The ethics of a guest cat

It was Mumsnet that gave me the guilts. As much as my cat-owning friends said it was common for moggies to adopt second homes, we had mixed feelings. One afternoon Neighbour Cat was yet again snoozing on the living room rug, fluffy belly-up like a sheep about to be shorn.

“Do you think this is right?” Gareth said, “She comes over here an awful lot.”

“I know! We better throw her out. Do you want to do it?”

“Well, she is asleep. It would be rude to disturb her.”

“Yeah, she should finish her five-hour power nap, right?”

While we waited we told Google neighbour’s cat keeps coming over, and it sent us to various discussion threads on Mumsnet, Netmums and similar, each full of outraged cat owners whose traitorous beasts had been hanging out next door.

Dignity. Always dignity.
Dignity. Always dignity.

One neighbour had bought a visiting cat a sparkling new collar.

Another had bought the cat a new collar and its own cat bed.

Another said their neighbour smoked and would douse the moggie with stinky perfume to try and disguise the smell!

AIBU? cried the wounded owners. Which I now know means, Am I Being Unreasonable?

YANBU! came the replies! You Are Not Being Unreasonable! It was highly illegal. Highly immoral. The neighbours were “batshit cat thieves”. They should be reported to the RSPCA. They should be reported to the police!

Were we batshit cat thieves? This came not long after I’d read Takashi Hiraide’s The Guest Cat, which for some reason had jumped out at me at the bookshop:

“A couple in their thirties live in a small rented cottage in a quiet part of Tokyo. They work at home as freelance writers. They no longer have very much to say to one another.

One day a cat invites itself into their small kitchen. She is a beautiful creature. She leaves, but the next day comes again, and then again and again.

New, small joys accompany the cat; the days have more light and colour. Life suddenly seems to have more promise for the husband and wife…”

The woman in this novel not only fashioned a bed out of a cardboard box for Chibi the Neighbour Cat, she would regularly fry her up a mackerel and cut it into little pieces and leave it out in a special dish.

“We’re not that bad!” I said to Gareth. There are no box beds nor mackerels round here. We’re basically being used for a quiet place to sleep. She’s still mostly indifferent to us, zipping back out the window as soon as she hears the tyres of her owner’s car crunching on the gravel driveway.

But my guilt came from feeling so emotionally attached to a strangers’ cat. I have no interest in any other cats, I’m just besotted with this one. Yes, our poky wee bathroom is damp and dark so the window does need to be opened a lot to prevent mould… but really, all day, in the dead of winter? Deep down I knew that every time I heard the plip-plop of paws leaping from window ledge to bathtub to bathroom floor, my sad and lonely freelancer’s heart skipped a happy beat.

So I decided to come clean with Neighbour Cat’s owner. It was time to put an end to this cat borrowing, as much as it pained me to do so. I met her in the car park one morning.

“Hi! Umm… have you got a minute to chat?”

“Oh!” she said, “Is it my cat again? Has she been bothering you?!”

“No! Not at all. It’s just that she comes in almost every day, and I thought you should know where she was. And also to assure you we’re not cat-nappers! She just comes in through the bathroom window and finds somewhere for a snooze.”

“She really is a sweet cat.”

“Sure is,” I said casually, though inside I was screaming SHE IS THE GREATEST!

“Well… just chuck her out if she starts to annoy you!”

“Will do!”

So far she hasn’t annoyed me, and she still chucks herself out when ready.

Neighbour cat exits

About Shauna Reid

Ahoy there! I’m Shauna, an author, copywriter and content mentor. I love telling stories about life and helping others to tell theirs.

Find out more about me and how we can work together – I’m now booking for December 2022.

47 thoughts on “The ethics of a guest cat

  1. Btw that white halo around her front feet is her wild and fluffy neck fur, not a really filthy window 😉

  2. You’re fine because as you point out you’re not doing owner stuff like collars and food and beds. Anyway you know they say it takes a village to raise a cat. Or something like that.

    You can get enamoured with our cats when you come to visit. They are way fluffy also. I won’t mind.

