comes over. You shouldn't be the only ones not getting sleep. 2-3 middle-of-the-night calls should be enough to get the neighbors to find a solution.

I would also video EVERY episode. If the neighbors don't create a solution, I would probably let the cat in every night, and if you're ever accused of stealing the cat, show a really long compilation video to the police.
posted by vitabellosi at 12:45 PM on December 1, 2014 [13 favorites]

He’s not sick, injured, abused, or technically neglected, so there’s no point in calling Animal Services.

I very strongly disagree. If it were me, I would probably call my local humane society to report animal abuse/neglect. Leaving your pet outside in harsh, cold conditions without suitable shelter is NOT ok. These people should not be owning pets, especially if they don't seem to care when you inform them they left their cat out overnight in cold weather (!)

And even if we did, and if they did come out, it would just end up with him in a shelter anyway and we don’t want that at all.

Not necessarily. They might be able to find a foster home for him or place him with a no-kill rescue.
posted by Librarypt at 12:46 PM on December 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

I think that the neighbors have to hear that the cat is not just around in the evening and you decide to snatch him and bring him to their house or put him in your house. Tell them that he's in major distress (puffed fur, etc), hurling himself at your door, yowling, and that your cats are waking you up in response to his distress. They may be misunderstanding the situation and just think that you're overprotective or like having a visiting cat.

I'd go over without the cat and say something like, "Hi neighbors, I know that I seem to be over here repeatedly about Murphy, but I was hoping that we could figure out a solution to how to get him in for the night at your house as what he seems to be doing now is repeatedly coming to our house in a lot of distress once we're in bed for the night. He's all puffed up, hurls himself at our back door and yowls until our cats respond and wake us up to bring him inside. He doesn't stop yowling and crying and clawing the door until he's inside. Maybe he needs a cat door, or you can make sure he's in for the night once the sun sets? He seems fine being inside/outside during the day, but he seems to really hate being out at night. Not to mention that there are a lot of nocturnal predators in the woods who come out at night. Maybe that's why he's so distressed."

If they don't take it seriously, I'd attempt to rehome him or get him to a no-kill shelter/rescue and just let them think that one of the predators got him.
posted by quince at 12:59 PM on December 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Cats are weird, I really don't think you should call the humane society yet. For all you know, when he is at their house, he is desperate to go outside (because what he really wants is to visit your house). To you, it appears that he's unhappy to be outside, but he may have been begging to go out there.

These are new next door neighbors and there may be something at the new house that Murphy does not like and is trying to escape by coming to your house (or maybe he just likes your cats/you). Moving is a very stressful time for cats! You've said he's well fed and well manicured, so it seems to me that confronting them and telling them that they're terrible cat owners is way over the top unless you've had a frank conversation about how to solve the problem with them first and they've refused to be reasonable about it. No, you cannot just take their cat away without discussing it with them or claim that he is yours because he keeps coming over to your house - two wrongs don't make a right.

I think that you need to institute a policy of not taking him into your house anymore. That's encouraging his behavior. If he comes over and seems unhappy outside, take him back to their house at that time. Don't be worried about waking them up, after all, he's waking you up! As vitabellosi says, this should help motivate them to want to find a solution.

I don't see any need to be accusatory or make personal attacks. You really don't know how Murphy is acting around them or why they're doing what they're doing. Why not just say something like:

"hi, we brought Murphy back because he was yelling outside our door again. We think we might be encouraging his behavior by letting him into our house at night, so we're going to start bringing him back every time he starts yelling outside the door, instead of letting him in. We feel bad about waking you up, but otherwise we're not sleeping at all because of the noise - do you have any ideas about how we could prevent this from happening again?"
posted by treehorn+bunny at 1:02 PM on December 1, 2014 [21 favorites]

p.s. I should add that I don't even believe in letting cats outdoors (I also live in rural New England, and I've had too many cats die out there). So I'm not excusing their behavior in any way. But I do think that if you approach them with kindness, you're much more likely to get a positive, cooperative response, and these are your neighbors, so you have a vested interest in wanting to stay on good terms and not getting into an antagonistic, confrontational relationship with them that will be stressful for you - even if you disapprove of how they're handling things.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 1:08 PM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It was well after midnight - too late to go wake up the neighbors (and their children) by taking him back.

