sad cat

What to Do If Your Roommate Abandoned Their Cat

sad cat

Abandoning pets is a horrible thing to do because they trust their owners to care for them. However, you don’t have to be a cat hotel either.

Here I share options that are legal and doable. These will help you decide what to do after your roommate abandoned a cat when they moved out.

My roommate abandoned their cat what can I do?

  1. Understand the rights of abandoned cats
  2. Tell your roommate to do the right thing and fetch it
  3. Learn how the animal shelter system works
  4. Surrender the cat to a shelter
  5. Decide to adopt the cat and learn to understand it


1. Possible Reasons Why Your Roommate Abandoned Their Cat

Your roommate may have left their pet behind for a variety of reasons. Knowing why they did it can help you decide what to do.

  • A change of circumstances means they can’t afford cat food
  • They move in with a new human who does not like / is allergic to cats
  • The landlord of the place where they moved to does not allow cats
  • The cat is sick or old, and they are tired of spending money on vet fees
  • They are moving to a new country, and they don’t want cat quarantine


2. Abandoning a Cat Runs Counter to Its Norms of Social Behavior

cat home

Cats are also sentient beings, meaning they are conscious, feel pain and experience emotions. They also know what they want and need.

  • Cat’s like their tomorrows to be the same as their todays and their yesterdays. Therefore the cat would probably be just as happy staying on with its human family which could be you.
  • However, you also have stakeholder rights, and as a powerful human, you are in control of the situation. But power and responsibility go hand-in-hand, because you are now the leader of the cat’s pack.
  • When your roommate abandoned their cat this was different from what the cat expected and could stress it. Feral cats living in the wild form associations comprising mothers and their young. However, this does not extend to hunting for food.
  • Most cats hunt alone using methods they learned while watching their mothers when they were young. However, a cat raised in a human family may not have developed these skills. Instead, they rely on their human families to bring dinner home for them.

Therefore, a cat left behind after their owner relocated will know this has happened and could be experiencing extreme anxiety over its next meal. If you or I were in that position, we would hope the law would protect us too.


3. What the Law Says About the Rights of Abandoned Cats?

law and justice

Federal and state law increasingly recognizes that animals have rights. In fact, a court in Florida decided a particular orangutan ape had a right to liberty. Judge Elena Liberatori ruled “that animals are sentient beings and that the first right they have is our obligation to respect them.”

  • There is far more about dogs than cats in American law. However, there is general recognition that domestic cats are part of their owner’s property. This means a roommate has to respect the rights of their owner, even though they abandoned their pet
  • However, cats do enjoy protection under the general ‘all animal’ welfare provisions of the Criminal Code.  Moreover, each state has a felony animal cruelty law, which could include general cruelty, abandonment and inadequate care.
  • The Prevention of Animal Cruelty Act (PACT) signed into law on November 25, 2019, criminalizes extreme cruelty to ‘living non-human mammals, birds, reptiles, or amphibians’”.  Although it does not specifically mention abandoning a cat


3. Plan A (Not Ideal) How to Persuade Your Roommate to Take Their Pet Back

This one’s a long shot, but it’s worth a try because the cat might well be happier with its previous owner. Here are some ideas that may, or may not work.

  • Call your ex-roommate and explain their pet is suffering stress because it’s alpha human is gone, and it doesn’t understand why.
  • Explain the cat is legally their possession.Therefore they have a duty to shelter it, care for it, feed it and make sure it is healthy.
  • Tell them you are taking strain because you now have to pay 100% of the rent, plus food and stress medication for the cat.
  • Explain you have a possible new roommate. However, unfortunately, they are allergic to your roommate’s cat.
  • Tell them they owe you half the rent for the apartment, until they remove the cat so your new roommate can move in.
  • If your roommate keeps on stalling you, ask them to write a letter telling you to hand the cat over to an animal shelter.

However, I wouldn’t be too optimistic about this one. They might, however, confirm they no longer want the cat. This would reinforce the view they abandoned their possession allowing you more freedom to act.

There’s a possibility you might be able to hand the cat in at an animal shelter; however this is far more than a simple matter.


A General Overview of the Rights of Abandoned Cats

abandoned cat
  • Cats that people keep for pleasure are called companion pets. Defining them as possessions runs counter to them being sentient creatures and part of their human families.
  • Courts traditionally award market-value compensation for the wrongful death of a pet. However, they have started recognizing non-economic damage for distress and grief.
  • Pet owners can transfer their ownership of their animal by gifting it to another person, or handing it over to an animal shelter.
  • They can also abandon their rights by leaving their pet in a public place. If law enforcement finds the animal they can take it to a pound.
  • Over 30 U.S. states have holding periods of 3 to 5 days. Whereafter the pound or shelter can decide whether to sell, rehome, or permanently sleep the animal if their owner did not claim them.

It is therefore, extremely important to ask a roommate abandoning their cat to confirm their decision in writing. Then you can then ask the police or an animal shelter what to do next, or follow the advice in this article.


The Tremendously Improved Success Rate at Animal Shelters

cat shelter

Please don’t get me wrong on this one. Animal shelters do a great job for the love of America’s abandoned pets. However, one free-roaming female cat and her offspring could theoretically produce 420,000 cats in 7 years.

There simply are not enough humans to go around.

Please skip this section if this thought makes you feel anxious, and continue reading at ‘Plan B: Consider Handing Your Roommate’s Abandoned Cat to a Shelter’.

The New York Times investigated what happened to pets at animal shelters that do not successfully find homes. They found this a challenge, because there is no standard for recording animals taken in, adopted, put to sleep, or reclaimed.

  • They think the 60% failure rate of ten years ago has improved to the extent that rescues, adoptions, and returns are now far more likely nationwide.
  • However, their data is not entirely reliable because people working at shelters face criticism and threats for euthanizing animals.
  • It’s unfair to criticize animal shelters for their failures because they are genuinely doing everything they can.
  • Nowadays, many cities have 90% success rates thanks to successful interventions and improving public opinion.
  • However, despite all this effort, two million animals in American shelters fail to make it through the gate to their new lives.
  • Therefore, we can assume – with great sadness – that many cats take their last breaths in animal shelters longing for new homes.


Plan B: The Things Involved with Handing Your Roommate’s Abandoned Cat to a Shelter

The Animal Humane Society calls this step ‘surrendering a cat’ because you cannot reverse the decision. You should therefore think very carefully before concluding this is the only way.

  • Surrenders are by appointment. Phone the shelter’s helpline to schedule.
  • You will need to bring several things with you of course:
  1. A driver’s license or other official identity document.
  2. A cat surrender form you complete before the appointment.
  3. The cat’s veterinary records if you have them.
  4. The surrender fee – yep you pay $50 or more for the cat.
  5. The cat your roommate left behind for completeness’ sake.<
  • The shelter people will examine the cat to determine its state of health.
  • If the animal is untreatable or unhealthy, they may prescribe euthanasia.
  • They will discuss the options to make sure you know what is best for the cat.
  • You then have to make a tough decision, putting the animal’s rights first.


PLAN C: Ask Your Roommate to Give You Their Cat

There are two sides to this tricky decision which effectively moves the roommate out of the frame:

  • You accept the duty to shelter your ex-roommate’s abandoned cat, care for it, feed it and make sure it is healthy. You also have the right to surrender it to a shelter if things don’t work out right
  • However, you also prevent your roommate from interfering in future if they don’t approve of what you do. This seems fair to the cat if it’s correct they don’t care about it anymore

If you decide to go this route and your roommate did not agree previously, then send them a final message on these lines:

  • I still have your cat. It’s doing fine and eating well, but it is missing you.
  • As you have not fetched it, I have decided you don’t want it anymore.
  • Please therefore give me the cat to me so I can decide what’s best.
  • If you choose not to reply, then your silence means you abandoned it.

Wait for ten days. After that, the cat has moved out (which is unlikely), or  is now your possession.

sleeping cat

We’ll assume you now own the cat. I can’t tell you which is best for you, to shelter it or adopt it. However, if you have read this far, you must have a soft spot for it.

So how about you let the cat stay for a while and see if you can re-own it ….


How to Make Friends with a Cat You Already Know Slightly

Dogs accept their owners, while cats choose their friends. It’s quite common for a cat to have a particular friend when staying with a family. That friend was likely to have been your roommate, who left the cat behind when they moved away.

So how will the cat decide whether to shift affection to you?

  • Cats like peace and quiet. They don’t like people who shout, scream, or wave their hands in the air when upset.
  • If we come across to them as aggressive, then they may try to run away or hiss aggressively to warn us.
  • However – and here’s the point – if we behave like a relaxed, warm friend, then they may come for a cuddle and a purr.

All friendships between humans – and between humans and animals – depend on a fair exchange of benefits. It’s important to remember the cat will never be your subordinate. It wants to be your equal, and your friend. So here’s how I suggest you clinch the deal:

  • Allow the cat its own space and don’t crowd it. Cats choose where they sleep. If they sleep on your bed, well that’s their decision.
  • Avoid rushing up to the cat and suddenly picking it up. Get to understand its body language. Is it curiously interested, or is it wary of you.
  • Cats are touchy-feely creatures when they want to be. Tickle its tummy, scratch it gently under its chin, discover your new pet’s pleasure zones.
  • It’s possible your roommate abandoned their cat because they never really made friends. Make sure all your interactions have positive outcomes.
  • Let the cat come to you when it is ready. Never force contact. Your cat wants to be independent, not your subordinate with you in charge.
  • Never stare a cat in the eyes because this is a sign of aggression. If this happens, blink a few a few times before shifting your gaze away.
  • Your height can be intimidating to a cat on the ground. Lie down on the floor or let it jump onto your lap, so you are at the same level.
  • Cats are picky feeders. Give the cat the food it likes but do provide variety. At the most basic level, your job is to hunt for its food.

That’s about all the advice I can give you at the present moment because the rest is an article all of its own. However, I can tell you from my own experience that a playful cat is a fun companion. And that is hard to beat.

I also recommend this article on this site which says what to do if your cat misses your roommate.

Writer: Richard Farrell

richard ferrell writer