  3. I love posts about this cat! I LOVE CATS! I think it is good you mentioned to her owner that she has been coming over a lot because now you know the owner isn’t fussed about this at all so no need to feel guilty! 😀 Cats and pets in general really do add more moments of joy to the day. Agree with the comment not to feed other people’s cats – as it isn’t good for their health to get extra meals and also you never know -a cat might be on a special diet for kidney health etc. so having different food can be harmful.

  4. Well, jeepers, it would never cross my mind to feel guilty about such a thing–it’s free cat-sitting!

    It’s not as if you’re feeding it X food and it should only eat Y food for obscure health reasons you’d not know about (which wld be the case for 1 of my kitties). That kitty is visiting of its own volition and it sounds like it just likes the company.

    And please remember that due to this lovely blog, we ALL love the kitty and would miss it terribly, should its visits cease. =)

    However, it’s terribly considerate of you to ask. =)

  5. I had a cat when I was growing up who would wander away for days. Apparently several people within the 5-mile radius thought he was their cat.

    You may think the cat is wandering into your house but she thinks you are living in her territory. It’s nice of her to let you!


    1. This cracked me up so much! That is the look she gives when I try to kick her off the bed… “You think this is YOURS, Human?”

      1. I have two cats myself, I know how they think! They stay indoors so I don’t have to worry about them getting hit by cars (more of a worry to me than them visiting with the neighbors).

  6. As an avid cat owner, this wouldn’t bother me for a few reasons.
    The cat is obviously not choosing you over his owners since he goes home at the sound of their car.

    I have been upset when people across the road feed my cat because it encourages her to cross the road and she has terrible road sense. Also if I never got to see my cat because she’d chosen somewhere else I’d be upset. If she just wanted somewhere to hang out while I’m out then I’d be really happy with the arrangement.

  7. cats don’t have owners, they adopt people! how nice that she loves you and your house as well as her other people. sometimes our zinc wanders off and I get worried if she doesn’t come back but I hope someone is being kind to her elsewhere and giving her shelter rather than her being out in the cold. love the pic of her disappearing out the window

  8. I once didn’t see my cat for almost 24 house so asked my neighbours if they’d seen him. I found out that he’d slept on the bed of neighbour1 the previous night, stolen breakfast from neighbour2’s cat that morning and watched Countdown on the sofa with neighbour3 that afternoon. He strolled home that evening. He’s a very handsome cat who thinks he owns many houses.

  9. There is a cat in our ‘hood called Lebowski. He is the boss of our street and just struts around and sits where he likes. Cool cat, though a much more a woof person.

  10. Well, that’s a relief… we’ve all grown rather fond of Neighbor Cat, haven’t we? She really is a beautiful cat. I love that artsy through the window shot.

  11. Love this post, Shauna – especially that last photo (what a cracker!!). Our neighbour’s cat does the same to us…even though we already have two. They’re a cute little trio all curled up together.
    Even more amusingly, our big orange Maine Coon has decided to befriend some different neighbours over the back fence who have taken to grooming him (tart!) – he comes back looking immaculately coiffed.

  12. I think it’s perfectly fine as long as you’re not feeding him. People who have cats that are allowed outdoors should expect the cat to follow his instincts, which is all about his own comfort. Neighbor Cat is awesome, enjoy! Loved that last photo as well.

  13. I have to take exception to this situation. It’s dangerous for a cat to let it roam outdoors at will. An outdoor cat has an average lifespan of only three years. Cars, diseases, parasites, dogs, animal abusers – all of these are serious risks for the outdoor cat. Plus the damage the cat can do to the local bird population and neighbors’ gardens. It’s no better than letting your dog run free. To me, letting a cat outside without supervision is tantamount to neglect. So I can’t think much about the owner’s feelings, when they don’t seem to care what happens to their pet!

    1. Most of my family’s cats have been outdoor cats and most have lived MUCH longer than that. One lived more than 20 years.

