Is it possible to break a commitment to an animal? Does giving a pet away make a person bad?

This thread is suggested by a post in another thread. First I’ll quote it:

At first glance, this statement seems a little odd to me. I have cats of whom I am quite fond, but I don’t think it’s meaningful to say I have any sort of commitment to them, largely because there’s not enough space in either of their tiny little brains for them to understand the notion of a commitment. Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which are not persons; they are felines. I believe I have the responsibility to treat them kindly, but that doesn’t include being their owner or guardian in perpetuity. If they become an inconvenience or impediment* to the way I wish to live my life, my duty is to make sure they are placed in the custody of another responsible and affectionate owner, not to keep them with me forever.

But then something occurred to me. I am friends with a married couple who have a developmentally disabled daughter. Though she is biologically an adult, she will never progress beyond the age of three or four, as I understand it. She will never understand the nature of commitment any more than my cats. But I’d say that my friends have a definite duty to take what is best for her into account; and if, say, they died, and I were given custody of their daughter, then I would have a duty to take what is best for her into account no matter the personal inconvenience.

Am I being inconsistent here?

*No, I did not use the words inconvenience or impediment by accident.

Cat’s aren’t people. 'nuff said.

I have this pet rock - it can no more comprehend the nature of commitment than a four-year-old…

I think parenthood is definitely a more serious commitment than pet ownership. However, I wouldn’t automatically assume that parents who, say, allow someone else to adopt their developmentally disabled baby, or have their developmentally disabled child living in a long-term care institution rather than at home with them, are necessarily Bad People. Consequently, I wouldn’t automatically assume that pet owners who try to find a new home for their pet are necessarily Bad People either.

That said, I do think there’s a case to be made in favor of treating the responsibilities of parenthood or pet ownership as a binding commitment, even if it’s not a mutual commitment consensually agreed upon with the child or pet. Nobody made you be a parent or a pet owner in the first place. If you voluntarily undertook responsibility for this helpless creature, then it does seem reasonable that maintaining that responsibility should be more important to you than your own convenience.

At that point, I guess, the issue of selfishness or irresponsibility depends on what level of “inconvenience or impediment” we’re talking about here. If you have to move overseas to someplace you can’t take the cats in order to be with your spouse, say, then finding a new home for the cats seems like a reasonable choice. If you’re trying to re-house the cats just because, say, you want to move into a fancy apartment building that doesn’t take pets, on the other hand, that sounds a little bit…mis-prioritized.

Oh, and I rather doubt that someone at the developmental level of a three- or four-year-old is really no more capable than a cat of understanding the concept of a “commitment”. A child of that age has some idea of what’s meant by “Mommy and Daddy will always be here for you.”

When you take on a pet, you take responsibility for it. That means that you need to find it a good home if the home can’t be yours. Now, if you do that frivolously, I reserve the right to think you’re a bit of an asshole, but that’s your choice.

We do judge the people who had Captain, our dog, before us. They had to move to Russia and left him at the no-kill shelter. Now I don’t know them from Adam but I know people who tend to have the kind of jobs where you suddenly need to move to Russia then you should be able to find a home for the dog and not just throw him in the shelter where you know an animal of his temperament is going to be absolutely miserable. Three months he cowered there!

ETA - I don’t think your responsibility to an animal has anything at all to do with their understanding of your relationship. An aquarium fish isn’t even a mammal and I think if you need to kill one and don’t bother to do so humanely then you’re a Bad Person, yes.

Giving away a pet certainly isn’t something that should be done frivolously, but “not frivolously” doesn’t mean “never at all”. If keeping the cats just isn’t a realistic possibility, and they make a real effort to make sure that they do go to a good home, then they’re doing their duty. The argument of “they shouldn’t have gotten pets in the first place if they can’t take care of them” doesn’t really hold up here, either: Maybe it would if these were kittens, but we’re talking about a 9-year-old cat, here, and they’ve presumably had it for a long time. How many of us know exactly what’s going to be going on in our lives 7 or 8 years hence?

When you take in a pet, you do have a commitment to it. That being said, there are different levels of commitment. If I agree to take in a friend’s dog, then that is a bigger commitment than taking care of their potted palm tree, and less of a commitment than fostering their 4-year old.

I think that when taking in a pet, you have a responsibility to care for it; however, there may come a time when the best thing you can do for your pet is to give it to someone else who can care for it better than you. Or you may find yourself in a situation where the well being of the pet is mutually exclusive with your own well being, in which case for your own self preservation the pet must be relocated.

Note that both of these scenarios could also apply in the case of the developmentally disabled child. Although I would expect more of an effort be made to accommodate a child than a dog or cat, there are times when the only reasonable solution is some sort of permanent institutionalization. I wouldn’t consider that necessarily to be breaking a commitment.

I’m looking at some jobs in New York City right now - great jobs, in an interesting city. Far more expensive to live than almost anyplace in the Beltway, though. My preference would certainly be to bring my cat - but if I can’t afford an apartment that will (a) allow pets and (b) be large enough for her to be happy, should I really forsake rewarding work for my cat? I think not, especially since my parents would probably be happy to take her in, and spoil her rotten.

Pets are valued companions in life - but they’re not millstones around our necks.

We definitely have a duty to animals we’ve chosen to care for. Does that duty go as far as it would for a human? Probably not. But the way I think of it, although a cat probably doesn’t understand “commitment”, it is capable of suffering.

Uprooting a cat will frighten it and cause it stress, and should be avoided. But it’s preferable to abandonment.

The cat I have right now came to me through a person who had to move and couldn’t take it along. Kitty was clearly upset by this, and I hope to care for her permanently so she doesn’t have to go through that again.

