This is an interesting story with a legal connotation but it is not complicated. It took place in South Salem, America. A lady, Janice Claflin, owns a grey, tabby-and-white, female, indoor/outdoor cat, Ziva. She is micro-chipped. Janice is known at the Willamette Humane Society and has done some voluntary work there.
One day Ziva left the home and did not come back. It may have happened because of a commotion at the home on the death of Janice’s mother. If the reason wasn’t that, then it could be any reason because it is not that uncommon for even well cared for domestic cats to wander off and not return.
Somebody picked Ziva up and took her to a local veterinary clinic called “No-Frills” Pet Clinic. The microchip was scanned and it was discovered that the “secondary contact” was Janice. In other words Janice was not listed as the first owner which is also not uncommon because Ziva was a rescue cat from the Humane Society who had microchipped her before Janice adopted her (6 years ago).
At the time that a good Samaritan took Ziva to the veterinary clinic she was underweight. In fact an employee at the veterinary clinic described her as “emaciated, and in just awful condition.”
The principal vet at the clinic refused to return Ziva to Janice on the basis that there had been wilful neglect and cat abuse by the owner. There appears to have been no consideration to the fact that Ziva had been missing for several weeks and therefore it would be normal to be underweight and in poor condition.
Veterinarians do have a legal obligation to report neglect or abuse to the authorities. This is a good thing. However, this duty must be exercised with an incredible amount of care for obvious reasons and veterinarians should not make rash decisions and guess whether an owner has been neglectful or abusive as it could lead to illegal behaviour and distress.
You don’t need a lawyer to tell you that, under the law, the rightful owner of Ziva has to be Janice Claflin. It is tantamount to theft if the vet insists upon retaining possession of Janice’s cat, which is exactly what is happening. There is also a possible civil claim (tort of conversion).
Regrettably, under the current law, we all know that domestic cats are considered property just like any other item in our home and if “it” goes missing and is found it is still under the ownership of the person who lost the property. Losing property is not abandoning property which is a different thing altogether. Deliberately abandoning property is a declaration that the person no longer wishes to retain ownership and possession. Janice did not abandon her cat.
The only way the veterinarian is allowed to purse this matter is to return Ziva to her owner and then, if she is convinced that Ziva has been abused, she can report the matter to the authorities whereupon they would take up the problem but she has no right to hang onto someone else’s cat.
This is a story of an error of judgement by a well-meaning veterinarian who genuinely has the concerns of this cat at heart but who has overstepped the mark and been overzealous in the discharge of her duties to protect the welfare of domestic animals.
Janice is filing a complaint with the Oregon Veterinary Medical Examination Board. Ziva is not at the veterinary clinic and is probably somewhere hidden away by the veterinarian who at the time of writing this insists on retaining possession.