  14. Unfortunately, one of our cats was so unhappy in our home that she decided to permanently adopt a neighbour. Tessa had been sent to us by a friend of our daughter’s who could not keep her in the new apartment where she’d moved. She never liked living in a home with other cats, acting snarly and feral not only towards the cats but towards us (I’m talking bites and scratches that drew blood). When she finally did get out of the house, she disappeared for a couple of weeks and we thought that was the end of it…till we spotted her crossing a neighbour’s lawn. With the neighbour’s help (“I thought she was a stray when she showed up mewing pitifully on my front porch one stormy night, so I fed her!”) we re-captured Tessa and took her home, where she went back to the snarly, feral behaviour. Eventually we realized something had to change. Although she did get used to going in and out of our house through the cat flap and would come inside to eat, she still preferred the neighbours’ hospitality. She began lurking on their front porch, darting inside the house whenever the door was open, after which she would make the most comfortable chair her throne and then snarl and scratch at anyone who attempted to move her. When the neighbour began to complain that it was an intrusion on their privacy and that we just weren’t taking care of our own cat (why would she prefer someone else, if she was being properly fed and loved at home?) we decided to get rid of her. She was the only cat we were never able to make friends with. I hope she found a nice home where she could be an “only cat” and where her human companions wouldn’t expect too much from her in the way of cuddles.

  15. Bella the Neighbour’s Cat, has been our fluffy friend over the past couple years, after she randomly charged through our door.
    She visited on nearly a daily basis; just to relax and cuddle on the sofa. We grew very fond of her, and looked forward to her visits.
    She and her human family however, moved away yesterday.
    Yesterday morning, she frantically barged into our flat to hide under the bed from the entire moving process; she’d never gone under the bed before.
    We called her out, and were blessed to have had 20 minutes of final kitten cuddles before we needed to leave for work.
    I gave her a last snuggle, then had to put her out, as we needed to get going.
    But Bella, didn’t want to go; and made it very obvious by meowing by the back door.
    Her human parents must have come along to collect her, for now she is gone.
    I hope Bella all the happiness in her new home.

    We obviously couldn’t steal her, but I still can’t help feeling that my heart is broken.


    The torment of being an absolute softy.

  16. Reading these posts have really helped me realise that I’m not the only one struggling to know what to do about a visiting cat! We moved into a new flat at the end of November last year, and there is a cat flap in our front door, which the previous owners had installed for their pet. Almost immediately, a cat appeared at our door and miaowed and miaowed to be let in, before promptly throwing herself through the unlocked cat flap. I wasn’t sure what to do, but as she seemed hungry I fed her some tuna. Big mistake number 1! She basically never left after that, only popping out occasionally for a wander. My husband and I were puzzled, was she a stray? Was she a neighbour’s cat? I know cats often go visiting, but she moved in immediately and completely and never looked back! This caught me totally off guard, I assumed she was just visiting. I tried to ask the neighbours, who just shrugged. Time went on, and we truly fell in love with her. I was particularly smitten as I work from home, so she was my companion. She was more like a dog in some ways, walking with me to the post box and the local shop, and waiting outside to walk me back. She would go to sleep on my feet every night. But I was troubled as to who she was and why she had just appeared. I looked on lost pet pages every day to check if someone was missing her, and thought about taking her to a vet to be checked for a chip. Eventually, an older couple from a few streets away identified her a cat who had lived in our street, but recently moved to a few streets behind us. Long story short- I got in touch with the lady who owns her, who said they had been missing her, but he had popped in every so often, so they knew she was safe. She was probably miaowing with confusion as to why she couldn’t get into her old house, which she looked like a little lost soul to me. Her new home was also having some building work done in it, hence why she also might have been looking for a quiet bolthole. They asked me to stop letting her in at all, so they cat would settled back with them. I am of course, going to miss her more than I had realised, but I would never want to pet pinch! I have been contemplating leaving the country when I lock the cat flap, and I will be unable to bear seeing her little face all confused as to why I won’t let her in… 🙁 Deary me, the mess I got myself into after the first time I let her in! Lesson learned!

