How can I stop my mother from letting in stray cats?

Viola's girl asked...

For the past several years my mother has fed the local stray cats in the neighborhood. She keeps boxes outside so they stay warm. All this was fine, but now she is letting them into the house. There are 9 semi-wild cats in and out of the house with only 2 litter boxes. We didn't notice until we went in a couple weeks ago and the entire house reeked of cat urine. My family spent hours cleaning and talked to her about getting rid of the cats. At first she refused, but now she says she will, but it's been weeks and nothing has been done. The last time we visited, the house smelled just as bad as before we cleaned it. She refuses to let us round them up and take them to a shelter or the Humane Society and got really upset when she caught us trying to catch a couple. She even refuses to keep them outside. At this point, the carpets and furniture in her house are ruined, but our bigger concern is the health issue. These cats aren't vaccinated and are wild and my mom is 88 with heart and allergy issues, not to mention she must be spending 100s a month on cat food. (While complaining she can't afford new dentures.) We have emailed animal control but they haven't responded. We just don't know what to do.

Expert Answer

Linda Adler is the director of Pathfinders Medical in Palo Alto, California. She has dedicated her professional life to helping patients and their families find optimal ways to deal with medical challenges. She has worked in all facets of the medical establishment, including primary care, research, and policy settings at UCSF, Stanford, and Kaiser Permanente. Her current focus at Pathfinders includes crisis management, mediation, and advocacy.

Viola's Girl,

What a challenging situation! I can imagine the toll this situation is taking on your family. It sounds as if you are doing everything you can to help, but I wonder if perhaps this new behavior is a sign of something else? Has your mother's mental status changed in other ways? Has she become more isolated recently, perhaps looking to her pets as a way of fighting a sense of loneliness?

I'd suggest that rather than focusing only on the situation with the cats, you try to gain some insight as to what else might be going on. The cats may be a sign of her declining physical physical or mental status, her inability to participate in other meaningful activities, etc.

Rather than arguing with your Mom about the cats, perhaps you can gently persuade her to see her healthcare provider? If you can attend that visit with her, ask for enough time with the doctor to explain your concerns. You might also consult with an elder care professional in your area, who can visit your mom and make additional suggestions for next steps.

Much luck with this situation!