When does your lost cat become someone else’s? Answer: never unless you formally hand over ownership to another person in one way or another. I pose the question because a battle over the ownership of a domestic cat is going on in California. It has gone to court, which is a great shame.
So what are the facts of the case? Essentially, they are straightforward and I can’t understand why the judge appears to be messing around trying to make a decision.
The cat is a tuxedo. The “owner” (and still the owner in my opinion) raised him from a baby and had him microchipped. The owner is Tiffany Mestas, a former vet tech. She calls her cat David.
David went missing 7 years ago and was adopted via a shelter by a retired nurse whose name is Therese Weczorek. She renamed him Whiley.
Those are the basic facts. There is a long time between the cat being lost and then found by another person but that does not, on its own, change ownership particularly so when the owner’s name and contact details are embedded in the cat’s neck in a microchip. The microchip is like a certificate of ownership.
Mestas’s lawyer says that the microchip is effectively a physical identification tag. California state law states that a person who finds a lost pet has to scan it for a microchip before claiming ownership. The cat rescue did not do this and neither it seems did Weczorek.
The new caretaker, Weczorek, won’t give the cat back to Mestas who tracked him down with commitment and determination using the microchip data and help from a police source as the microchip company would not release the new owner’s details. Apparently, Weczorek had tried to change the microchip data which was reported by the microchip company.
Mestas offered $1,000 for the return of her cat but Weczorek turned it down, hence the court proceedings.
The judge is Elliot Baum. I think he is making a meal out of this. It seems clear cut to me.
If someone loses a wallet and it is found seven years later, the ownership of that wallet does not transfer to the person who found it; it remains with the original owner. The same applies to cats.
Weczorek has a right of possession of the cat but Mestas has a superior right to possession, which trumps it. Possession does not automatically translate to legal ownership.
If Weczorek had contacted Mestas and said “I have your cat can I keep him?” and Mestas had said “Yes”, then possession becomes ownership for Weczorek.
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