    1. Oh Ellie! That’s heartbreaking! Those little furry buggers know when they’re on to a good thing, don’t they?! Argh I feel so bad for you, it must be so hard to lock the cat flap. Boo 🙁

  17. We have had a neighbourhood cat come visit and stay sometimes overnight. Oliver visits every neighbour and we all tend to feed him. I had actually called the SPCA as he had an ear tag. Got the owners number and all she said was … oh “he’s a friendly cat”. Nothing else. Other neighbours have called her an it seems to be no real concern if Oliver visits us all.

    Last night Oliver came into our living room depositing a sandwich zip lock bag of cat nip at our feet. Such a great cat… he’s soothed our hearts as our 2yr old cat had been hit by a car a few months before and they both had met each other. Feel guilty at times but since he visits everyone and owners attitude is relaxed… we keep seeing him.

    Should I go talk to the owner again?

    1. He sounds like a great cat! I think honesty is the key and you’ve been honest with the owner, and it sounds like they don’t mind! I felt soooo conflicted about our Neighbour Cat, but I spoke to the owner and told them that the cat was visiting frequently and often sleeping over – totally upfront – and they didn’t mind at all. We even ended up officially cat sitting for a couple of months when the owner was between houses 🙂

  18. I am so happy that I found this post. I read it as well as every single comment. I am comforted to know that I am not the only one that has been in the situation that I am currently in. My neighbor’s cat is a gorgeous one-eyed black and white persian. He is a ball of fur. For months I would always see him roaming the streets and didn’t think much of it or really care because I am a dog person not a cat person. He would appear at our front porch, back deck and every single time I took my dog out, the cat was there, following us and rubbing against my legs and my dog’s legs. He was fearless so I started calling him “gangster-cat”. I would always shoo him away, but no matter what time of day or night that I took my dog out, he was there, always trying to follow us into the house which I would NEVER allow. One Saturday morning when my husband took the dog out, he ran inside, upstairs and jumped on my bed and laid on my chest and started purrrrring. I tried to get him off as I was afraid of fleas but he would not move and right then and there he won my heart. He started coming over every day, spending hours at our house but without fail, at night time he would go by the door and leave (I assume he went to his house). After a few weeks, he started spending the night. We now even have a morning routine where he wakes me up without fail at 5am and together we go to the basement where I work-out and he is there with me. But now I am feeling guilty. I am in love with this cat and he belongs to someone else. I have wrestled with whether to tell his owners or not because I am so afraid that they will keep him away. But after reading all this, I think the right thing to do is to talk to them. I have heard his owner call out for him twice this week and I now know his name is Gizmo. But I ask myself, why doesn’t he want to be home? Now that he is at my house he is inside most of the day but before he was ALWAYS outside. He is terribly matted and I wish I could take him to get groomed. When his owner calls he doesn’t even flinch. I want to keep him but I know the right thing is to talk to my neighbor so wish me luck!

    1. Hi Jennifer!

      Did you end up talking to the owner?What happened ? I am in the same situation.Cat has been with us for 2 years, not being fed by us, but she still wanted to stay and spend time with us. She is like a dog, following me around everywhere, cutest cat ever! I received a letter from the owner ( when we moved in 2 years ago, I got in touch with her about the cat, so she suspects she is here ) , the cat hasn’t been home for weeks and that she can re register the cat’s microchip if we want to keep looking after her. I’m not sure what to do, my landlord may allow me to keep her, at the moment I’m not allowed to have pets… I’m spending hours reading up on how others dealt with similar situations.I just want what’s best for the cat and even if I put her outside, she still won’t go home and now the owner wrote that she is fighting with one of their cats as well. I’m torn and have no idea what to do and it breaks my heart to see her so unhappy.

  19. I fell in love ‘truly, madly,deeply’ with a neighbour’s cat over the course of 3 years and sent a text message to the cat’s human recently when I noticed he was spending a lot of time at mine and wondering if his human was away (sorry long sentence) only to get a text back saying ‘never let him in your house again’ She was obviously upset. I felt like a criminal. Missing factor? Cat behaviour! Every cat owner should know that you CANNOT own a cat – they own YOU!

