Cat Fight Goes to Court


We all know that custody battles can be pretty brutal, and the case of a Scottish cat and two neighbors is no exception.

When Nicola Dempster’s black-and-white cat, Smudge, went missing early this spring, she looked all over for him and even notified Cats Protection in hopes of finding her beloved pet.

A short time later, a thin and hungry black-and-white cat appeared on Delia Macdonald’s doorstep. She welcomed the haggard feline into her home and says she tried to find his owner by putting the word out on the radio and in a local newspaper, and by posting flyers in supermarkets.

Macdonald says nobody came forward, so she and her husband, a former marine engineer, kept the cat and named him Oscar.

Oscar settled into his new home with the Macdonalds and Dempster’s buddy Smudge remained among the missing. Until the end of August, that is.

On Aug. 31, Oscar went missing from the Macdonalds’ house. Delia arranged search parties and told everyone she knew, and once more reached out through the local radio station in hopes of finding her cat.

Later, one of her friends told her that a lady named Nicola Dempster posted on Facebook saying that she had found Smudge, her long-lost black-and-white cat, nearby and thanking whoever had looked after him.

Apparently Macdonald wasn’t content to let Smudge — um, Oscar — go so easily. Two weeks later she was banging on Dempster’s door and calling Oscar’s name. The situation escalated into such a fight that somebody called the police, who told the women to stop fighting but didn’t arrest anybody.

Now the two women are embroiled in a custody battle, each trying to prove that the cat is hers.

Dempster has the receipts: a bill of sale from when she bought Smudge at a pet store last year, and payment slips from a vet for the cat’s vaccinations. Macdonald says she should get custody of the cat because she can take better care of him than Dempster can, and that her 15-year-old dog has been “inconsolable” since Oscar left.

A judge will make a decision in the case next month.

Sure, this story probably seems ridiculous. Who would go to court over a cat, right?

In a sense, I can understand the issue. Both of these women have taken care of Smudge/Oscar for about the same amount of time, and both of them have fallen in love with the little guy. I don’t know what I’d do if I were in their situation — well, except for the fact that I wouldn’t try to solve the problem by getting into a screaming match with the cat’s original caretaker.

If Dempster and Macdonald can cobble together a friendship, maybe they could share custody of Smudge/Oscar.

Regardless of how silly this cat fight seems, there is a deeper issue at play here. When an owned cat gets lost, moves into someone else’s house, and then returns to his original home, who is the rightful owner? There’s even a feature-length documentary on the subject: Mine explores this issue as it relates to dogs that survived Hurricane Katrina. The IMDb summary reads, in part, “When two families love the same pet, conflicts inevitably arise over who is the rightful ‘owner’ and what is right for the animal. At the center of this tension are pets who are loved like family, but by law are considered property. This begs the question, who is looking out for the best interest of the animals?”

What do you think? If you were the judge in the Smudge/Oscar case, how would you rule?

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