My boyfriend, John, has a female cat. He's had her for a long time. He also happens to have a friend, Lily, who loves cats. Over time, Lily went from being a cat lover to being a cat activist, adopting stray cats, neutering/spaying others, providing food, rescuing kittens and so on, out of her own pocket. I admire what Lily does. She really cares about cats.

Now, a few months ago, Lily convinced John to adopt a male kitten. (John and Lily used to be house-mates in the UK, they know each other for quite some time).

Lily reassured John that she would be covering the kitten's expenses, even his food. I told John we should adopt the kitten only on the condition Lily helps us with the vaccines and the neutering and since this would be taken care of, I agreed. I love cats myself and used to have two.


Lily did buy food for the cat a few times, and John has since had numerous discussions with Lily about feeling bad having to accept her help.

Lily has recently been asking us when we are taking the kitten to the vet (when it shouldn't have been up to us in the first place) and John hasn't clearly told Lily we can't do it until today when they had a phone call that didn't go very well.

Lily accused John of not caring about his cat, (John hasn't spayed his female cat-it's been years) and how bad this is for her (well, she never goes outside and was the only cat until now), while John reminded Lily of her promise and how it was her responsibility to take the kitten to the vet. In the end, Lily told John she won't be able to pay for the neutering yet even though she knows the kitten is almost 6 months old and needs to be neutered soon. John worries we might end up with a pregnant cat. And we don't want that.

My position:

I keep reminding John that I agreed to adopt the kitten on the condition Lily would cover the cost of the neutering and the vaccines (as an incentive to convince us to adopt the kitten). I'm also planning on moving in the future and I don't want to end up with more cats than I can handle.

John's position:

Wishes Lily didn't have to help. Also doesn't like being told what to do about the female cat. Had been hesitant asking Lily's help with the kitten, but did so after getting upset.

Lily's position:

John should have spayed the female cat but doesn't address what needs to be done about the kitten.

John ended the phone call (he hung up on Lily after she was yelling at him for not agreeing with her about the female cat), telling me that I should handle this with Lily, get into a fight or whatever I think necessary, next time.


(If I get involved), how can I make Lily realize neutering the kitten can't wait? How can I/we avoid discussions about what's right or wrong about the female cat?

  • 31
    I think he learned the value of an oral agreement... Also, this seems to be John's issue to resolve (since he agreed to take the cat), not yours. Honestly I don't see any benefit in your involvement.
    – user3169
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 23:51
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    The reality is that the physical owner of the cat now has responsibility for its care. Perhaps it would be better for you to help him care for the cat, and drop the whole Lily thing.
    – user3169
    Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 0:07
  • 3
    Given that it is the male/female combination that is your problem, is there anyone in a similar situation who might be able to swap your male for their female, even temporarily until someone can afford the vet costs ?
    – Gary Myers
    Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 1:35
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    I agree with user3169. When you adopt a cat, you take responsibility for it. The fact that somebody else is going back on a promise to you is unfortunate, but in no way frees you from that responsibility. Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 11:08
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    @Tycho'sNose Even though it is not technically your responsibility as much as John's, sometimes it helps to bring in a third party to take the fall. It is easier to swoop in from outside the situation and pile on the pressure than it is for the original person to do so. It's like good-cop/bad-cop interrogating.
    – Aaron
    Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 18:06

9 Answers 9


It's not exactly an interpersonal solution, but many places offer free and reduced cost animal services.

Here's one for the UK: http://www.cats.org.uk/what-we-do/neutering/financial-assistance that appears to offer

FREE, £5 AND £10 neutering

As far as an interpersonal solution goes I would probably drop the matter.

If anything I would advise Lily to seek out working with a shelter or organization rather than trying to go it alone and run into problems where she ends up overextending and making promises that she can't keep.

Placing animals like this may feel like a good thing to do, and in some cases it can be, but getting into these situations isn't going to be good for her or the kitties in the long run. She'll likely end up biting off more than she can chew and end up with more animals than she can properly care for. Where an organization will very likely have more resources and better facilities.

I've met a few people like Lily. They have great big hearts and good intentions, but they often get in over their heads.

