Can I keep this cat ?
April 21, 2007 4:42 PM   Subscribe

I was given a cat to sit last August and since then the cat and I have got accustomed to each other. (My last cat before this one died over a year ago.) I told the original owner awhile back that I wanted to keep the cat and I thought that was where we left it. Now, the original owner wants the cat back and I don't want to give it up.

I have kept this cat in food and kitty litter for nearly a year and we are quite bonded. It is an unlicensed cat and I live in Washington State, if that is of any help. My questions are these: Am I the legal owner now or what ? If I get a pet license, will that help ? Can this cat be taken from me against my will ?
posted by anonymous to Pets & Animals (36 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps the two of you can stand on either side of a room and let the cat decide.
posted by ageispolis at 4:53 PM on April 21, 2007 [4 favorites]

It is not your cat. There are lots of cats in need of caring homes in your local pound, if you want one so badly.
posted by maryh at 4:58 PM on April 21, 2007

Unless you believe that the cat would be subject to abuse or neglect if returned, it is unconscionable to keep it. As to whether or not it is legal, that depends on your state's abandoned property law. Did the owner say how long they intended to leave the cat with you initially? If it is still within that time then you do not have a claim, and getting a license or attempting to exercise ownership of the cat constitutes theft. If it it outside of that time, then the abandonment clock starts ticking from the time they had intended to reclaim it.
posted by cali at 4:59 PM on April 21, 2007

Not sure why this was anonymous... But have you been paid to cat sit? What was the agreement for the care of the animal? How long were you to sit for the cat?

If you have been paid/reimbursed for your time/services, you were cat sitting and need to return the cat whether you've bonded or not. If you've provided sole custody for the cat without any contact or input from the original owner, and this arrangement has gone on far beyond the original term agreed upon, I guess you might could spin a case for abandonment.

If this owner is someone you want to keep in your life, you're better off returning the animal and leaving things be. You can always visit. There are plenty of lovable animals at the local pound that need someone to love and care for them. I am positive you could find a new cat friend there.

But in short, we need more info.
posted by jerseygirl at 5:00 PM on April 21, 2007

should be an "or" between might could.
posted by jerseygirl at 5:01 PM on April 21, 2007

I'm inclined to say that you should give it back, unless you have a real reason to think the person abandoned the cat with you (ie you were supposed to catsit for a month, and ended up with the cat for a year).
posted by Good Brain at 5:03 PM on April 21, 2007

Yeah...its pretty unclear under what conditions the cat was put under your care. Without that information its impossible to advise.

The fact that you left that out altogether makes me suspicious that it favors the original owner over you.
posted by vacapinta at 5:04 PM on April 21, 2007

It was kind of you to care for the cat. You have not finished the job until you return it.

Unless there's more going on here than what you say, failing to return the cat is outright theft.
posted by Malor at 5:10 PM on April 21, 2007

I told the original owner awhile back that I wanted to keep the cat and I thought that was where we left it.

Huh? You gave hardly any information. You asked if you could keep it, but what did the owner say? Did you end up stealing the cat or did he give it to you under some specific terms...? Either way I think it's odd that you would ask to keep someone's cat that you've been petsitting (unless the person really didn't want the cat anymore). Such a vague situation you've presented.

If you really feel that you and this cat belong together then maybe you should consider running off to Mexico with it, becoming fugitives, and then driving off a cliff together.
posted by koshka at 5:19 PM on April 21, 2007

I agree. Not your cat. Give it back and go to the pound and get a bundle of fur that will scale your leg.
posted by plinth at 6:03 PM on April 21, 2007

My friend asked me to mind her car while she was away. I put gas in it for a year and I have become quite accustomed to the convenience of having a vehicle at my disposal. I don't have to give it back, do I?

Look, it wouldn't be okay for me to take a car, and it's not okay for you to take a cat.

Basically, your claim is, "But I want it!" Your financial claim is weak-- you might have paid for a year's worth of food, but a.) presumably you understood that you would be doing so when you agreed to cat-sit and b.) I imagine that the owner has paid for more than year of pet supplies, plus vet bills and other expenses. So even her financial claim trumps yours.

You can't keep the cat just because you like it.
posted by chickletworks at 6:04 PM on April 21, 2007

I've seen this exact scenario on the Judge Mathis show. The police were involved. It was very ugly.

Do you really want to have a police file and court case over somebody else's cat? The cat is not yours. Give back the cat. Have a good vent and go to your local animal shelter. (When did we stop calling them pounds? *rolls eyes*) Lots of kittens are there waiting to be adopted or euthanized. Many are purebred.
posted by who squared at 6:10 PM on April 21, 2007

Hmmm. I wonder why this cat so clearly belongs to anon's friend while this cat so clearly belonged to the cat's "temporary" caregiver. Just sayin'.
posted by iguanapolitico at 6:17 PM on April 21, 2007

(Should be "these cats"; forgot there were multiple cats in that post, but the point remains.)
posted by iguanapolitico at 6:19 PM on April 21, 2007

Hmmm. I wonder why this cat so clearly belongs to anon's friend while this cat so clearly belonged to the cat's "temporary" caregiver. Just sayin'.

Temporary? That guy had the cats for ten years!
posted by vacapinta at 6:21 PM on April 21, 2007

The cats were given to his girlfriend by his girlfriend's mother ten years ago. He had been their caregiver for only three years, since the breakup. (As well as caregiver for a crapload of the ex's other stuff; it's not as if she disappeared into oblivion leaving nothing but the cats behind.)
posted by iguanapolitico at 6:28 PM on April 21, 2007

Not your cat. Never was your cat. You knew that going into this.

Quit being dramatic, "last August" isn't "nearly a year" unless you're living deep into the future.

I seriously doubt you have a legal leg to stand on (most abandoned property law kicks in around 3-5 years)

Even if you did have a legal claim, do not ----ing sue over this. Unless you want to go through life with everyone thinking you're a raging jerk.

Echoing what everyone else said: Go to the shelter and pick up one that has one too few owners and return the one that has one that has too many.

If you have not been reimbursed for the food and litter, etc then you can discuss that with the owner (ie:not you) after the cat has been returned and when you have a grip on yourself.
posted by Ookseer at 6:33 PM on April 21, 2007

I told the original owner awhile back that I wanted to keep the cat and I thought that was where we left it.

There is some ambiguity here that I wish anon could clear up for us. Let's say that this exchange means that anon suggested he keep the cat, and the owner, who might have perhaps been going through some sort of hardship for instance, said, "yes, good idea, why don't you keep the cat."

Then would we be saying that the cat belongs to anon? As others have said, there just isn't enough information for us to answer.

Though, Can this cat be taken from me against my will ? Well, yes. I figure if you both stick to your guns, whoever is the louder, stronger, stubborner force wins. (Via small claims court, break-ins, or what-have-you.)
posted by iguanapolitico at 6:40 PM on April 21, 2007

With apologies to both the poster and the original photoshopper:

Not Yours

The cat was left in your care, now the owner wants it back. Unless you had some kind of explicit agreement that turned the cat over to you, the owner has all the right in the world to take the cat back.
posted by chrisamiller at 6:53 PM on April 21, 2007

The original owner probably loves and misses the cat. It may be that you and the cat have bonded, but the original owner probably bonded, too.

The best you can do for the cat is to maintain a good relationship with the original owner, so that you can help ease the transition to the "new" home, and so that you can come visit. Maybe you could visit two or three times the first week, once or twice the next week, and weekly for a while after that.

And notice what you like about this cat. Any cat or kitten at the shelter would be very lucky to have someone like you as its companion. If you are able to just get one cat, then you can possibly cat-sit again when needed.
posted by amtho at 7:13 PM on April 21, 2007

You didn't give even close to enough information in your question for anyone to be able to answer satisfactorily. But the wording seems very disingenuous (as others have pointed out). That suggests that the missing information will favor the original owner. If those inferences are correct, you are being selfish and you don't have any valid legal claim.
posted by Falconetti at 9:49 PM on April 21, 2007

Man, none of these cat custody questions are about cats. These are human relations questions.

This person -- a former boyfriend/crush/best-friend? -- just waltzes in and out of your life, and you're starting to get annoyed that he/she seems to think you'll always just be standing by to be a pal whenever he/she asks you to do whatever. That's my guess. "Hey Anon -- thanks for taking care of my cat for nine months. Well, see ya!" And maybe you're feeling like standing up to this person. You can do that, though you can't keep the cat.

Estimate how much the cat cost you (the lowball estimate, not the punitive one) -- maybe $150 in food and kitty litter? Ask for it -- simply, matter-of-factly. It is completely reasonable to ask, even if you guys never discussed it before. You will get the money or you won't, and this person will be on notice that you are no longer at his/her service -- as, I'm guessing, is the message you want to convey.

Then go to the pound.
posted by Methylviolet at 10:49 PM on April 21, 2007

"quite bonded.." You almost seem to imply the argument that the cat would rather be with you than his/her original owner. It's a very selfish thought and you can definitely be wrong. Let the cat go home.
posted by pinksoftsoap at 10:57 PM on April 21, 2007

I agree that in a hypothetical court the question would be whether the animal has been abandoned to your care. See 1 Cal.Jur.2d, § 2, p. 2 (defining abandonment as the “voluntary giving up of a thing by the owner because he no longer desires to possess it or to assert any right or dominion over it and is entirely indifferent as to what may become of it or as to who may thereafter possess it.”).

