Cat sanctuary sues for return of cat because client took cat out on leash

Don’t worry, I am not going to discuss legal stuff in this article. The Odd Cat Sanctuary of Salem, USA, owned and managed by Tara Kawczynski decided to sue Pamela Howard for the return of a cat that she had adopted from the sanctuary. It should not have come to this.

This is my version of a story which Elisa has covered. I had forgotten – apologies. There will be a different approach though.

UPDATE: The Odd Cat Sanctuary posted on their Facebook page earlier today (January 11) that they are not taking any further legal action. – Thanks for the update Tim. This makes sense because suing Pamela did not make sense.

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Pamela Howard and Muse
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Pamela Howard and Muse. Photo: MATTHEW J. LEE/GLOBE STAFF

Strict contract strictly applied

What happened is that the contract between Howard and the sanctuary stated that Howard must keep her adopted cat, Muse, inside the home at all times. Pamela Howard was aware of this and complied (almost).

However, one day when she was in the basement of her condominium a neighbour came around and she wanted to have a chat with her. At the time she had Muse with her on a leash.

Pamela went outside with Muse to have a quick chat. Her cat rolled on his back and in that brief moment she let go of the leash and videoed her cat. She then rather stupidly (she admits) posted the video online where it was seen by Tara.


Tara (from her website).

Tara contacted Pamela about letting Muse outside . No doubt the conversation became a little bit heated and at the end of the day Tara insisted that Pamela return her cat to the sanctuary. Pamela refused so Tara sued her for the return of the cat.

Tara was in no mind to do any sort of negotiations. For example, Pamela offered a $500 donation to the sanctuary and a strict promise that she would never let her cat go outside again and of course she apologised. This did not satisfy Tara. So the matter went to court with all the usual expenses and anxieties.

Inconclusive court hearing

On December 19, 2018 the matter was heard at the Salem District Court. Pamela Howard’s lawyer said that the contract was unreasonable because it allowed the sanctuary to manage indefinitely the way adopters cared for their cats. And also the contract was too strict in that it made an absolute prohibition on allowing cats outdoors even under close supervision.

The judge decided that she was unable to make a decision. She said that she lacked jurisdiction which I find surprising. A commonsense ruling should have been made by the judge. However, a temporary restraining order was extended to stop Howard from selling or giving away her cat. That would never happen anyway as it happens.

At the end of the day Tara’s lawyer very reasonably decided that Howard was a good cat guardian and it seems that he has decided that some form of mediation should take place leading to Howard retaining Muse. We don’t know how it ended but I suspect that Tara will drop her case and let Pamela Howard get on with taking care of our cat. Watch this space.

‘Reasonableness’ should be the order of the day

The story is interesting from a couple of perspectives. Firstly the sanctuary applied the terms of the contract very strictly. It’s important that adopters from animal shelters read the contract and make sure that they comply with it to the letter. Tara was entitled to sue but I’d have thought that most people would see that as being too harsh and unreasonable under the circumstances. Pamela was keeping her cat inside nearly all the time but only on one occasion did she become slightly careless in respect of the contract. After all, she took her cat outside on a leash for a brief time. This shows a great deal of responsibility towards her cat’s safety. You wouldn’t think that that would be a breach of contract under normal circumstances.

There is obviously a big difference between letting a cat go outside to wander which the contract clearly prohibited and walking your cat outside on a leash. I would have thought that the contract should be interpreted to mean letting a cat go outside unattended and unsupervised. In which case Pamela was not in breach of it.

The comments on the Boston Globe website pretty well universally support Pamela Howard and rightly so. The Odd Cat Sanctuary has behaved slightly oddly and unreasonably. This is not in anyway to imply that Tara does not have the welfare of her cats at heart. She clearly does and is passionate about their welfare.

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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14 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    The contracts on these cats are crazy. Not to mention the owner of the sanctuary is a cat hoarder. Be ware.

  2. Tim says:

    Just a quick update on this case: The Odd Cat Sanctuary posted on their Facebook page earlier today (January 11) that they are not taking any further legal action.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Once an animal is adopted it is owned by the new owner. The previous party has NO RIGHTS LEGALLY. NONE. If the animal was abused then the town would need to be alerted. However taking the pet outside is in this women’s right even if Tara doesn’t want to allow her own cats outside.

    This is harassment! I can’t imagine what kind of crazy this women is but she is doing more harm than good. Her attempt at controlling others is actually going to prevent cats at her shelter from being adopted.

    Really–Tara– you are WAY OFF BASE.

    • Michael Broad says:

      Thanks for your input Anonymous. The lawyers agreed that the contract was almost unenforceable i.e. it was unworkable. On a strict reading of it, it gave the rescue center a hold over the owner and the cat which was unreasonable.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I volunteered my time last year for Tara & Odd Cat, taking pictures of the cats they had up for adoption at Petsmart in Peabody & I was also going to be taking some pictures of her own rescue, Smores. For the almost 3 hours we were inside Petsmart on that chilly February day while I took those pictures, Smores was waiting outside to be photographed in Tara’s car. When I asked about it, she cited Smore’s special needs as to why. I didn’t press it but Smores is a teeny little bit of a thing. I find it unfathomable that Tara left cat in her cat for almost 3 hours that day yet she’s got the nerve to hire a lawyer to sue this woman who obviously loves Muse & is committed to giving him his best life to reclaim him for making what I see as a mistake. Tara should rethink her position.

    • Michael Broad says:

      Thanks a lot Anonymous for sharing your first hand experience. Suing anyone is best to be avoided but under these circumstances it was clearly the wrong move because Pamela is a good (probably excellent) cat guardian. Muse had a good home.

    • Anonymous says:

      I can’t agree more about leaving the cat out in the car for over 3 hrs. This woman is dangerous, she also brings her dogs to work with her where they are locked in a cage during her 12 hr shift.

    • Anonymous says:

      Leaving the cat out in the car for over 3 hrs. is horrible. This woman is dangerous. I heard she also brings her dogs to work with her, where they are locked in a cage during her 12 hr shift. Then she has the audacity to ask how long the cat/s will be left home alone on her adoption application.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Rather than ‘a strict contract strictly applied’, it should read ‘an illegal and unenforceable contract stupidly applied’.

  6. Wot a ridiculous request imo,as long as the cat is on a lead and being closely supervised then I see no issue with taking ‘Muse’ outside,the cattery owner needs to lighten up.

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