Help me get my cat back!
May 2, 2008 3:31 PM   Subscribe

How do I keep my neighbor from catnapping my cat?

My cat is an indoor / outdoor cat. He's super friendly and the whole complex (of about 40 units) loves him and plays with him and pets him regularly. I don't mind; he's an attention hog and he's pretty easygoing (for a cat). He usually spends the day outside and comes in around 6pm, snuggles with me as I work, and then sleeps at the foot of my bed. At least, that's been the pattern. (Oh and he scratches my front door when he wants to come in. And he also comes when I snap my fingers over the balcony. Smart cat.)

But lately one of my neighbors has been catnapping him. He's been spending nights at her house, or will be in her house for 1.5 or 2 days at a time. She says she can't get him to leave, which is B.S. because if you toss him out, he just kind of meanders around. He doesn't scratch or bite or anything, so it's not that difficult to kick him out if the need arises (like when he's not your cat). I think she just wants a cool cat. I guess she used to do this with another neighbor's cat before that neighbor moved. I have no idea how to handle this! I'm normally pretty friendly and I just kind of faked a laugh when she put him out this morning. But he's my cat, dammit! If she wants her own cat, shouldn't she head over to the Humane Society and pick one up? (Which is what I did, and I scored with my super great cat.)

posted by cachondeo45 to Pets & Animals (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
She must be feeding him. Ask her if she is?
posted by Pants! at 3:34 PM on May 2, 2008

If you're letting it roam free, without supervision, aren't you kind of giving up power over who it hangs out/goes home with?
posted by headnsouth at 3:36 PM on May 2, 2008 [12 favorites]

I'm guessing you mean catnabbing. Well, I think short of keeping your cat indoors, I'd probably tell her the cat needed to be home every day because it needed some sort of daily medication, and it was bad for the cat not to get it on a regular schedule. Then she would be neglecting the health of the cat if she didn't make it come back to you every day.
posted by rooftop secrets at 3:36 PM on May 2, 2008 [4 favorites]

And, to Pants! point, make sure you let her know the cat is on a very specific diet and can't be fed anything but a particular type of food to prevent her from feeding it as well.
posted by rooftop secrets at 3:37 PM on May 2, 2008

Response by poster: Actually, that's true. He often has urinary tract infection problems and his super expensive Prescription Diet stuff is what keeps them at bay. Excellent point!
posted by cachondeo45 at 3:39 PM on May 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

Wow, that's kind of messed up. I would be very firm with her and tell her that you do not want the cat inside her (or anyone else's) apartment and that you don't want anyone else to feed her. In the interest of neighborly relations, I'd suggest being very friendly about this, but I would be ready to follow up with a threat to go to the police if she doesn't comply.

I realize that it's not typically a scenario where you would typically involve the police, but it's just downright strange to have someone else's pet in your home without permission of the owner. Doubly so when they've been told explicitly not to do it and are offering lame excuses such as she "can't get him to leave."
posted by dhammond at 3:41 PM on May 2, 2008

My in-laws do this to their neighbor. The neighbor has even offered to give them the cat, and they declined. WTF? I think it's because they like having a cat but don't want the responsibility of paying vet bills.

Anyway, what if you just said to her, "He usually spends the day outside and comes in around 6 pm, and when he doesn't show up, I get really worried. Do you mind just tossing him out by 5:00 so I won't worry?"
posted by Enroute at 3:41 PM on May 2, 2008 [3 favorites]

Cats just do that. Tell them not to feed the cat*, keep lines of communication friendly and be thankful that at least you know where the cat is, and that it’s not pulling the missing-for-two-days-then-mysteriously-turning-up trick.

* If they refuse then they are a little weird, and things escalate.
posted by Artw at 3:47 PM on May 2, 2008

How is the cat getting in? If she leaves her door propped open and kitty wanders in, not much you can do. However, if she is opening the door to let him in (maybe in response to his scratches, as you do), you could ask her to stop letting him in.
A neighbor's cat used to, I swear to god, ring our doorbell. I didn't believe it until I saw it. The cat could strrrrrrrrrretch!

You can certainly let her know that you want the cat to understand that home is home. There's good reason to have your home and your home only feel like home for your cat. We nearly lost a bigamist cat (she kept another family in thje next neighborhood over) when she stayed away an unexpectedly long time shortly before my family moved from Texas to New England.

