The weakness in the concept of “cat ownership” can be crystallised if and when your cat wanders around the neighbourhood and finds a place that he prefers to yours, at least for a while. Then the “new owner” can lay claim to your cat. The weakness in cat ownership is that the cat is a living, sentient being with a mind of his own and no knowledge of ownership or trespass.
Most Brits let their cats roam outside. Many wander into neighbouring homes and feed. They do this regularly until the neighbour forms a relationship with the cat. Perhaps that can lead to the new owner keeping the cat inside to cement the relationship.
No matter what exactly happens, a grey area of legal ownership follows as the genuine and first owner gradually and unkowningly loses possession and title to her chattel, her domestic cat.
Sometimes the wandering cat simply settles in the new home and that is that. At that point, the former owner has lost her cat. She gives up and accepts her cat has gone but has no idea if her cat has been killed or lost.
If then, at sometime in the future the former owner knows what has happened and challenges the new owner on her right to ownership, she may have a weak argument. I say “may” because the first owner should have “title” to the cat but when tested in court it may not work out that way.
Or perhaps, as happened, to Teresa Meehan, her cat returns after being away for four months of frantic searching and discovers that her cat Rambo has been microchipped by a neighbour and renamed Butch.
Butch had ended up at Plymouth Cat Rescue centre and been adopted by someone who had cared for him to a good standard.
Mrs Meehan who was delighted at the return of her cat was then dismayed when the police contacted her saying they were investigating whether she has stolen the cat – her cat!
Posters, headed with Plymouth Cat Rescue were circulated claiming that Rambo had been stolen. The situation had become chaotic, unnerving and serious. Mrs Meehan was in the middle of a dispute over the ownership of her cat.
After much effort and no doubt some angst, and with the help of a solicitor, Mrs Meehan resolved the matter in her favour. Rambo stays with her. The correct outcome.
But a lesson was learned. Wandering domestic cats can time-share homes and then migrate from the former home to a new one. This is a de facto change in ownership and at some time in this process, even a judge would have to concede that there had been a transference of ownership by the actions of the parties albeit unwittingly.