Question of the Day: If you saw an unattended cat in a homeless encampment and were worried about her welfare, would you “rescue” her or leave her be? Once “rescued,” would you return her to a life of homelessness if you found her owner?

Here’s the story from the San Francisco Chronicle (edited for length):

Daniel Harlan, the homeless owner of a pug-nosed Himalayan named Samantha, was heartbroken when the cat was lost a couple of months ago.

One rainy morning he’d left her tied on a leash in a homeless encampment while he went to a nearby store to buy food. When he returned she was gone. Harlan was convinced that Samantha had been stolen and maybe sold for money. He searched all over for the cat and tried to file a missing cat report with the police. He went to the SPCA, too, and the animal control shelter. No luck. He offered a reward for her safe return.

“She is leash-trained,” he said, “She’s not afraid of dogs and she’s friendly with people. She keeps me calm, and she helps me out,” he said. “She’s with me 24/7.”

The story ended up on the pages of the San Francisco Chronicle, where a friend of Tom Neville’s read it and told Neville about it. Turns out, Neville had “rescued” the cat when he spotted her in the encampment under the freeway overpass.

According to Neville, he was driving to work that rainy morning and spotted a very wet and bedraggled Samantha tied on a leash under the freeway. Dogs were nearby and, to a stranger, the cat’s situation looked desperate.

Neville said he asked around, but nobody knew anything. So he picked her up, put her in his car and took her to work.

Neville said that when he found her, Samantha was a mess. Her hair was matted, and she had fleas and sores. He gave her a bath, fed her and gave her a warm place to sleep in his office.

Samantha thrived, he said. “You should see her now.”

At the time he read Harlan and Samantha’s story in the paper, Neville was working on finding Samantha a permanent home. He wasn’t so sure she should be returned to her homeless owner. He believed he’d given Samantha a new lease on life and didn’t want to see her return to her former bedraggled, flea-infested state.

“I wanted to do the right thing,” he said.

He mulled it over for hours, but in the end contacted Harlan. Harlan told him about his life with Samantha.

“He does love her,” Neville said. “No question about it.”

“I thought I’d lost her for good,” Harlan said.

“He cried when he saw her,” Neville said.

Neville offered to buy Samantha, but Harlan said he couldn’t sell her. So Neville returned the cat to Harlan, along with some cat food and $40 to help out. He also gave Samantha a standing invitation to stay in his office, any night.

Harlan said he hoped he could find a place to live. Maybe a shelter would take them both in. He wasn’t sure. He planned to spend Tuesday sleeping in the Transbay Terminal, a local bus station.

So if you were Tom Neville, what you have done? Return Samantha to someone who loves her with his whole heart but can’t afford a high standard of care for her? Or find her a home with a stable family and a roof over her head?

[ARTICLE SOURCE: SFGate.com. Original Story: SFGate.com. Photos by Mike Kepka/The Chronicle]