Too bad for your neighbours. Every time he bangs at the door at night or when the weather is terrible, throw your raincoat on even if it's over pyjamas and take him right back. Tell them "Hi, your cat is yelling and banging on my door and woke us all up/is clearly miserable. Please keep him inside at night/in this weather.". Then do it again next time and again until they get the message. Don't get into arguments or discussions, just ring the doorbell as long as it takes to get someone to answer (you may nee to be persistent), "He's keeping my whole house awake, if he was inside this wouldn't be a problem", hand over cat and leave. Don't be grumpy or upset or apologetic, just matter of fact and neutral.

I've been the people having my cats brought back by the neighbours, although in my case it was randomly during the day when my windows were obviously open so the cat went straight back out. It is pretty annoying and intrusive, having someone else tell me what boundaries I should set for my pets. But this is a different situation, Murphy is miserable, it's clearly too cold and unsafe, and you're all being kept awake. They can suck it up and keep him inside at night even if he whines to go out or whatever.

I strongly disagree that you have any right to steal your neighbours cat over this, by the way. I also don't think you need to call the authorities at this point, you haven't even made it clear to the neighbours what's going on. Wake them up, make this their problem to deal with, then leave them to it.
posted by shelleycat at 1:10 PM on December 1, 2014 [14 favorites]

A video can have a remarkably clarifying effect in many situations. Two videos could have an even more clarifying effect.

Also - cat door? Would that be too dangerous?

Also - it's probably way past time for you to just bring the new neighbors some brownies or fresh bread already. Be a little welcoming to them, and that could help open doors. Friendly relations between you could help a _lot_ with this situation, and with many future situations. It will probably make your life better in several ways that you won't even notice.
posted by amtho at 1:32 PM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

I came in to recommend making an insulated cat shelter out of a styrofoam cooler, as Buttons Bellbottom suggests. We had a similar situation happen to us last week with a lost neighborhood cat and we were about to do this before I found the owners.
posted by joan_holloway at 1:35 PM on December 1, 2014

make and put an insulated cat house on your back porch
A good suggestion, but there's no guarantee that Murphy will be the sole occupant. Cats can feel warmth a mile away.
Make two or three. If someone needs a warm spot, someone needs a warm spot.
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 1:42 PM on December 1, 2014 [7 favorites]

I'm ALL about a video every time it happens AND then bundling him up and ringing the doorbell until his owners take him in.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

It will suck to do it, but the poor kitty. I'd offer to take him in with your crew.

Indoors is where cats belong. Away from predictors and away from the temptations of BEING predators.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:47 PM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

I had a neighbor who had a cat that was often left out at night and would often show up meowing to be let in. I let him in a few times because I knew his owners. However, random neighbors discovered this same cat at their door many, many times. Sometimes they would knock on my door when his owner wouldn't answer. I gathered a collective sense of neighborhood frustration with his owner. There are sometimes coyotes around here at night.

Eventually, people started leaving him at local animal shelters, and leaving notes at the owner's address (come pick up your cat, he is at X shelter). It didn't exactly fix the problem in that the owner didn't suddenly start taking better care of him, but it took the burden off of kind neighbors. They moved away eventually.
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:48 PM on December 1, 2014

So, I am the housemate of kythuen, and will come out of lurking to answer a few things here:

cat door: not possible. I wish it were.

cat house: very possible, but I admit I am a little worried about what that would attract. We will have to think that one over. There are far too many raccoons and possums here.

Ignoring him so that he stops coming over: We are trying hard. We are. But it's really difficult to sleep through Gnome's screaming defense of his territory, or his bodily hurling himself at glass doors.

Curtains: Not easily or cheaply done, at this particular location and or/time. It also just sort of cloaks the problem, there's still a desperate cat out there.