  • 1
    Lily should consider working with a cat charity such as the Cats Protection in future, as they help with costs such as getting neutered once a cat is rehomed (We had 3 kittens from them). It's far better/easier than promising to help out and then being unable to. (I know this doesn't help in this specific situation, but will help others who maybe want to help the cats who need rehoming.) Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 14:58
  • The direct link (I've just found it) to the neutering offers is here... cats.org.uk/what-we-do/neutering/current-neutering-campaigns Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 15:01
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    Isn't the question tagged southern europe? The UK is in the north of Europe. Lily and John know eachother from the UK
    – user3114
    Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 15:19
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    @djsmiley2k I have suggested that to Lily and to even crowd-fund her own non-profit. Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 15:55
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    @djsmiley2k I very strongly second the recommendation. I knew someone who took in several cats they couldn't afford to fix immediately, and ended up with a "crazy cat lady" size swarm when she couldn't give kittens away faster than the catsplosion got out of hand. Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 20:46

tl;dr: give the cat to a shelter.

Everything in this post refers to "the cat" as the male kitten. The female cat has been around for a while now and doesn't seem to be a problem.

Ultimately a deal was struck between John and Lily, with some understanding between you and John about its terms (since it affects you greatly). So far all promises have been broken. Lily can't pay for the cat, the cat isn't getting routine procedures done, and John hasn't been able to guarantee that the cat is stress-free to you.

This can be kind of a good thing, because now you can start at the beginning and figure out what everyone wants without a lot of baggage about past deals.

At this point I'd recommend you to stop listening to Lily, because she dumped this cat on you and won't pay for anything she said she would. She's walking a road paved with good intentions, and her involvement won't help you in the slightest. She's only causing harm. Forget her (for the purposes of this cat situation).

This leaves the two people who are actually important - you and John. John is the one who agreed to take the cat, so it's his now. Fair or not, promises or not, that's the reality of the situation. So there really are two choices;

  1. He keeps the cat, pays for everything himself, and this all becomes ancient history.
  2. Give the cat to a shelter where it'll be placed with someone who knows they can take care of it.

You've mentioned in comments that the first option isn't really viable, you both don't have the extra money to spare on this cat.

So give it to a shelter. This is what shelters are for - exactly this kind of situation. John may want you to handle this, but he should do it. It is, after all, his cat.

Judging by the description of what Lily said during the heated phone call, she will protest this. She'll talk about how the cat needs this or that, how it's a poor thing, etc. She'll probably try to stall and tell you that she can get the money in short order. Don't listen to her, she's manipulating you - even if she means well by it. She needs to understand that she is the one who put the cat in this situation by biting off more than she could chew. She may try to cope by blaming you and John for putting the cat in a shelter, but ultimately it wasn't your call - if she wanted a stake in the cat's life she should have held up her end of the bargain (or kept the cat herself).

With drama like this it's best to rip the band-aid off and move forward. Lily messed up, a cat got put in a shelter, drama occurred. The sooner it's behind you the better.

  • Thanks for your answer @Knetic. We have grown attached to the kitten or else we would probably give it to a shelter. Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 16:06
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    @Tycho'sNose If you can't afford to take care of the cat, then whether you've grown attached to it is (unfortunately) not relevant. You could try something other than a shelter, e.g. maybe you have a friend who is both willing and capable of taking full responsibility for the cat, but at the end of the day it sounds like none of you, John, or Lily are (currently) in a position to take care of this cat. Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 21:56
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    @Tycho'sNose the problem is, no matter how good your intentions are, if you aren't in a position financially to look after the cat you aren't doing it any favours by keeping it. The deal you made has been broken, so you should either hand the cat back to Lily or to Cats Protection. It's in the cats best interest to get the care it deserves. Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 9:35

I like those those answers mentioning charity services which can sterilize cats for free. If such are not available, you will have to either (a) give up one cat for adoption to another household, or (b) enjoy you some kittens.

This is because Lily is unlikely to step up on this. She knows what she agreed to, and just isn't doing it. It kind of confuses me why she didn't take the cat herself, if she's going to be financially responsible for it. Anyway.

I'll suggest that John should be angry at Lily -- not for telling him to neuter his cat, but for reneging on her clear promise. He should also be angry at himself for agreeing to a pretty-much-unenforceable deal.

Okay, the takeaway...

  • Cats need to be sterilized or adopted out

  • Don't take in dependents you can't support out of your own resources

  • Recognize what Lily's promises are worth

Update after question update:

I'll agree with some other posters who advise you not to get involved talking with Lily. Seems more like John's task, which is probably fruitless anyway. He might try calling her to her promise again, but she knows already. She either can't or just plain won't do it. That might explain why she got so angry; guilt often hides behind anger. You're just not going to get any relief out of her. And she will get more defensive the more she is pushed.

Since this is ISE, what's going to happen with you two and Lily? Well, after tempers have a time to cool, you two will still be disappointed in her, and she'll know it. If y'all want to keep her as a friend, resolve the actual physical cat problem first, then ease back into your dealings with her. Try to find forgiveness in your hearts, and don't rely on her for long-term commitments.

