Cats left in house after showing while we were on vacation...

kelhuckOctober 16, 2012

I'm beyond frustrated and don't know what to do....if I can do anything at all.

We left for vacation last week and came home to discover that our cats had been let in to the house during a showing on Monday, but weren't let out. We didn't get home until the following Sunday. So they were in the house without food or water or a litter box for almost 6 days. Well, I take that back.....they did have a litter box- my son's carpet. Thankfully the cats are alive, but the carpet is going to need replaced. We've tried spot treating, and we'll have a professional cleaning, but the company has already said that they probably won't be able to remove the smell entirely.

I have no idea what the protocol is for realtors and animals and am hoping you can shed light on this for me? I realize there is blame to be shared by all parties- my neighbor who was supposed to be feeding them for not calling me when the cats went "missing", me for not leaving explicit notes to make sure the cats weren't locked in the house. And I certainly don't expect the realtor to go chasing my cats around to get them out of the house. But I just keep coming back to the fact that we should have received a call from the showing agent letting us know that the cats are in the house so that we could send someone over to let them out.

I've got an email in to our realtor, so we'll see what she says. But I wanted to see what you all think should be/could be done about this.

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If, when I schedule a showing, the appointment center does not give specific instructions concerning pets, then if a pet goes in or out, I have to assume that all is ok. Did you leave specific instructions for buyer's agents as to what to do with the pets?
Sorry to hear about the mess up. I think your pet sitter let you down here.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2012 at 10:32PM
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@nc- thanks for the reply. We did tell our realtor we were going on vacation, and the scheduling desk was aware that we would be gone....don't know if that info is passed on to the showing agent or not. We didn't leave specific notes about the cats in the house. Because of this, I feel like we don't really have any recourse- everyone and no one is to blame all at the same time. My hubby thinks "someone" should pay for the carpet; I think we're going to have to chalk this up to 'lessons learned' and move on, no matter how frustrating it is.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2012 at 10:48PM
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In my experience it's worse when pets are let out of the house. Without you leaving explicit instructions I don't see how the showing agent is at fault here. I think that your pet sitter is the responsible party here.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2012 at 11:42PM
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Six days without food and water? I would be so grateful that my pets were fine that the cost of replacing the carpet in a single room would be the least of my concerns.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 12:14AM
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Amen, Artichokey.
The bother would be the worst of the carpet business, but even that pales in comparison to the danger to the pets.

The neighbor who was "feeding them" dropped the ball entirely by neglecting their responsibility. They should have called you after the first missed meal.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 6:25AM
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Did the Realtor know they were your cats? I would be angry that the Realtor was letting strange animals into my home.

I have the neighbors cat come to the door at our old house frequently. I would be mad as heck if I cam home and found it inside.

A bit different for you, since it was indeed your animal, but still. I would not let an animal into or out of a home unless specifically instructed that it would be acceptable.

In this situation, you would probably be best served to eat the cost of replacing the carpet, and if your husband needs a source of vindication, find a new Realtor and don't let this person get any of the money once your home does sell.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 7:50AM
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Other than the neighbor, did anyone know the cats were supposed to be outside?

I think part of the problem is that the usual default for pets is for them to be inside. So that if cats ran into a house while I was viewing it, I'd think,"Oh, the cats must have run outside during an earlier showing. I'm glad they are back safely." Even if I knew the owners were on vacation, it wouldn't occur to me that the cats needed to be outside.

The neighbor--well, really they should have called you. But I'll bet they didn't know where the cats were. And they were probably dreading having to make a call to tell you that your pets were missing for several days and were probably dead.

Really, if no one involved in the showing of the house, your agent, the scheduling desk, the showing agent, knew that the cats were supposed to be outside, then the fault is not theirs. The neighbor had no way of knowing where your cats had disappeared to.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 8:18AM
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But I just keep coming back to the fact that we should have received a call from the showing agent letting us know that the cats are in the house so that we could send someone over to let them out.

Your listing agent doesnt share with everyone who is showing your house that you are on vacation, not unless you wanted to be burglarized! They would, however, share that the cats "should not go in the house", IF YOU HAD GIVEN THEM THAT INSTRUCTION". Since you did not, the responsibility falls on you.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 11:04AM
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Circus Peanut

I also think the pet sitter is at fault here -- where did they think the cats were?? and why did they not call you to say the food was not being eaten? -- but as others say, it's a good thing they were at least safe, if uncomfortable and hungry (was a toilet seat left up? my cats will use that for water as a last resort).

My partner had the opposite happen: realtor let his inside cat go outside, where it was promptly run over and killed. So, in the greater scheme, I suppose you can just chalk it up as lucky and put it behind you. Sorry for your kitties' troubles though!