Video: That's a thought -- although it might be difficult through a glass door, and a screen door, and at night, when this often happens.

I'm the person who ends up carting Murphy home, and I'm pretty conflict adverse, I admit it. They are polite but look baffled/irritated/confused by my presence each time, and between me not wanting to go there, and them not particularly wanting to see me, it is difficult to express how bad a situation this is to them. Plus they mostly just accept the cat back and then quickly close the door before I can say much. I tried to explain last time that he was literally hanging from the door while my own cat screamed abuse, but they apparently have let him out in other neighborhoods, without him ever attempting to move in with the neighbors. And I find it almost impossible to imagine waking them, their small children, their dog, and their other cat who stays indoors at 1 am. That's really not in my nature. (The other cat worries us -- it indicates he's asking to go out, or escaping, and booking it straight to our door).

The sunroom: I worry the more we keep him there, the more he'll come over, and the more he will freak out our existing cats. The peace is a perilous balance, hard won after years of cats who were not as fond of each other as this group. Also, it requires me to keep hauling kitty litter boxes up and down from the basement for him and clean up the litter he tracks all over what is essentially an office full of computers, since we aren't actually using it as a sunroom.
posted by instead of three wishes at 1:50 PM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

You should never have taken him in in the first place. The script is this-
Hey, I'm really sorry, we goofed by taking in your cat on that one, cold night. Now it turns out that he really likes hanging out with our cats and it's causing problems. He throws himself against our screen door and has a huge, loud tantrum to try and get in, keeping us awake when we should be sleeping. Obviously we were in the wrong by giving in to his his tantrums on multiple occasions and now we are in a bind. Could you please keep him inside for the next few months to break him of this bad habit that we caused?

I know, laying it on think but, the more you accept the blame, the more open they will be to your request. In the future, never bring an animal into your home that you aren't planning on keeping forever.
posted by myselfasme at 1:57 PM on December 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

Don't let him in, he's not your cat, make this their problem. Yes, waking the neighbours sucks but that's how you will convince them there's really a problem, since they don't listen to your words anyway.

And calling the humane society or otherwise taking their cat because you're too embarrassed to wake them up (even though your whole house is woken up) isn't acceptable. Being a grown up is hard, sometimes it involves knocking on a door in the middle of the night to do right by a cat.
posted by shelleycat at 2:01 PM on December 1, 2014

Best answer: Sometimes you need to lie.

You go over there either with Murphy or without, and you tell them that you're glad to have a chance to see them and ask them if they've heard about the recent spate of OUTDOOR CATS BEING ATTACKED BY FISHERCATS/COYOTES/RACCOONS.

It's a terrible, terrible thing. Cats being mauled, bitten, never to be seen again.

Just yesterday you saw a coyote in your yard and you were so thankful Murphy wasn't at your back door because he would surely have been killed.

(You should probably keep your own cats inside for a bit. If Murphy comes back, I say you keep him because his owners don't care if he gets killed, and cats choose their people and he's chosen you.)
posted by kinetic at 2:23 PM on December 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

Just write them a polite, firm, and brief letter detailing your experience.

Ask, directly, that they keep Murphy inside after 7pm or whatever, so that he isn't at your house nearly every night seeking shelter.

State that if Murphy is out at night, he comes to your house attempting entry. State that this is unacceptable.

Do NOT mention your own cats at all. Do not explain beyond saying Murphy's hours and hours spent scratching and mewling at your door after dark is a problem.

It 'a OK to say you feel badly for not letting him or taking him home every time this happens, but you were hoping he'd stop visiting if you ignored his entreaties.

Give them the letter.

If it happens again, a second shorter letter.

At some point, start dropping him off at a shelter. You should warn them, first.

By all means forward a video or two. You should absolutely document these incidents.

I'm sorry you are conflict avoidant. Put on your big person pants and write the letter. Then follow through until the problem is solved.

They are hurting Murphy and your household. Don't feel badly.

In fact, Fuck them.
posted by jbenben at 3:01 PM on December 1, 2014

Most of the responses here are very polite. Too polite.

