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A few of my borrowed animals.

I “Borrow” People’s Pets

And you should, too

Cathlyn Melvin
Feb 21 · 6 min read

Whether you have your own animals at home, you’re biding your time until you can adopt, or you’re “just not an animal person,” you should be borrowing people’s pets.

Go with me on this.

I’m a pet borrower

When I was a kid, my neighbor Ceil had a little terrier named Lucky, and when I was playing outside I always kept an eye out for him. When I saw Lucky and Ceil out in the yard, I’d shyly peek my head around the garage until Ceil noticed me hovering and invited me to come throw a ball for a while. This very assertive, dynamic strategy eventually earned me my first job — dogsitting Lucky when Ceil was away for a weekend!

I also spent time petting another neighbor’s long-haired dachshund Teddy, nuzzling my friend Anna’s black cat Tippy, and cooing at any random stray I caught a glimpse of.

More recently, I spent a few years working as a teaching artist, which sent me traveling around the US a lot of the time. Each week, I’d leave one town and arrive in another, welcomed by a generous host family eager to share their home with me.

A cat I borrowed while on tour in central Wisconsin.

And while I’ve definitely improved my social skills in the 25 years since I met Lucky the Terrier, I’m still very much the shy and introverted girl who peeked around the garage until I was invited in. So you can imagine the level of anxiety that weighed on me as I traveled to a new host family’s home every week. New town, new hosts, new conversation. Eek.

But I looked forward to homes with animals. Knowing that there was a furry friend waiting for scratches put me at ease a little bit — and when I arrived, they gave me something to talk about with my host family!

This pup was my roommate for a week in southeastern Wisconsin.

During the same time, when I was at home in Chicago, I was babysitting through a service that took me to new families pretty regularly. I was delighted to sit for families with animals, and after the kids went to bed I’d happily chill with whatever dog or cat wanted my attention. Parents started leaving five-star reviews on my profile about my work with their kids AND my enthusiasm for their pets.

One of my petsitting charges, Hal.

When friends got pets, I was the person they’d call to petsit for them. I fostered a colleague’s cat for three months while she was out of town on a contract.

Last year, I started an Instagram account to share photos of the animals—mostly cats—I spent time with as a pet sitter, a cat cafe visitor, and through friends.

I was a certified pet borrower.

You should be, too

Changing up your routine is good for you

Our brains crave novelty

I borrowed Cinnamon the llama for an afternoon, along with a dog, a cat, goats, a pig, and a raccoon.

Every experience is different

Tucker, who belongs to my roommate, is a needy, snuggly, affectionate cat. He lays on top of me and purrs. It’s wonderful. Hercules, a friend’s cat who lives down the street, is a maniac. He’s fighty, he’s brazen, and he’s a literal ankle-biter. He’s wonderful, too.

Hercules, the ankle-biter and earbud thief.

If you have a pet at home, visiting other animals lets you play and interact in ways that your own pet might not enjoy or encourage.

And if you don’t have an animal at home, visiting other pets can help you learn about what kind of personalities are out there. When you’re ready for a pet (if that’s a goal of yours), you’ll be better informed about the temperament and disposition you’re looking for in your cat or dog.

You’ve got to leave your house

How to borrow pets

Ask your friends

And when they show you their favorite furry creature, say something like, “I’d love to come over and meet him sometime! I’ll bring coffee!” It might sound forward . . . but most people are going to be excited to share their pets with you.

TinyCat and Alfie live down the street from me.

Hang out at a park

Maybe there’s one near you, too.

Pack a lunch and a book. Find a nice shady spot and make yourself comfortable.

Then ask people if you can say hi to their dog! In general, folks love to share their dogs with friendly strangers. For the price of a few minutes’ small-talk, you can enjoy a rolling-in-the-grass, panting, tongue-lolling, happy dog.

Volunteer at a rescue

I met this guy, Albert, when I volunteered at a feral cat shelter building event last winter.


Visit an animal cafe

Bathtime at The Catcade in Chicago.

Other regions have similar “cafes” with bunnies, birds, reptiles, and other animals. In the US, though, we’re mostly sticking to cats (for now), but I’ve heard a rumor that Chicago is getting a bunny cafe!

So set a goal. Make a plan.

Your body, your mind, and your heart will all thank you.

For more @borrowedcats, visit

Live Your Life On Purpose

Get Purpose. Get Perspective. Get Passion.

Cathlyn Melvin

Written by

Freelance writer passionate about children, food, health, and cats. She/her/hers. Portfolio: Cats:

Live Your Life On Purpose

Get Purpose. Get Perspective. Get Passion.

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