In terms of authorities like police, etc., having the cat licensed and showing the papers can be (perhaps temporarily) persuasive.

If I were the original owner, and the cat was happy in a new place for 8 months, it might well be the right thing to let the cat stay. I think it's kind of unfair to keep moving a cat. So I don't see the (non-legal) equities in quite the same way as prior posters.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 12:20 AM on April 22, 2007

iguanapolitico: I see this situation and the current situation as being quite different.

In the linked cat question, the posters g/f left for a non-cat friendly building (basically, this means she didn't want the cats) and then came back three years later and said "give me my cats now". As per the previous posts, the cats had been abandoned by the g/f and I thought it was fair that the OP kept them.

In this instance, the OP has been cat sitting for 9 months. It's not clear from the post how long the OP was supposed to cat sit for, but if 9 months was the agreed-upon time, then the OP has NO claim to the cats. Even if the agreed upon time was 6 months, it's unlikely the OP would have a leg to stand on.

Maybe the OP is entitled to compensation (hard to tell without more information) but the cat itself should go back to the original owner, unless there was explicit agreement for it to stay with the OP, or a significant abadonment (cat sitting was for a week for instance!)
posted by ranglin at 1:48 AM on April 22, 2007

we do need more information.

my cat originally belonged to my ex, who had had her for ten years. he kept erratic hours, and would go away for business for days at a time. the cat acted out a lot, and hated being boarded (they'd have to force-feed her).

in early 2002, my ex went away for a two-week business trip and left the cat with me (my own cat had died four years beforehand). when he got back, it was obvious that she had settled in beautifully, and he said he wanted her to stay with me. when he moved into a new apartment a few years later, i asked him if he wanted the cat back, and he said no. then we broke up.

the cat is still here and still mine, over five years after he first brought her here. i adore her.
posted by sdn at 11:00 AM on April 22, 2007

Unless by "that was where we left it" you mean "the original owner explicitly agreed that this cat now belonged to me" then you have no ethical right to this cat. Unless you have something in writing you have no legal right to this cat. This is not to say you couldn't contrive to keep the cat against its legal owner's will, which would depend entirely on circumstances nobody could foresee or predict. Doing so would qualify you as an asshole.

I see nothing wrong with politely explaining your great attachment to the cat, and offering to help the original owner with the time and expense of acquiring a new cat if they will let you keep this one. But if they insist on its return I (like basically everyone else, it appears) think you ought to return it.

Requesting compensation for your expenditures is reasonable, although unless you established this at the outset, or the period you cared for this cat was significantly longer than originally agreed, it's frankly kind of a dick move. And as a lifelong cat owner and lover, I hate to say it, but although you might be quite bonded to the cat, the cat will be perfectly happy after returning to its original owner. That's just how cats are.
posted by nanojath at 12:36 PM on April 22, 2007

It's really hard when something like that comes at you out of the blue, but really, very bad karma to keep this cat without the original owners blessing. Don't do it.
The people at animal shelters really want you to find the perfect pet. Some near me even have a 2 week return policy. Usually there are some animals that are way above average and would be taken by the staff in a heartbeat if they didn't already have 6 and just CAN'T. That's the kind you want. Call around and talk to the staff and ask if they have something like that. Tell them what you like about this cat and see what they come up with. Some shelters will be more helpful than others. Here are a couple of links to just to show you how specific and detailed the info can get. Some are being fostered and you can talk to people who are actully living with them.
Sorry for the cut and paste, I can't seem to get my "links" working. Good luck.
posted by BoscosMom at 6:59 PM on April 22, 2007

Unless the owner explicitly stated you could keep the cat, the cat is not yours, and you must return him/her. I am not your lawyer, but I do not give you good odds if this went to court.
Give him/her back to the owner; if you don't turn this into a big messy argument, you can probably visit the cat from time to time.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 7:15 PM on April 22, 2007

It's not your cat.
posted by chunking express at 7:19 AM on April 23, 2007

Mod note: This is a followup comment from the anonymous asker.

I was given the cat by a friend who up and sold almost all his or her wordly possessions with the intention of moving to a big, big city on the east coast. She or he parked his or her daughter at his or her mom's and provisionally gave the cat with me. I was given a week or two's notice and not consulted in ay way about the big move, which I thought was crazy. Well, as it turned out, he or she ran out of money in two weeks and moved back and then got an apartment and then after a while decided he or she hadn't given me the cat but that I had been the cat's sitter all the time. The fact is that we never did work out whether it was staying with me permanently or not. A tug of war has ensued off and on since my friend moved back to town. I have been given the cat and then not given the cat.