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 11:18AM
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They are outside cats. They could have been eating mice and bunnies for all the food sitter knows. If it was a rabbit in a cage, or a gerbil that can't forage on its own, then the lack of eating may have been a concern. An outside cat, not so much.

Plus odds are that there are roads in the OP's area, meaning there is a fair chance the cat(s) could have been struck by a car or something.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 11:45AM
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Sophie Wheeler

I understand that these are "outdoor" cats, but it is your responsibility to make sure that they are adequately cared for in your absense. That means either corralling them up in a garage or outbuilding where potential homebuyers won't be opening the doors and having the neighbor feed them there, or it means boarding them. Letting them roam free for a week, even with a neighbor supposedly feeding them, is NOT an option if you truly care about their welfare.

Choose a more responsible pet sitter next time, and make sure they have keys to your home. Then put the cats IN the home.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 12:49PM
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Look at it this way: at least you can probably be certain there aren't any remaining mice in your house!

And the poor things probably weren't peeing much towards the end unless they could get water from open toilet bowls (hopefully w/o chemicals).

A big part of this problem was the plan of leaving the pets outdoors and unattended for a week. You are very lucky to still have live animals.


    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 2:18PM
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Thanks for the replies, everyone.

With the benefit of hindsight, I do see that I should have left explicit notes about the cats (and will definitely be picking a different pet feeder). However, the possibility of them coming in to the house didn't really occur to us. I'm wondering if the viewers had children with them and the kids played with them and brought them in to the house?

Also, their food and water and litter are visible from the house on our porch, so I would think common sense would tell you that the cats that ran (or were carried) in to the house don't belong in the house. But....I do know there's the possibility that the realtor just didn't see the cats at all.

I think everyone involved has learned some lessons, and unfortunately, our lesson is going to come with a price tag (and fortunately, there's no cat funeral involved). I'm glad to have your responses so I can show them to my husband- hopefully they'll help him see the situation with some logic.

@Jonwr9- you're right; the neighbor just thought they were off being the country cats they are.

@circuspeanut- oh no! How terrible! I definitely am grateful that nothing worse happened. Toilet seats were not up- had to be staged for showings- so they were truly without water. :(

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 2:39PM
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Sorry this happened and it is called communication. Just put notes around, such as cats are outdoor cats, and I have taken care of other people's animals in a rural area and I went over everything with them before they left. And I did check everyday to make sure I at least saw them. I also had keys to the house and at least checked inside everyday also. But then I had cats myself and know how sneaky they can be.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 3:11PM
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Next time, it might be cheaper to board the cats.

I've done a lot of house and pet sitting. It isn't uncommon for indoor/outdoor cats to have food and water bowls and beds both inside and outside.

I'm guessing from your update that these are outside only cats? That is not the norm for most cat owners--the cats are either inside only or they are indoor/outdoor cats. Or they are barn cats (or garage cats) and their food and water and bedding is in the barn.

It is entirely possible that someone, realtor or buyer, thought the cats belonged inside. They may have thought that the food and water were outside only because you couldn't get the cats indoors before you left. They may have thought they were doing you and the cats a favor by letting them in.

And if there are squirrels or raccoons or the like in your area, they could have been eating the cat food. The pet sitter might just assume the cats were hiding from him/her--I've had that happen often enough, even with indoor cats. The food gets eaten, but if a cat is shy, I might go a week without seeing it.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 6:51PM
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I have never heard of anyone leaving their cats outside the entire time they are on vacation. I also would have assumed you wanted them inside and safe, not outside.

Cats can be hard to find in a house if they want to hide. So, how can you expect anyone to put them back outside if they want in??

Doesn't leaving cat food outside attract vermin?

    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 8:52AM
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I've never heard of leaving cats outside on a permanent basis. If I were the agent it would never occur to me UNLESS their were instructions. Also I think 6 days is a long time to leave any pet to themselves. Maybe look for a couple sitters in your area who will take hem in the house or a boarder.

Hubby may not want to hear it, but I think the fault lies with you guys. Sorry about the carpet... thank goodness they are ok. Poor babies :(

    Bookmark   October 19, 2012 at 8:59PM
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We have had the three kinds of cats so its not unheard of to to have them not come inside and yet still feed them on porch...

If the cats peed in that bed room, when u change the carpet and pad--make sure you seal the concrete foundation if that is what's under the pad.
If its something else, make sure you treat with something to neutralize the urine. Cat urine is extremely long-lived and came come back even if you put new pad/carpet down...
Since you had carpet cleaners in I assume that is the only room they used.

