Over the summer, a Bengal cat appeared on our back porch. (Bengals are an expensive breed of domestic cat that resemble tiny leopards.) It was meowing urgently and was much too thin. I could see its ribs. It had no identification, so I fed it a can of salmon because it wasn’t clear whether anyone else was feeding it. After that, it started coming by regularly. One day, it stayed into the evening, so we kept it overnight. We were worried about foxes. The next day, the cat appeared wearing a tracking collar, and its owner soon followed. He told us he had another cat and a dog, but he didn’t leave any contact information. Now it’s winter — and extremely cold — and the cat comes every day (without its tracker). We shoo it away at night, but it clearly wants to stay here, napping under the radiator. What should we do? We love the cat, but we don’t want to steal someone else’s expensive pet. Still, we’re not sure it has anywhere to go.
What a bind! I understand your concern about the optics of pricey pet abduction, but I am more worried about keeping this cat safe. Even outdoor cats require warm, dry shelter when temperatures fall below freezing. (Breaking: It’s cold outside!) You have no idea what happens to the cat after you shoo it out the door. And the failure of the owner to put a safe breakaway collar on it with contact information leaves you no humane choice but to keep it inside for now. (Other dangers: cars and predators.)
It’s possible that the cat was implanted with a microchip with identification information on it. Check this out with a local vet or animal shelter. (Leave your name and number, too.) Of course, the owner tracked the cat to your home before. It wouldn’t take the detective skills of a Hardy Boy to drop by your place again.
Now, on to the emotional component of your rescue operation: You’ve become attached to the cat. But remember you are only fostering it until you can assure its safety. (Easier said than done, I know, but it is also the price of protecting this animal.) If the owner shows up again, make sure the cat has easy access to shelter before you return it to him. And take his number this time!
When a Salute Feels Like a Slap
On a couple of occasions, clerks have helped me in stores, and at the end of our transactions, they put their hands together in prayer in front of their hearts and bow their heads. I feel this gesture is racist toward Asians. (I am Asian.) So far, I’ve bitten my tongue. What should I do?
Blame yoga. Most of the yoga classes I’ve taken end with students sitting cross-legged with our hands in prayer as we bow our heads to the teacher and say “namaste” — Sanskrit for “I bow to you.” Now, plucking this gesture from a yoga studio, where classes often explore ancient Hindu traditions, and bringing it thoughtlessly to a retail space seems like cultural appropriation to me — even without the spoken “namaste.”
I’m sorry this happened. I doubt the clerks mean disrespect to you or South Asians. That’s no reason to be quiet, though. If you feel comfortable speaking up, say: “You may not know this, but the namaste greeting is not just for yoga classes. South Asians use it even today, and people from that culture may find it hurtful or offensive for you to borrow it.”
Too Few Cooks in the Kitchen
My mother-in-law loves cooking and thinks she’s a fantastic cook. She dislikes restaurants and takeout. So, when we visit, which we do for a week at a time, we are forced to eat food she cooks at every meal. The problem: I find her cooking awful — almost inedible! When we visit, I am always hungry and often feel sick and weak from lack of food. My husband agrees about her cooking, but he is terrified of hurting her. What can I do?
Color me unimpressed by your ingenuity. If you hate your mother-in-law’s cooking, why not help her and make something you enjoy eating? Stop at the shops and buy some delicious cheeses and breads. Bring gifts of fancy nuts and olives. Just because you are staying with a parent doesn’t mean you have to act like a child.
There’s Out of the Loop, and Then There’s This
What is the best way to handle a Christmas card that was addressed to me and included my son, but used the wrong surname for him? He was not adopted by my second husband. Also, my son is no longer alive! My niece obviously hasn’t kept up with her family. Help!
My first thought here was to express concern that your niece’s card might have triggered fresh grief. If that’s the case, I am sorry. But honestly, you seem more interested in scolding your niece, focusing on her use of a wrong surname before even mentioning your son’s death. Clearly, she hadn’t heard the sad news. I don’t regard that as her fault, though. If you want her to know, tell her.
For help with your awkward situation, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com, to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.