All About Marie

Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register from 1992-2016; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor/Co-host of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 19 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of two baby boys and one baby girl, and pet parent of two cats, one dog, many fish, and a cockatoo.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Owner of Outdoor Cat Neglects Care and Responsibility

Dear Marie,
Our neighbor claims to “own” a cat that wanders throughout the neighborhood and frequently spends time at our house.  As far as I can tell, the cat is never allowed into the home of the “owner” and is outside during the coldest of nights.  We have been giving it food and water for at least three years and have taken it into the vet on numerous occasions when it has been injured in cat fights.  When it is particularly cold or rainy outside, we usually let him come in our garage and keep a box filled with blankets in there for him.  One of the reasons we did this was that we were never certain that the cat even had a home.  Last month, we took him to the vet to be neutered because he had fathered dozens of kittens in our neighborhood.  (There are a lot of stray cats here.)  His owner has never taken any kind of responsibility with him.  When she found out that we had had him neutered, she was furious.  She came over and threatened to call the police.  She told us not to bring him in our house anymore or give him food.  Yet she continues to leave him outdoors and I don’t even know if she feeds him.  I have never seen a food or water dish outside for him.  The cat keeps coming over to our front door and begging for food and he is getting skinnier and skinnier.  It is breaking my heart.  What can I do?  

Dear Marta,
I am sad to report that many cat owners treat their pets exactly as your neighbor does hers.  In the minds of many, cats don’t need much care, and to a large extent, they are left to fend for themselves.  And yet when kind neighbors (such as yourself) attempt to provide a little love and compassion, their only reward is anger and threats on the part of the self-proclaimed cat owners.

There are a couple of things you can do in this situation.

First, you can talk to the owner and let her know that you weren’t sure if the cat indeed had a home and that is why you were providing various forms of care.  Let her know that you are very fond of the cat and would assist her in any way with care and feeding.  It may just be that she is financially unable to provide for her pet and is feeling embarrassed about the situation.  Often, embarrassment causes people to act out angrily in a situation like this.  Let her know that neighbors are supposed to help neighbors and that you’d like to wipe the slate clean and be friends.  If you are successful in this endeavor, you may be able to give her some tips on cat care and ultimately steer her down the path to becoming a responsible pet owner. 

Chances are, this won’t work.  People tend to be too proud to work things out, as unfortunate as that seems to be.  So the next option I offer to you is the law.  An Orange County Codified Ordinance very specifically states that no pet may wander onto any private property without the expressed permission of the property owner.  Your neighbor’s cat is obviously still roaming the neighborhood, which is a violation of this law.  Therefore, you may legally trap the cat and take it over to the Animal Shelter.

I am assuming that you would be willing to adopt this animal and make him your own.  If this is the case, be sure to fill out a “hold form” to let the shelter’s staff know that you intend to adopt this kitty if its owners do not come to claim him.

Since your neighbor has provided the bare minimum of care for her cat – and even that is questionable, I doubt that she will redeem him.  Once the shelter has held the cat for the legally mandated number of days, you may officially adopt him and will be his rightful owner from that day forward.

I would strongly recommend keeping him indoors for the rest of his life – not only because this is the best way to care for a cat, but it will also keep him away from his previous owners who may still think that the cat is theirs.

If you do choose to turn the cat in and then adopt it, you may end up with a nasty neighborhood dispute, complete with the police knocking at your door.  Be sure and keep all of your adoption papers from the shelter, as they will prove that you are the legal owner.  Whatever you decide, I wish you – and the cat – all the best.

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