Next time the cat starts yowling in the middle of the night, take it next door, knock on their door, and tell them that their cat woke you up and this is the last time it's ever going to happen, because if it happens again, you're calling the ASPCA.

Polite responses work on people who give a crap. These people clearly don't. They don't give a crap A) That their cat's behavior is disturbing other people; and B) That their cat is out in lousy weather in the middle of the night. Their cat should not be out in the middle of the night, especially in the sleet. Leaving your cat out in those conditions is extremely negligent behavior constituting animal abuse.

I know you don't want to raise a ruckus and you want to be on cool terms with your neighbors, but sometimes people (especially people like this, who have "mooch" written all over them) need to be dealt with directly, especially before their cat ends up dying and/or they start borrowing all your stuff and not returning it.

Their chill attitude does not make it OK for them to have their animal inconveniencing you, bothering you, and wrecking your sleep. Because that, most definitely, is not cool.
posted by Leatherstocking at 3:04 PM on December 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

Call animal control. In some parts of the country it is illegal to leave an animal outside during winter without proper shelter. The barrier for what constitutes proper shelter might be pretty low (ie a box with straw in) but the law might be on your side.
posted by wwax at 3:37 PM on December 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: You need to go over in the middle of the night when he's waking you up. You just do. This is not going to change until his behavior is bothering them as much as it's bothering you, and that's not going to happen until they're getting woken up in the middle of the night, too.

"Murphy woke us up again" is all you need to say as you hand him over. Turn around and walk away after saying that sentence.
posted by jaguar at 3:38 PM on December 1, 2014 [11 favorites]

Best answer: Rather than going over in the middle of the night, I'd first head over there during the day time, when there isn't conflict going on. Be neighborly--bring a six pack or some cookies and a Christmas card or something--and ask if you can have a chat about Murphy. They are much more likely to listen to you then, then in the middle of the night when the weather is crappy and you are standing there on their doorstep like a crazy annoyed neighbor person.

After you've told them everything you've told us here, in saner conditions when you're not all riled up and they're not on the defensive, then start heading over every time Murphy wakes you up. But try being people first.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:48 PM on December 1, 2014 [7 favorites]

First, take a video, take a video, take a video. Right now, your neighbors see you as overbearing helicopter cat people. I am betting they have no idea of the distress Murphy is causing you, your cats, and himself. I know you do not like to have difficult conversations, but difficult conversations must be had. After you get your nice, clear, hopefully repeated videos, go over during the day one day--when Murphy has not just been visiting your house. Say "Neighbors, I know I've brought Murphy over in the past. This is because his behavior has become quite distressing to us and the cats. He makes a lot of noise, struggles to get inside our house, causes our cats to yowl, and it appears he has been getting into fights with something outside and is trying to escape into our sunroom. I know you want him to be an indoor/outdoor kitty, but is there any way you could bring him in at night?"

Second, I echo the suggestion to build him a shelter. They are very easy and cheap to build. The easiest is the storage tub kind. You get a 18+ gallon plastic storage tub, cut a 6'' hole, and line the inside with the thick, reflective foam insulation you can get at a hardware store. Then put in straw (not hay!). There are tons and tons of plans for shelters online. If you raise the shelter up a bit (like on a table) then Murphy can get in but other critters will be deterred.
posted by Anonymous at 3:48 PM on December 1, 2014

If getting a catflap is at all possible, at all, I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Because then Murphy can let himself in.

If the neighbours get pissy, you can just say it's not you, it's the catflap.

They will either, then, get their own catflap or accept that Murphy has moved out.

This cuts both ways. We have an importunate stray who plasters himself to our front door. Except he has a home down the road, which we know because his uncle moved in here. That house has seven or more cats, none of whom the head of the household can really afford or cope with, and no catflap. We feed him, but in order to gain his resident's permit he is going to have to find his way to the back door and get in the flap, all without being beaten to a pulp by the other cats.