    1. Ohh noooo! I so feel for you. You are so right! Cats do whatever the heck they want, at all times. Is the cat still coming around? 🙂

  20. This is absolutely hilarious. I see it’s an old post, but I stumbled on it while trying to understand my neighbors’ cat who has, for all intents and purposes, moved in with us. As soon as I started realizing Poppy was moving in, I went and spoke with the neighbors. They were so nice about it. I’m not feeding her, so they seem to be happy for her to come over as long as she’s not bothering me. Bothering me?? I’M HEAD OVER HEALS IN LOVE WITH HER!! I’m a freelance writer too. I suppose: 1. We’re always at home, an advantage to cats looking for attention. 2. Lonely souls who would pour love all over anything that shows us any kind of attention. Anyway, I can relate to so much in this post. Did your neighbors’ cat eventually move out and find somewhere new to visit? What happened in the end?

    1. Oh that’s SO COOL that the neighbour is okay with it! I’m glad this arrangement can continue 😉

      Neighbour Cat eventually moved… it was a sad day! But we moved not long after that, and after a suitable mourning period we ended up getting our own cat, Ziggy! 🙂

  21. Lovely story 🙂

    I work from home and used to have a dog who sadly passed last year. I miss him so much and I got another dog that didn’t work out and I was beside myself with everything that happened.

    Soon after a black and white cat came to visit and visit and visit ! to the point he was with me in the morning, noon and evenings. He hung out with me, wanting my love and attention which never wained.

    This cat saved me. A year down the road I am so grateful for his presence and I love him for sure.

    His folks know he visits me and they are happy about it. They have a baby now, and I do wonder what would happen if they move. I would really miss him and would hope to stay in touch. Can cats do Facetime? 🙂

    1. Oh Brett! Think there’s something in my eye… this story is just the best. So glad he found you and that his folks are cool with it! I hope they don’t move for a good long while. It’s crazy how much you can love a random cat <3 🙂 🙂 🙂

  22. I can’t help but notice, most of these stories contain a black and white cats. I just recently for the last 3 nights got befriended by a black and white cat too, which took all of 5 minutes. When I was in my teens, a couple decades ago now, I had another black and white cat that would come over everyday after school, eat and sleep and then leave for it’s home. Seems the black and white ones are most common to be, for lack of a better word, studs or studettes..I can’t help but find that intriguing.

  23. So pleased to see this post about neighbourhood cat etiquette as I’ve been adopted by a beautiful grey Burmilla (a change from the black and white cats you’ve been talking about)… I know his name but not his owners. He is extremely beautiful and wonderful company keeping me company when I’m working from home and especially during this time of the Pandemic. Recently he’s started coming more frequently and when I try to put him out at night he shoots back in and rolls over and stretches his body to full length and playfully shows me his gorgeous white fluffy tummy. I believe he lives with a big furry ginger cat and maybe the reason for adopting me is he likes being the one and only cat. Anyway, I absolutely love him and feel it’s such an honour to have him giving me his company.

  24. My husband and I have a grey/black and white cat that has adopted us. We love him to death. His whole personality has changed he even demands playtime every day. By demand I mean he has a certain play area and he’ll stand there and stare at you until you give in and come play. We let him out hoping he’ll go back to see his parents, and I truly hope he does, But inevitably he shows up back at our door. I am afraid to talk to his owners :(. There has been snow on the ground the whole time and I hate to leave him out in it too long on the off chance that he might go back home. He doesn’t like to be picked up/carried so I can’t exactly take him to his parents. There are other neighbors that he likes to visit as well, and a cellar that he likes to sleep in. Occasionally one of his parents will come looking for him. The one time we were visiting on our front porch and he ran away from his parent. He clearly had no intention of going home, even seemed afraid. I wish there was some way to communicate with his parents anonymously….

  25. When I say on the off chance that he might go back home I don’t mean that I’m afraid he will but rather I’m afraid he’ll be outside in the cold and damp and NOT go home….

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