  • To be fair, it's not entirely clear who promised what to whom. The OP openly admits to being third party to this entire arrangement (John and Lily discussed everything). We don't know for certain that different things were said between them than what the OP has been told.
    – jpmc26
    Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 8:10
  • @jpmc26 It may be that John is being disingenuous, but I don't get that impression -- if he were, would he want OP to talk directly to Lily? That'd risk the real story coming out. Instead I'll suggest John is feeling "provider shame" because he can't support his cat himself. Am a bit disappointed with him in trying to make OP his hatchet-woman.
    – akaioi
    Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 15:18
  • You have some good advice and thanks for your answer @akaioi and for writing back after the update which I was advised to remove as I was asking a different question. I don't know how my boyfriend is going to handle this. We are just very disappointed right now. Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 16:04

Let me answer the final question after your edit (now removed):

If we forget about the money for a moment, how can we communicate to Lily that honoring her agreement is a matter of principle for us (it's the right and responsible thing to do)?

You don't.

You already told her ("John reminded Lily of her promise.") and she did not react well. Doing it a second or third time is unlikely to produce a different result.

You are not Lily's parent, it's not your responsibility to teach her manners. She's a grown-up, and with grown-ups you have two choices: Accept them as they are, or find other friends.

Trying to change a grown-up's behavior never ends well. (Unless you are very good friends and the other person asks for your help to change their behavior.)

  • Thanks for taking my edit into consideration for your answer. I was advised to remove it since I was asking a different question. Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 15:13

Unfortunately I don't think "interpersonal skils" are going to help you much here. It sounds like Lily has overstretched herself (easy to do if you are someone who can't say no when someone brings in a cat in distress) and has now pushed part of her problem off on your boyfriend.

If you and your boyfriend genuinely can't afford the spay/neuter at a commercial vet I would suggest looking to see if there are any charitable services in your area that can help for free or for a reduced cost. Beyond that if you want to keep the kitten you are going to have to scrape together the money somehow, maybe even consider borrowing it.

If you have to choose between neutering the kitten and spaying the cat then IMO the former makes more sense. Intact male cats often develop rather unpleasent behaviours like spraying.

  • 2
    You would think Lily would have offered to take the kitten to a place like that if there was one. It's a good point, but even she has to pay. I know this because we used to ask her how she can afford to do this for so many cats. She has never been able to do it for free. Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 20:44
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    @Tycho'sNose I think Lily is a liability, and you should ignore anything further she says. It's upto you and John to do the research now, or you can leave John to do it, as it isn't really your problem. Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 15:00
  • @djsmiley2k I wanted the kitten, don't get me wrong but I also feel betrayed by our friend. Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 15:50

It isn't Lily's cat. The cat belongs to you and John, verbal agreement notwithstanding.

The two of you adopted it. It's your responsibility now. Go back and reread the entire post and replace the word "cat" with "baby" and see how that sounds.

What if Lily moved? Died? Went on vacation? Was out of town for work a lot? Would the cat just be SOL?

If you re-shelter the cat, you've condemned the animal to die basically because you can't be bothered to care for it.

Whatever you choose to get out of the cat -- which sounds like "nothing" -- the cat is certainly going to get back from you.

  • 5
    In the case of a baby the post would be a moot point since I'd hope people wouldn't be neutering their babies. :)
    – Onyz
    Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 13:04
  • lol point taken. ok maybe not the whole thing, but def the spirit of it.
    – bretlowery
    Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 13:04
  • -1 for equating pets and animals to human babies. Not helpful. Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 16:45

This is an emergency situation. It might not seem like one, but it is.

In any emergency, your priorities are, in strict order:

  1. Ensure you are safe.
  2. Prevent the situation getting worse.
  3. Take action to improve the situation.

Number one: look after yourself. Here I think means, as the above posters have said: a) not getting involved with lily who has brought disruption to your lives and relationship, b) reducing tension with John, who is your boyfriend - as the above posters also say, his fault is being too nice.

Number two: prevent the situation getting worse. One of the cats needs to be neutered NOW. RIGHT NOW. Doesn't matter which one, you could find out which is cheaper and base your decision on that. I would try to keep them physically separate, sleep in separate rooms etc starting this very second, until you can get one of them neutered. Otherwise you'll end up with 10 kittens, and a 10x worse situation. Use your own money, it's an emergency and it's happening in your house right now.

Number three: Take action to improve the situation. Now you have some breathing space to consider what further action to take. Up to you.

