Dear Rabbonim, About 10 years ago, we got a cat as a kitten, and have raised it since. I must point out that we were childless at the time, and later when I had cancer (from which Baruch Hashem I have been cured), it was very therapeutic for us to have him. A few years ago, we adopted a child, and he too is very connected to the cat, and has grown up with it. We live in a building of other religious people, not all (to put it mildly) cat lovers. As we live on street level, we let him out and he wanders around, sometimes into neighbour’s houses in our building, he is not aggressive, but will attack for defence if annoyed by anyone, especially children who may be frightened and are agressive to him. This however has not been a great problem. One neighbour is very superstitious, feeling the cat has an ayin hara. However recently some new neighbours moved in, and they are disturbed because he wanders around near them, and sometimes is on the stairs near their apartment, and their kid is frightened going into their own house. Recently we received an angry message from the mother, saying we had a chutzpa and deploring our "disgusting behaviour", because the cat had followed her son down the stairs to their apartment, and he came in sobbing. As a temporary solution, we now only let the cat out at 8 at night, when we assume most kids are already indoors. As religious people living with other religous people, we feel the solution must be based on religious principles. We must respect the feelings of our neighbours. On the other hand, an animal who is used to going out, to lock him in all day is cruelty. Can you advise based on the teachings of our talmidei chachamim? The issue is very urgent for us, and we would be very grateful for an answer as soon as possible.
From what you described it seems obvious that the people around are not used to having a cat in their surroundings. Halachically there is nothing wrong with raising a pet. Rav Yoseph Karo in the Bet Yosef (Yoreh De'ah 117) and the Chida in his commentary Birkei Yosef on the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 117) say that one may even make trade with non-kosher animals if they are of type of animal which is not eaten. From this point of view there is no difference in having in your home a tropical fish, a bird or a cat. On the other hand, the Gemara discusses raising a frightening dog and forbids letting it loose. (See Baba Kamma 46a and Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 409). It seems to me though that this is more a case of proper neighborly relations more than an Halachic issue. From what you described it sound like the neighbors are behaving like some stranger different from them (the cat) has resided in their midst and since they haven't grown up with pets around them it is difficult for them. People have difficulty dealing with those who are different around them because of all sorts of unfounded biases. These people around you have to accept that there is nothing wrong Halachically with raising a pet although it may be different from their upbringing. On the other hand, caution has to be taken so that your pet does not disturb your neighbors or their children like any other annoyance to neighbors which is forbidden. May I suggest talking to your neighbors and telling them (as you have now made it public in this question) of the importance of the cat in your life, and see if they can be more considerate due what you have been through. On the other hand express your sensitivity to their complaints and see what you can work out together. "…seek peace, and pursue it".