Categories: ownership

Don’t be frightened to sue in the civil courts if a person won’t give your cat back

This is an example where a woman, living in Scotland, is going to sue the people who have wrongly taken possession of her cat and won’t give her back.

The circumstances are classic, I have to say. This family’s cat went missing in January. As I recall, the cat whose name is Precious escaped the house on the return of the family from a holiday.


Precious was picked up and was temporarily cared for by a Facebook rescue group called Harvey’s Army.

Despite having a collar they assessed her as being a stray cat i.e. without an owner. They handed her to Cat Protection in Glasgow. Cats Protection is a very well-known cat rescue organization in the UK which relies exclusively on foster carers.

The Glasgow branch of Cat Protection is 22 miles away from the home of Precious’ owner, Deborah Cameron. Her daughter is particularly attached to the cat and devastated at her loss.

Because Precious ended up 22 miles away Deborah did not check this branch of Cat Protection. Another compounding problem is that she was not microchipped and so despite extensive efforts by Cat Protection to find an owner they failed.

Subsequently, after a reasonable time for the owner to claim the cat (two weeks), Cats Protection adopted Precious out to a new owner. Once they found out that a mistake had been made, the charity got in touch with the new owner who refused to return the cat to Deborah and her daughter.

They both feel wretched about it which has driven Deborah to make a claim in the civil courts in Scotland. She has decided to sue for the return of her cat and frankly that is the only way she will succeed and succeed she will in my opinion because ownership has not been transferred from Deborah to the new “owners”. The new “owners” are simply in possession of this cat. They think that they are the owners but they are not.

I would hope that there will be a follow-up article on this after the court case has been concluded. I would like it to be successful and for Deborah and her daughter to recover their cat because that would be the correct outcome.

The newspaper reporting this story, the Daily Record, say that it will cost Deborah £10,000 to sue for the recovery of her cat. I would doubt that it would cost this much. She could do the litigation herself. She would rely upon a solicitor to draw up papers to file at court. I would argue that a layperson could do this litigation herself because the story is straightforward and there is no evidence to suggest that ownership has changed hands. I don’t see complicated legal arguments.

There would have to be an intention on the part of current owner, Deborah, and the so-called “new owner” that title to the cat passes from one to the other. There was never any intention. A mistake was made albeit an understandable one and Cats Protection are not at fault. There was no attempt to abandon Precious, therefore her ownership has not been relinquished.

It’s a shame for the “new owner” but they will have to accept that a mistake was made and give up the cat. It’s a bit like finding money in the street and claiming it. Legally the money is owned by the person who lost it and the old adage “finders keepers” does not usually apply unless the new owner genuinely believes that she can’t find the owner by taking reasonable steps. In the case of Precious the owner has been found so to keep the cat appears to be attempted theft.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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  • The adopter needs to do the right thing and return Precious to her real owners.

    I do not understand how the adopter can live with themselves knowing that Precious' real owners are so distressed.

    Over the years I have taken in many cats and precisely three were very happily returned to their rightful owners when I found out that the cat's had their own homes. I was nothing short of ecstatic that a "lost" cat was reunited. Despite forming speedy bonds with the three, & feeling a twinge of sadness to say "goodbye"

    All three cat's were separate events, with years between them.

    I'd even go so far as to say that the adopter cannot have a conscience and that may indicate they may not be the best sort of animal steward.

    It really is up to the adopter to do the right thing.

    • Yes, it is a misplaced selfishness and lack of morality which allows this person to retain a cat she/he clearly knows is not theirs. He/she should be sued. It will teach him/her a lesson. I hope good advice is provided and they give up the cat before proceedings start.

  • I'm praying that the new gaurdians of Precious relinquish her to her owners, and adopt another cat in need of rescue. I know one can get close to a pet quickly. But that does not compare to the feeling of loss for somebody who has had the animal for years.

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