  • Thanks for suggesting keeping the cats separated until we either borrow the money or find a place to neuter the cat for free. Luckily the male is still small and can't reach...I have realized from most answers and comments that it's better to let it be as far as Lily is concerned. Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 12:40

Let's be pragmatic and build some priorities.

My boyfriend, John,

Whatever is done you must prioritize this first.

So everything else is what you should be flexible on.

Cats are not a subject to be breaking up about (unless we're talking room fulls of them). And I speak as a person who dislikes cats intensely. But if my significant other wanted a cat, hey, there's a cat in my future - relationship first, other stuff is "negotiable" (i.e. you put up with it).

has a female cat. He's had her for a long time.

So that cat is OK with both of you and, as an old friend of John's gets next priority in your thinking.

He also happens to have a friend, Lily ... I admire what Lily does. She really cares about cats.

Lily is bottom of your priority list. And frankly from what you say, Lily put cats before people, so she is completely inflexible and her opinions are irrelevant to you and hopefully to John.

Now, a few months ago, Lily convinced John to adopt a male kitten.

Now you have a cat which is male in the same house as one that is female.

The rest of your story is irrelevant in a pragmatic sense.

You guys have two cats. Lily has opinions and that's all she has unless she wants to take back the kitten.

But you and John's options are simple :

  • Keep both cats. Neutering is a decision if you want to ensure no kittens. But that's a choice for both of you and both of you need to agree.

  • Keep John's old cat and pass the new kitten on elsewhere. You can give Lily first refusal and ask for a quick decision (set a deadline) before you do something yourselves.

  • Get rid of both cats. Seems very unlikely as one is John's long time companion, but it's an option.

Forget Lily and what she promised or said or thinks. She's an obsessive on this subject and does not have your needs or John's at the head of her priorities. Her happiness is not relevant.

But let's get back to this point :

My boyfriend, John

You must decide if keeping your boyfriend is worth more than any number of cats, kittens or their offspring. This may (depending on John's attitude) be something you have to accept as part of a relationship.

But you should set a boundary for John : no more taking pets from Lily or her friends regardless of what she says. Clearly it leads to too many problems, and, honestly, two cats is enough for two people (unless you want more kittens, of course).

(If I get involved),

You are involved.

As John's significant other both you and him should think of this as an issue for both of you.

how can I make Lily realize neutering the kitten can't wait ?

You can't.

Factor Lily out. You should gently express to John that she's not really involved practically and has effectively dump a kitten on him. Again, she loves cats, but not so much people.

How can I/we avoid discussions about what's right or wrong about the female cat?

Why avoid them ?

If you two can't talk out a problem over cats in your relationship, it doesn't bode well for something really complicated, like, well, everything else.

The female cat is an old friend of John's. If it's parts of his life then it's part of yours, but, yes, he does get to decide. Remember : prioritize your relationship over a minor issue about a cat.

The male kitten is the real issue. From a practical point of view John needs to decide if he wants the responsibility for that male cat (and all it implies) or he should pass that responsibility on.

If you're living together you get a 50% vote. If you're not, you get no vote. You can make gentle expressions of your opinion, but don't nag him : ask, don't tell. No matter what Lily gets no vote : she doesn't have to live with the consequences.

  • I don't think the post ever presented the need or desire to end their relationship, how did you even get there? I assume John being listed as "boyfriend" is just context.
    – kirkpatt
    Commented Sep 29, 2017 at 14:33
  • @kirkpatt - I think that might have been from OP's "planning on moving and don't want to wind up with more cats...." which sounds like OP is with John now, but won't be after a move. Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 16:46
  • Great job at prioritizing the different goals, and offering corresponding options.
    – breversa
    Commented Sep 10, 2020 at 10:41

It's a bit difficult to apply to the current situation but "non-violent communication" may help in others similar to it. It sounds like John has difficulty making his needs a priority; it took a lot of practice for me to learn to say how someone's behaviour affected me and how I felt about it. You can't decide why someone did what they did or how they feel about doing it but you can ask them.

You can make certain you listen actively, repeat back to the person what you heard them say and ask them if you heard correctly. If not, ask for clarification. (sometimes the difference between what I say and what my partner "hears" is stunning) It may be hard for someone to want to reach that understanding because it may feel like the subject is belabored but if the alternative is yelling and hanging up the phone.... it's a choice to make.

My guess is that both John and Lily feel unheard about aspects of the cats and expectations- cost sharing for John, spaying for Lily. If they want to continue their relationship do they want to leave this unresolved? I'd be uncomfortable with it; maybe they won't but to my mind, seeking common ground and understanding could help the human relationships and improve cat care (especially if it led to locating free or low cost spay/neuter services).

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