Sunday, May 3, 2015

Why people give up senior cats

I ran across an excellent post here about a person who took in a senior cat who was surrendered to a shelter. As someone who has posted similar heartfelt almost-a-rant posts in the past (most notably on Craigslist right after I've had to stop on snowy roads for abandoned kittens), I felt almost as if I could have written it.

However, one thing I do try to remember about owner surrenders is that "moving to a place that doesn't allow cats" is one of the most common reasons given for surrendering a pet. And in discussions with women's advocates and with women who have surrendered pets to shelters in the past, I've learned that "moved" sometimes means:

"My husband/boyfriend/partner threatened to dump her out in the country if I didn't 'get rid' of her"

"My husband/boyfriend/partner kicks and hits her, and I'd rather give her this slim chance at a home then have her be killed or injured"

"She has been peeing on things/acting sick/has bad teeth and I called the vet and learned it would cost of $1000 for them even to look at her, due to tests, etc. I'm at risk of losing my home/have kids who are going without, and I don't know what to do."

These are things that people are often afraid or embarrassed to say. So they lie. This does not forgive the act, but I have talked with so many people who have told me their "when I was young and had this cat" stories (years later, when they are brave enough to say) that I know the "reason for surrender" at a shelter sometimes does not tell the whole story. And the whole story can be heartbreaking.

We can argue that victims of domestic abuse need to get out of the relationship, or that "if you can't afford a pet you should not get one," but we know this is easier said than done.

Yes, there are people who view pets as disposable. I once adopted a kitten to a young woman who called me six months later because she was "moving to a nicer apartment and could not keep her." As I think back, I realize when I picked the cat up, her mother was there "helping her move." It only occurs to me now that perhaps that young woman was moving back with her parents for one reason or another (dropped out of college? pregnant? broke?) and mom had said "No cat if you come home." Certainly I've lived on ramen noodles and hid my car in the driveways of other people to prevent it from being repossessed when I was a newly graduated college student. I also had the luxury of having a veterinarian I used to work for who would look at my three cats for free, and a food pantry from the shelter where I worked where I could get cat food. Things might have been different under worse circumstances.

Once when I was young I was was spending the summer somewhere with my cat Rastus. While I was sitting on the porch, I heard a person who was also living in the house yell at my cat and throw him physically down a set of stairs. I was rocked to the core. I was able to take my cat away immediately, but only because he could go back to Norwich to the animal hospital where he had previously been the hospital cat. What would I have done if I didn't have that option?

Lucy and Heidi came from a home where the resident was "moving." When I got there, I learned the resident had taken in three feral kittens that were running around the trailer park, then discovered how much it would cost to get three cats sterilized (over $1000 with vaccinations and two visits, which some veterinarian's require). He had the male shut in a crate and the two females loose, to try to prevent pregnancy. It's hard to say to a stranger "I simply don't have the money." And as for "he shouldn't get a pet if he can't afford one" ---what would have happened to those three kittens if he had just left them to starve? To my knowledge, the resident is still at that same location. When I spoke to him last, he was looking for a roommate to help with expenses, or a cheaper place to live. The real reason for surrendering the cats was to prevent them from getting pregnant when he discovered he couldn't manage it himself.

We tell people "if you can't keep your cat, don't abandon her--take her to a shelter." Then when they do, we have a tendency to condemn them as thoughtless.

Just a thought.


  1. Good post. I've found these same things. And vet care, omg, it is so expensive now. You walk through the door to hundreds of dollars in bills and sometimes with that, no solutions to the reason you went with your cat in the first place. I'm still without a local vet but could no longer afford the one I had been using, when I took old Vision in, after she fell off the shelves, and had two large lumps around her eye. $200! No tests done. He just handed me a tube of antibiotic ointment for her eye, although it was a trauma injury, nothing for pain even. That was the end there. Vet care is out of the question due to cost for many people.

  2. We just had two senior declawed girls surrendered at our shelter. They are in good health and friendly and sweet. The owner's reason for surrender was that he was retiring and wanted to travel. I would think if he was lying, he would make up a less jerk face reason...

  3. Yes, there absolutely are people who consider the animals in their lives (and for that matter, the people in their lives) to be disposable, to be dumped once interest has waned.

  4. My sister's cat died this week--she was a senior kitty whose owner had died, and the owner's brother kept her until he was able to find her a home (it all came about through social media and friends of friends--it's still unclear to me). She was a lucky cat, her final two years were with someone who loved her despite annoying habits (peeing on books) and odd quirks. There are lots of elderly people in my sister's town, and to be honest probably not many have family on-site with the resources to take care of their pets if something happens to them, so they end up at shelters or rescues--and from there, probably not many find homes. As you say, it's easy to say "well, maybe some people shouldn't have pets" but for many older people their pets are their main companion and provide a great deal of comfort. Just wish that there were a way to avoid such sad situations in such cases.

  5. it is smart to remember that 'moving' doesn't always mean moving.. it is a shame people don't feel comfortable telling you the truth, but you are right that they don't.