Absolutely let her know that your cat requires a special diet, so he mustn't be fed elsewhere. But if she asks what brand of food just get vague. lest she lay in a supply of it so she can continue feeding him.
posted by Elsa at 3:56 PM on May 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: rooftop secrets: I'm guessing you mean catnabbing.

Huh? Cat + kidnapping = catnapping. Right?

What's catnabbing?

Anyhow, there are plenty of catty (heh) ways you can handle this passive-aggressively, which is often the best way with neighbors. Especially with passive-aggressive neighbors.

(1) The frightened pet owner: every morning that the cat isn't at your house, bang urgently on your neighbor's door at 6:30 am. When she comes to the door groggy and tired, hurriedly explain that you've been up all night worrying about scruffy, and has she seen him? I mean, it's not like him to be gone so long, and he hadn't had his special medication, and you're worried that maybe something awful happened to him, because cats get run over every day, and he has that infection that you're worried about, especially because you can't quite remember if the doctor said that that infection can be transmitted to humans, and you wouldn't want some poor person somewhere to find you cat and get a terrible infection, and besides, what if he's hurt? What if he's sleeping in a gutter? What if he got kidnapped by gypsies?

You won't get all the way through that paragraph before she understands. It will be hell for her to keep your cat like this.

(2) Wait until you're both standing around outside somewhere and you have a chance to make idle conversation. Then explain, matter-of-factly and in great detail, precisely what his bladder infection is like and what happens when he has one. Tell her how he pisses all over everything when he doesn't have his meds just right, and he's totally miserable and obnoxious.

(3) Just, well, go over every time he's over there and ask her: "have you seen my cat?" Every time. It'll stop.

(4) Wait until scruffy's over there. Order a pizza with extra anchovies. Give them scruffy's name and your neighbor's address. When she comes over to confront you about this, sigh and say: "He always does this. Scruffy, bad kitty!"

Well, you don't have to do that last one. But you don't necessarily have to 'have a little talk' with her; just pester her a little more and ask after your cat frequently, "out of concern for his safety," of course, and she'll get the hint.
posted by Viomeda at 4:00 PM on May 2, 2008 [13 favorites]

It's not messed up and since when did cats need outdoor supervision? Cats do this from time to time, she is either feeding your cat or your cat is finding food in and around her house. Talk to her, ask her to kick him out, not to feed him, and be careful when disposing of her food.
posted by fire&wings at 4:00 PM on May 2, 2008

I have a relative that is a serial cat-napper. She's lonely, and in her mind she is convinced that the cats she's befriending are somehow neglected. If you are firm or confrontational towards her, that's just more "evidence" in her mind that you're a mean person and that the cat would be better off with her.

She gave me a cat she took from a family in Texas, actually. She took him the day that she moved out. I live several hundred miles away so it's not like I could return the cat to its owners (and he didn't have a chip) ... so, I still have him, 12 years later.

I think that expressing deep concern for the cat and letting her know how important he is to you would be the best approach. If your cat isn't home in the evening, go down and knock on her door and see if she has him. You need to convince her that you love the cat as much as she does. Good luck.
posted by Ostara at 4:11 PM on May 2, 2008 [3 favorites]

posted by dobbs at 4:11 PM on May 2, 2008

Long ago, my then-college roommate had a friendly cat which freely wandered the neighborhood. Joe the cat would dissappear for a few days at a time, then wander home smelling of another woman's perfume, his long mat-prone fur lovingly brushed out, and occasionally wearing brand-new bejeweled collars. My roommate was outraged by this and doubly outraged when I pointed out that if she kept Joe indoors, she wouldn't have this problem (or the related problem where Joe continually brought home maimed and dying birds). One day Joe didn't come home. He never turned up. The pessimist in me thinks he was run over, poisoned, or eaten by coyotes. The optimist in me would like to believe Joe moved in permanently with The Other Woman and together they fled to the beaches of South America.

Anyway, frankly you are lucky your cat has happened to find someone who isn't inclined to use his trusting nature as a license to mistreat it. Even if you get your neighbor to stop letting him in, your cat going to march up to another doorstep and waltz right in—at least you know where he is when he's at her place.