Please do make a note for the MLS info that cats are outside only.

When I was doing lot of house touring, there was variety in how sellers gave notice about pets. Sometimes we never knew if there were pets until we saw them.
Sometimes dogs were crated, sometimes in laundry room with guards up or free in yards...that was little scary to check patio/yard when we didn't know dogs' temperament...
Cats were usually left free inside and we always tried to never let them out...
We moved from Houston to Shreveport long ago with our cat. When we got to house before moving van, we brought bat in and left him in bathroom with food/water and letterbox in bath tub. Went back to house next day and couldn't find cat...he hid in cabinet under the sink for three days I think...
Of his own volition...and didn't come out as near as we could tell for any reason-- but he didn't mess in cabinet either...go figure.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2012 at 9:36PM
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It's kind of funny seeing the ways different parts of the country handle their animals. We're in Rural Farm Country America, so a dedicated outside cat is completely normal. Sure, we make them come in when it's very cold out, but they're usually crying to be let out the entire time. That's why I'm surprised they were in the house- they hate it in there!

The cat food and litter are just kind of a back up plan for them- sometimes they find their own food and sometimes they eat ours. I realize this has nothing to do with the realtor or my original post, but I feel like some of the posts have veered off to critique my pet handling choices. So I just want to make sure that everyone knows that our cats are definitely happy and loved (and have been spayed, too). Love it or hate it, this is just the farm country way!

Thanks for the advice, loves2read- we'll definitely add that to the showing instructions next time we leave town!

    Bookmark   October 19, 2012 at 11:24PM
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Thought u likely were rural but we have friends whose daughter lives in Dallas
She has 3 cats of her own and feeds feral cats from her porch/patio
So some city people do know about outside cats
In my area of TX we are in metroplex but have coyotes running in packs st times---they love cats
We keep ours in when coyotes are howling

Sorry for all misspelled words--in firstbpost
iphone keypad is bane of my posting at times

    Bookmark   October 19, 2012 at 11:43PM
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We live in a semi-rural part of a large metro area and, like loves2read, coyotes (and hawks/owls) take small pets on a regular basis, even in the most urban of areas. Sadly, it is also not that uncommon for people to shoot cats for the fun of it.

If you end up having a showing to people relocating from our area, without a note to the contrary, there is a probably at least a 50:50 chance they would assume that the cats should be inside. I agree with putting a note in the MLS, and would also put large signs in very visible locations by/on each exterior door.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2012 at 9:33AM
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that is good idea too--
most cats I know that live outside are pretty scary of strangers, even their owners
the OP's idea that the people viewing might have had children with them who brought cats inside could be accurate...

around here some postings are showing if sellers have cats inside because so many people have problems with allergies...they don't want to tour/buy house where cats were inside...

    Bookmark   October 20, 2012 at 12:36PM
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"then if a pet goes in or out, I have to assume that all is ok"

So, if you are showing a house and you let the dog go out and get run over by a car, "that's okay"???!!!!

    Bookmark   October 23, 2012 at 2:40PM
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A number of years ago, something similar happened in an office I worked in.

The people left town without letting the agency know (this was before scheduling companies).

They had 2 indoor cats & they had had a big dog, but it had...something.
died, kid took it to his new place, something.

In-house agent shows the house one day & there's the cutest little dust mop of a dog inside, friendly as all get out, bouncing off the walls, wagging, etc.

Cats are under the bed.

Agent notices the water bowl is empty, so she fills it & writes owners a note, something like:
"Congratulations on your new dog! showed house, filled water bowl, picked up pillows off floor."

Homeowner returns, flies into a rage, demands agency pay for the damage caused by...
somebody else's dog.

That's right.
The dog was a "neighborhood" dog, & of course after this nobody was claiming it.

Broker declined, said homeowner hadn't even told her they were going out of town, & agent did not let the dog in.
There was no way to find out who had let the dog in.

Homeowner said her insurance company told her "they're gonna make you pay for it", especially since agent had written a note "admitting" that the dog was in the house.

Broker contacts liability carrier who says:
no dice.

Brokerage had no way of knowing that a dog inside the house was not the homeowner's dog.

Adjuster said it would have been worse had the dog belonged there & the agent had let it out.

What you have to do, I think, is communicate *everything*, even if it seems like you're overcommunicating.

Tell agent you're going out of town, post placards on doors ("Dog in backyard is friendly but jumps on people" etc).

& realize that sometimes stuff just happens, & nobody's going to pay you for it.

The cats walked in like they lived there.
The dog walked in (probably) like it lived there.

Everybody lived over it.

& we did sell that house.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2012 at 3:00PM
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