It's a very sweet cat that falls asleep in my arms every night while I watch tv, falls asleep purring and then dreams and runs in place, legs across my arms, and cries and groans and grimaces in its sleep and it is all so very endearing. I can always get another cat but not a cat like this one. And now I am losing a cat and a friend. As it
turns out, one thing we both deeply, deeply resent is being told "Oh, you can just get a new cat!" when, for either one of us, it is not about any cat but this cat. It was said to me and when I said it right back at cha after the last back-sie, after I thought I had been finally given the cat, it got ugly fast. That's when I put up this question. I think that I take better care of the cat but either way the cat will be better than just OK, loved and well cared for. It's very hard but I am giving the cat back. This has just torn me apart.

Thank you for your comments, time and attention.
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:48 PM on April 24, 2007

I suppose this is all done now but I think it merits saying that you you deserve a lot more sympathy than you got given the full story. You're doing the right thing, and I imagine your messed-up friend probably needs the cat more than you right now.

I know this is poking at the sore point but I hope you will think about getting another cat. One of ours got out the other day, and when we went to animal control the amazing, sweet cats up for adoption just broke my heart. There may be one out there who needs you.
posted by nanojath at 10:17 AM on April 25, 2007

(Oh, and again in context, I retract my suggestion that asking for compensation for your expenditures would be a dick move. You probably don't want to kick the friendship while it's down, but there's no question your friend has been the real jerk in this situation).
posted by nanojath at 10:20 AM on April 25, 2007

It's still not your cat. You've exerted a lot of emotional energy , and a lot of words here, to make the case that this can ONLY be YOUR cat. But friend, it's just not. You need to find a cat pal that really belongs to you. And there are so, so many that need advocates... There are THOUSANDS of kittens in LA alone that are going to die in shelters this spring while you argue this over with that erstwhile friend. That cat will be okay, regardless of the hoops you're leaping through for it. But there are really needy hurting cats that YOU can help NOW at shelters across LA.
posted by maryh at 1:44 AM on April 28, 2007

Mod note: Here's another followup from the asker.

The cat was given back to my friend on Thursday and returned to me Saturday night.

The cat had originally been an declawed indoors cat living in my friend's mother's backyard, being fed with a host of other neighborhood cats. She had gotten a bite and an abscess and my friend managed to catch her, take her to the vet and then home. She came to me as one of the most traumatized cats I have ever seen. She shoots under the couch at a sudden noise, hides when anyone knocks on the door or comes in the apartment and if the rule for most cats they will not come nearer than an arm's length and a foot, hers is an arm's length and a yard. I have lived with her for eight months and she will not come near me when I am on my feet unless I drop to a knee and even then gingerly and slowly. If I stand or even sit up straight, she runs. But sit down still, and she's the velcro love sponge, pressing up hard against me, purring to beat the band.

She hid in the bathroom the whole time after she was taken back to my friend's apartment, hid and cried continuously and would not eat or drink. She did so not want to be there. My friend became so worried about her that she called and asked if she could bring the cat back last night. The not eating and drinking part was scary to me, too. At the time, I was out at dinner with another friend and so, with an offer to come over right then and OK on the other end, we went over and got the cat. It was bittersweet, sad and a little uncomfortable but there was no rancor, no end zone dancing or 'I told you so's' on my part.

The cat had been taken to an apartment not it's old home that is right next to a fire station's parking lot. Extreme scaredy cats and fire stations are not a good mix. There was a big dog across the hall who barked at every noise in the hall. My friend has a seven year old child--the cat is afraid of children. Back in the day, the cat would curl up by the kid when the kid was asleep or sometimes even when the kid was watching TV--but she had not seen the kid except on visits for months. Then she hid. She was afraid of the kid. A kid, a strange apartment, barking dogs and strange footsteps in the hall, sudden sirens very loud just outside the windows--the cat spent the whole time in that apartment crying behind the claw foot tub in the bathroom.

The cat came home and hid for a half hour and then came out and plastered herself against me for the rest of the night in between eating catnip, eating food, drinking water and playing chase the laser dot with a frenzy. I toned it way down when I called and said the cat is doing fine. I mean, the bounce back was a surprise beyond my wildest hopes for the evening.

It would have been nice if we could have found this all out without all the drama and trauma but that part is done. I cared enough for my friend's claim and feelings that I gave the cat back. She cared enough about the cat that she gave it back again. I am not going to get into any 'I told you so's' with her over this. There is no point. It was such a surprise and a relief when I got the call. I was just stunned. I still am. The cat is on the couch now, curled up a few feet away, her front legs stretched out, kneading the air. And this is the truth--she just fell asleep and she's dreaming, groaning and crying and running in her sleep. Oh, now she woke back up and just slow blinked at me. The cat smile.

We are both glad she is back and all three involved are glad she is happy.

Thanks again for your thoughts.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:03 AM on April 30, 2007

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