A catflap can be a way of letting nature take its course, is what I'm saying. Sir Isaac Newton understood that from the moment the cat fell on his head.
posted by tel3path at 4:16 PM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

For all you know, when he is at their house, he is desperate to go outside (because what he really wants is to visit your house). To you, it appears that he's unhappy to be outside, but he may have been begging to go out there.


Have you ever had a cat that just really wants to be on whatever side of a door he's not? I do. I wake up in the middle of the night to the cat scratching and crying to be let into my bedroom sometimes. Then I wake up, because he is crying to get out. Sometimes I leave the door open and he shuts it. He is happy and well fed, but just really wants to be on the other side of doors.

If I had had this situation with an indoor/outdoor cat, I would have been most responsive to:

neighbors talking about it disturbing their sleep, WITHOUT returning the cat.

Let Murphy stay outside. Don't let him in. If he howls a few nights more, go over there and say, "Hey, your cat is keeping me awake trying to get in. Have you considered a cat flap?"
posted by corb at 4:58 PM on December 1, 2014

Best answer: Maybe the neighbors aren't insensitive, rude people. There's a chance they're in a difficult bind, perhaps because Murphy is afraid/bullied by their other cat, or their past experience has taught them to just let the cat do what he wants, or they're incredibly stressed and over scheduled, or the cat is bored and has formed some kind of attachment to you, or is afraid of a kid for some reason. Just a thought -- I know you've interpreted the situation as generously as you could, and that it's wearing on you now.
posted by amtho at 5:01 PM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

An option that hasn't been brought up is if you're willing to keep him, you could do a test run with him in the sunroom for a few days, and see how your cats react.

If the neighbors come over, give him back with a "we were tired of being woken up every night" response.
If the neighbors don't care, and your cats are okay with him, you got yourself a new cat.
posted by zug at 8:22 PM on December 1, 2014

1) Do not let the cat in ever again, for any reason. It is not your cat, it's in appropriate to let it in your house without permission from the neighbours (also, not appropriate to let the cat invade your yard in the first place, but hey they're not asking a question yet...) and I'm sorry guys but it really reads to me that you are extrapolating a lot about this cat's health, state of mind etc. from the fact it's yowling.

2) Bring him back, at night. Tell the neighbour that you're really sorry however he's upsetting your cats and waking up the whole house, and it's been like half a dozen times already. If he keeps consistently showing up at night you're gonna have to call animal control, can you please keep him inside? Do not hand over the cat until you've delivered this spiel.

3) If you're actually concerned about the cat - the answer is not to let the cat in; it's not your cat, you can't have him. The answer is to call animal control. They can and will pay attention, promise.
posted by smoke at 3:25 AM on December 2, 2014

I would not be surprised if the cat begs to be let out of their house at night, and they're thus really not aware of the problem. It doesn't sound like you've actually communicated that there is a problem here, other than "this animal is outside" (which is not really a problem if it's an indoor-outdoor cat). I get that it's cold outside, but I will say that our cat growing up was an indoor-outdoor loved-to-be-outside type who would definitely stay outside in the winter sometimes, because he liked to go adventuring, etc. He never seemed bothered by it (and was not one to come when called, so there was no way to force him to come in at night). So, I don't necessarily think it's negligent. Non-pet animals survive the winter just fine without living inside, after all!

Anyway, point being, there IS a problem in that the cat is keeping you guys up at night, but your neighbors probably do not know this since you haven't told them. They aren't keeping 24-7 surveillance on your house! I would go by on a weekend afternoon and just calmly let them know what's going on. Ask them to keep the cat in at night, or put up a sturdy fence around their yard, or come up with some other solution. But give them a chance to have a reasonable response rather than assuming the worst. And it is DEFINITELY not okay to steal their cat or call animal control simply because you are conflict averse!! (Among other things, imagine the sort of conflict that will arise if you do one of these two things and the neighbors find out! That is waaaaaaay more tension and conflict than just having a polite-but-slightly-awkward conversation!!)
posted by rainbowbrite at 6:40 AM on December 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You need to start documenting the disturbances on film. Immediately. From your description the audio alone will be valuable. Then follow the advice above to go over during the day, when everyone's calm and awake, and have a pleasant chat about the disturbances you'd like to show them footage of.