Next time he's not home when you want him to be home, knock on your neighbor's door and ask if she'd mind helping you look for him. Or you could just make him an indoor cat.
posted by jamaro at 4:13 PM on May 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you have any concerns that she may ever try to actually kidnap your cat (permanently), you should get him microchipped. Your town's Animal Control Officer will have a device that can read the chip and verify that you are the rightful owner.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:18 PM on May 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think that the daily medication and special food is the most likely to work without raising hackles in this situation.

I have to say, our neighbor has an adorable cat that they put outside in the morning and it meows and scratches to try to get in, and runs in our door when we open it. I kind of sympathize with your neighbor's desire to catnap, although worry of being the weird neighbor is what keeps me from even letting the cat stay in my house longer than the 5 seconds it takes to scoop her up and put her back out. She probably is just weirder than me and means no harm.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 4:23 PM on May 2, 2008

Catcam (maybe knowing that you're consulting a visual record of where the cat's been will freak her out.)
posted by Zed_Lopez at 4:27 PM on May 2, 2008 [3 favorites]

That catcam is brilliant.
posted by caddis at 4:58 PM on May 2, 2008

Another suggestion: perhaps a collar and tag with your address on it? Just a subtle way to send the message that the cat is yours, and registered thusly.
posted by tugena13 at 5:02 PM on May 2, 2008

Here is a cat locater, which admittedly is pretty pricey. Your neighbor will get pretty sick of you knocking on the door for the cat back.
posted by caddis at 5:04 PM on May 2, 2008

OK, I'm going to be the grumpy animal person here. I work at a zoo and interact with a lot of people who are involved in rescue organizations. I think the best solution is to keep the cat indoors. An outdoor cat has an extremely shortened lifespan, often being prone to disease, parasites, attacks by predators, or sick humans, being kidnapped & sold to labs or used for dogfighting, being accidentally poisoned (antifreeze, rat poison). It seems to me that your kind-hearted neighbor might be the least of your worries.

I KNOW that the cat's urge and desire to be outside is very strong, but most cats will adjust to being indoors and will live a much longer and healthier life.

Please, at least read and consider the following articles
posted by caroljean63 at 5:19 PM on May 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Mod note: few comments removed - please do not turn this into a "keep cat indoors" referendum
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:20 PM on May 2, 2008

I have a dark sense of humor. When your cat is in, call over to your neighbor. Pretend to be panicked.

Keep the cat in and do this for a week. Then let the cat out. If the cat doesn't show up, call and repeat.

She'll insist that you keep your cat to yourself.
posted by filmgeek at 6:51 PM on May 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

As a last ditch effort against all microchips, gps technology and Emily Post etiquette efforts you could simply roll your cat in something really smelly. I mean profoundly, eye-watering smelly and likely to stain/ruin carpets and couches. I'd bet he'd be less popular after that.
posted by JimmyJames at 9:54 PM on May 2, 2008

What Ostara said. There's an old lady in our neighborhood that's sort of like this. My upstairs neighbor has a really loud, "talky" cat, and this old lady was convinced (all resounding empirical evidence to the contrary) that he was somehow being starved or mistreated, but he's on a special diet prescribed by the Vet when he started getting too fat, etc. - and this woman kept putting table scraps, cheap cat food, etc. out for him; coming outside of our front gate and calling him and putting the food there - the cat never went to her. So despite the diet, he wasn't doing that well. Eventually I saw her coming down to our gate and got my husband to speak with her (we're in Greece and my language skills are not so great), and stress that the cat was being fed quite expensive food formulated especially for him, and that it was very important to his health that he not be fed other food. She stopped, and now he's slimmed down to perfect cat size and glowing with health.

So, yeah; have a conversation and convince her that he's being very well cared for, needs his special diet to insure his health, and is perfectly happy at home, thanks.
posted by taz at 2:06 AM on May 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: These are all wonderful pearls of wisdom, and I thank all of you! I will be speaking with her using a combination of the above suggestions AND I will be putting a collar on him. He's too great of a cat to let him get catnabbed (or napped). Thanks a bunch!
posted by cachondeo45 at 7:45 AM on May 3, 2008

I know this isn't supposed to become a don't keep the cat outside referendum, but I think it is useful to warn that some cities have laws about unrestrained cats. So calling the authorities might backfire. That's all.
posted by gjc at 11:43 AM on May 3, 2008

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