If Two People Claim a Lost Cat, Who Should Get It? – The New York Times

Driving home late one night, I saw a cat run into the street and get hit by a car. I stopped and picked him up. He had no collar or tag. Our local emergency vet pronounced him in stable condition but wouldn’t keep him because he was a stray: no collar, no tag, no microchip. All local shelters were closed until noon the next day, so I took him home. I posted photos on nextdoor.com that night and on a Facebook “lost pets” page the next morning. When my vet’s office opened, I took him in and dropped him off.

When I spoke to the office later that afternoon, they said the cat had been a victim of neglect. He was recently neutered, but he was filthy and covered in fleas; it appeared from his condition that he had been living outside for quite some time (probably both before and after the neutering).

The vet’s office said they knew of a potential adopter who would give the cat an excellent home. I hadn’t received any response to my online posts, so I agreed and paid for the exam.

The next day, two different people responded to the Facebook post and claimed that the cat was theirs. I thought long and hard about the right thing to do. A few of the things I considered were the cat’s condition (indicating neglect), as well as the fact that he had no collar, no tag and no microchip: How to know which claimant to believe? Meanwhile, the cat has been living with the adopter found by the vet, and by all accounts, he is happy and getting healthier in his new home and is being kept indoors.

Alternately, was my decision not to facilitate reunification wrong, and were the previous owners’ claims paramount, despite the cat’s neglected condition? Should I not have allowed the private adoption and instead insisted that the cat go to a shelter?

Name Withheld

It was good of you to take such care of this cat. Let’s be sure, though, that you face the quandary you describe. It’s possible to imagine less malign scenarios. The vet thinks that the cat was neutered recently but was living outside for longer. Yet sometimes when people encounter a free-roaming cat, they arrange for it to be neutered and released. (T.N.R., for “trap-neuter-return,” is the term of art here.) Or conceivably, the cat escaped from its owner a year ago, and all this happened since. As for the two claimants: Maybe they’re co-owners. Maybe one has lots of pictures that would establish ownership. Or maybe one has made an honest mistake, which a closer examination would put right. If you’re going to be depriving somebody of a pet, you want to be certain of your conclusions.

Suppose, though, that the cat’s owner establishes his or her claim and that you confirm your suspicions that the cat was neglected at home. (Which, as I say, now sounds like a premature inference.) All states have laws against animal cruelty, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals can help you find the right local agency to contact. Nobody’s property rights in a pet include the right to abuse it.

I am going on a weeklong, privately chartered cruise. I began planning this trip in the fall of 2017 while torridly in love with a dear friend who had become much more. We included his friends and mine on our boat, and there are about half a dozen of us. After we chartered our boat, the boyfriend and I broke up. One of the many reasons we broke up is that I learned he had not recovered from his extreme binge-drinking habits.

In the past, I have witnessed him cornering women in bars and parties and grabbing their hair. These episodes never escalated to serious battery or frank sexual assault, but their inappropriateness and inherent danger do not escape me.

As I recall these episodes, I feel ambivalence about having him on our trip. It is too late to “evict” him, but I am unsure of my responsibility to the other women. On one hand, I do not want to bias them toward a person who may not behave badly at all. On the other hand, I am fearful that not warning them may be unfair.

Have I made a grave error in planning this trip with my ex, who despite his goodness is a potentially dangerous presence for women? Should I warn the women of his tendencies or practice extreme vigilance and ensure that his behavior does not escalate into aggression?

Name Withheld

It’s a vacation on a yacht. There will be drinking. If a member of your party gets unpleasant or abusive when that happens, people need to know at the start. It may not make for a great holiday spirit, but you owe it to them to be straight about what has happened. If you feel you can safely do so, why not first tell your ex-boyfriend that, given what you’ve witnessed, you’ll have to warn the others? He can decide whether he wants to stick with his plans.

My 19-year-old son has been working for a local landscaper during his summer break from college. The crew chief for his group of workers uses racist, homophobic and other offensive language on a regular basis. After a few weeks, my son took a different job, in part because of this unpleasant work environment. I’m sure the

crew chief is a valued employee and works hard. But should either of us inform the owner of the company that their crew chief uses this language?

Name Withheld

Your son has no beef with the company, just with the atmosphere created by the crew chief. That atmosphere has contributed to the loss of a steady worker. Maybe your son could find a way to convey his concerns to the actual offender. If not, it would be a courtesy to tell the owner what happened. (I’m assuming there’s no reason to fear retaliation.) But let it be your son’s decision. He’s old enough to vote, marry and serve in the military; he doesn’t need you to speak on his behalf.

~Kwame Anthony Appiah teaches philosophy at N.Y.U. He is the author of  “Cosmopolitanism” and “The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen.” To submit a query: Send an email to ethicist@nytimes.com; or send mail to The Ethicist, The New York Times Magazine, 620 Eighth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10018. (Include a daytime phone number.)

Source: If Two People Claim a Lost Cat, Who Should Get It? – The New York Times

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