How they react to your polite question, "So, what do you think we should try here next?" will tell you what you need to know about their willingness to address the issue. If they react badly, you can then explain that to animal control when you call them after the next disturbance.
posted by mediareport at 6:42 AM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Let Murphy in but don't reward him with his own room. Put him in a cat carrier and return him that night or the next day.

If he screams to get out of the cat carrier it looks like you will be returning him sooner than later! Return him in the cat carrier especially if he his screaming his head off. It might open the neighbors eyes.
posted by futz at 8:05 AM on December 2, 2014

I believe that if you can just ignore him he will eventually stop and find his own home appealing again. There is little chance your neighbors will grant you your wishes and solve this, or they already would have. It's up to you and the cat to work this out and that means you cannot give him any more reason to come a calling.
posted by waving at 10:15 AM on December 2, 2014

Ignoring him really isn't an option. The OP will get no sleep and that is beyond unfair. It is either work with the neighbors or animal control.
posted by futz at 10:33 AM on December 2, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks, everybody, for the perspective check and the ideas. Just a couple of comments -

Re: talking to them - We have communicated to the neighbors that the cat is coming to our house and desperately trying to get in. We've also communicated that the weather when he came to us a few times was not fit for man nor beast to be outside in, and that he's causing middle-of-the-night disturbances to our sleep. But the neighbors don't really want to talk to us, and their only response has been to say thanks and take the cat back and close the door.

We do have grown-up pants, and we'll don them for this occasion. We have to! But in addition to conflict avoidance, we've also been delaying because these people could be our neighbors for a long time, so it's important that we get this communication right. We need to hit some middle tone between firm and friendly that neither of us is really confident we can manage in the moment.

The idea of going over to talk at some time when it's not the middle of the night and when they can't just take the cat back and say thanks is a really good one. So many thanks for words of caution on that front, and especially for the scripts!

We're also going to see if we can get our next door neighbor on the other side to help us out. He's told us many stories about the wild animals who come down from the reserve at night, especially in winter, and we've helped him chase raccoons away from his cat, and he's helped us chase them off our deck. He's kind of the neighborhood historian and talespinner, and a good friend, so maybe he can spin some stories their way next time he sees them, to reinforce what we tell them.

Re: video - We're working on getting video. He wasn't there last night (so we're a little closer to being coherent, rational people today!) But he was waiting for us when we came down to breakfast, and I got an excellent one of him and one of our cats battling it out through the screen and glass just this morning, complete with hissing and unholy yowling.

Re: ignoring him - To be clear, when the weather is okay and we're not asleep, we do just ignore him, even at night. It's just the extreme weather/middle of the night version of his activity that we can't just ignore. I have to get enough sleep to drive safely an hour to work every morning, for one thing. And for the other - I know it may seem silly, but I could no more ignore a cat crying at my door to be let in out of the freezing cold/rain/snow than I could ignore a toddler under those conditions. That's just not happening. In the battle of bad options, I'd rather have him at my door every night than find him on my deck some morning frostbitten or frozen to death (or half-eaten by a coyote).

Re: taking him back every damn time - I regretfully agree that might be our best option, plus video, plus one or more of the scripts you guys have offered.

Again, many thanks, and we'll update with a resolution ( or god forbid, lack of one) as soon as we know more.
posted by kythuen at 11:38 AM on December 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

kythuen: " And for the other - I know it may seem silly, but I could no more ignore a cat crying at my door to be let in out of the freezing cold/rain/snow than I could ignore a toddler under those conditions. "

That doesn't seem silly at all; that seems like a normal human response to an animal in distress, especially a companion animal who is really not meant to live outdoors.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:53 PM on December 2, 2014 [8 favorites]

Kythuen and instead of three wishes, did this ever resolve itself?
posted by spelunkingplato at 7:43 AM on September 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

« Older I want to build an arduino robot using the...   |   Contemptible insurance reimbursement for... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.