This is something that I am struggling with now. I got a cat 8 years ago, when I had a roommate who worked different hours than I did, and when I only had one job. Now, I work at least two and occasionally 3 jobs and live alone. I average being home 6 hours a day, 5 1/2 of which are of me sleeping. I make sure the cat is fed, he always has clean water and a clean litter box, but he is definitely lacking in attention and affection due to time restraints. Plus, one of my jobs does entail some travel.

I have a good friend that adores my cat, she will come over and play with him for hours. He seems to like her almost as much as she likes him. This friend of mine is currently on disability and doesn’t work. In addition, due to deteriorating health, is a bit depressed. The cat brings her joy. I’ve seen it. I’ve been seriously debating giving the cat to her to live permanently. Not only will it allow him to have the affection that he is lacking in his life with me it will also help to give her purpose and something to care and love.

I haven’t actually gone through with it precisely because of this commitment concept. I feel like I made a promise when I got my cat and I have a responsibility to keep that. I also admit that I worry about being judged for giving him up. On the one hand, in my opinion, my cats life will be greatly improved by having the love, affection and attention that I am not able to give him. On the other hand, how do I honestly know that he wants that and how do I know that he won’t be upset by being disturbed from what he knows as his home? I do not take my commitments lightly in any part of my life, but I also would want a situation where everyone is happy. So, I am torn on this and am curious to read how others would respond in my situation.

You should clearly quit several of your jobs. Duh!

That, or give the cat to your friend. Either solution would improve your cat’s well-being, which is sort of what the responsibility to the cat is all about, right?

Giving a pet away doesn’t make a person bad.
Throwing a pet away does.

Hard for me to answer objectively, because Blackjack, the best dog in the world, has made a commitment to me that he would probably give up his life to honor. He came to live with me after someone else was no longer able to honor commitments of any kind. But someone in between didn’t follow through on a commitment to that person, leaving my friend to live virtually alone for a year, dependent on strangers to feed him, while protecting the property of his former friend who had left for reasons he could not comprehend.

My parrot is so strongly imprinted on me in particular (basically, I am his wife) that to give him away absent a very compelling reason would seem to me to be cruel.

Other pets may be more adaptable, however.

A couple of years ago I went to the shelter to find an additional cat. The one I chose (or who chose me) was 7 years old and had been in the shelter for several months. Normally a cat that old is considered unadoptable. His former owners had a toddler who didn’t get along with the cat. There is no way I could consider them “bad people.” I’m sure it was a difficult decision for them, and I understand that their child’s welfare was the top priority. And I’m glad they made that decision, because the cat they gave up is one of the most wonderful cats I’ve ever had.

Couple points:

  1. I’m rather surprised at the lack of crazy animal people at SDMB. In other boards I frequent, it’s impossible to have any sort of discussion about animals.

  2. I read an article a long time ago that people don’t feel the same way about cats as dogs, and that in a survey of animal shelters, the reasons for giving up a cat were far less serious than for dogs. Also, people tend to believe that abandoning a cat is fine and that they can take care of themselves.

  3. Regarding the commitment of pet owners, imho, it’s far less serious than taking care of a human. However, how a person treats a pet is a pretty good indicator of how they would treat a human.

I think anyone thinking about being a parent should at least give a pet a try first. If caring for a pet seems a little overwhelming at times, you may want to avoid the whole parenting biz.

What if your commitment has a limit?

When I was in Cameroon, I got a cat knowing that I was leaving in two years. Mostly, I needed a barn cat to deal with the giant flying cockroaches and the like. Some kids brought me a stray street kitten. I fed her regularly and she came in and out of the house as she pleased. When I left, I left her with some trusted animal-loving friends- a veterinarian with a nice home not that different than mine. She was later adopted by another American who wanted to take advantage of her superb insect hunting skills.

I don’t feel bad about it at all. I got her vaccinations and fed her regularly, which is a lot more than she would have had as an African street cat.

If you are the sort of person who can give away your pet (assuming we’re talking about relatively intelligent, emotional types of pets, not lizards) because it is no longer convenient for the lifestyle you’ve chosen to live, then you absolutely should give that pet away!

And never get another, since you now know what sort of person you are.
There are certainly exceptions, of course, but 90% of the time it’s not necessary, it’s a choice. I’ve had dogs my entire adult life, and I’ve been poor more than I’ve been flush, and never, ever, for even a moment, did I contemplate living somewhere or doing something with my life that would require me to give up my dogs. When I worked full time away from the house, I always had two dogs so that they wouldn’t be lonely and bored.

i’m one of those people, generally speaking, but I respect the cat lovers. (And the cats, which is why, even though I don’t think it’s ok to abandon a cat, I don’t think it’s the crime of the century, either… even domesticated, cats are tough little fuckers. You bail on them, they can usually work it out. Dogs suck at it. Even when they manage to survive on their own they become physical and emotional wrecks. Cats stay cool.)

Cats are not dogs, they do not have the innate “attachment gene” that dogs do, it’s not how cats are made. Dogs are much more attached and needful of their humans, and giving them up, even to nice people, ranges from unkind to profoundly cruel, depending on the dog. That’s pretty much never true for cats.

I don’t think giving the pet away make someone bad, necessarily. But I do think that animals are more than a pet rock, and while still property, deserve more attention, maintenance, and affection than any non-living property.

Many people give animals away for valid reasons. panache’s anecdote is pretty valid. Life happens. It is silly to expect a couple to remain childfree for the sake of their pet. And if the pet cannot adapt, it is good for both pet and owners to give the pet another chance of good living with new owners.

That said, I know a couple of people who continuously keep getting pets and later getting rid of them. Those make me go :dubious: .

I do think that, at least when moving, people who have pets should consider them in their decision, and at least try to look for places within their price range that do accept and accomodate them.