Cat ownership can be a tricky topic as, in practice, we don’t really own a cat because they are sentient beings with a mind of their own. But legally we do own our cat, if we want to, and the way you prove it is through documentation and general evidence of possession of the cat.
Rarely people buy a purebred cat. There will be documents evidencing the purchase. That’s straightforward. When you adopt a rescue cat from an animal rescue organisation, there will also be documentation which provides good evidence that you have adopted your cat on a certain date. Once more this is proof of ownership.
If you don’t have a single document which supports ownership you’ll have to rely other evidence which comes in varies forms. For instance, a microchip with your name and address in it is a piece of evidence although not necessarily conclusive as someone could have it removed and replaced by a new one with their details on it. A well worn cat collar is another piece of evidence. Records of visits to your veterinarian is also good evidence that you have consistently cared for a cat over years. This must be excellent proof of ownership.
You are likely to have photographic evidence because over the years it is normal to take photos and videos of your cat with you and friends. Your friends, colleagues, neighbours and acquaintances will know or might know that you have a cat. They can give evidence in support of ownership in a dispute. Through a variety of records and documents you can build up a strong picture of ownership.
However, I hinted at a potential complication in the opening sentence. Cats are sentient beings unlike cars or computers, for instance. When they are allowed outside to wander freely they have a choice as to where they visit and who they get to know. There are an unknown number of domestic cats who share their time to varying degrees with two or more households. Often the legal owner of the cat is unaware that their animal companion is a timeshare cat.
The cat can effect a transfer of ownership of their own volition. They have a choice and they sometimes exercise that choice instinctively because they do not participate in the human concept of legal ownership. It is entirely foreign to them.
You’ll arrive at a situation where a cat migrates to a new home and there may be a dispute. The owner from whom the cat moved away is the original owner. It should be possible to establish that they are the legal owner in a dispute using the methods mentioned above. However, a judge might decide that there is good evidence that the new owners are now the true owners because they also have evidence of caring for their cat for a long time.
The conclusion is that cat ownership can, rarely, be a fraught topic of debate. I can recall several instances of domestic cats being picked up and taken to rescue centres from where they have been adopted by a new ‘owner’. The original owner finds out and tries to reclaim their cat. The new owner refuses to relinquish their new cat as they did everything properly. The rescue centre who may have screwed up wash their hands of the dispute and refuse to disclose to the original owner the new owner’s contact details under a confidentiality clause. The original owner has to sue in the civil courts to get their cat back and don’t want to do it. It is too daunting. They give up. A transfer of cat ownership has taken place by error.
Conclusion: ideally proof of cat ownership comes from documentary evidence and if not then in any other form of evidence that is available which demonstrates long term possession and care of the cat.
SOME MORE ON CAT OWNERSHIP: