Nubbins The Cat: Is It Ever Right To Steal A Kitty You Believe Has Been Abused Or Neglected?

Troy Farrell’s cat, Nubbins, has been missing since October.

Neighbors told the Sonoma man that a couple who rented an Airbnb two houses down the street had been asking about the nearly tailless tabby and had seemed fond of her. That was Farrell’s only lead, but the owner of the Airbnb rental wouldn’t tell him who rented the place at the time Nubbins vanished.

When I read about Nubbins my first thought was that she was probably snatched up by people who thought they were doing the right thing by “rescuing” a neglected cat.

It turns out that’s exactly what happened.

First a veterinarian from Long Beach, more than 400 miles away, called Farrell and told him Nubbins had been brought into the vet’s practice for a health checkup. When they scanned the kitty’s microchip, Farrell’s contact information came up.

Farrell says he thought his ordeal was over, but the veterinarian — citing obligation to the client — wouldn’t tell him who brought the cat in. Instead, the vet said she’d pass along Farrell’s contact information and ask the couple to return the cat.

When they didn’t return Nubbins, Farrell filed a police report with the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, hired a private investigator and implored the local district attorney to look into the case.

“Those are evil people,” Farrell told an interviewer in late January. “Those are people without a conscience, those are people without a heart.”

He said he’s been lost without Nubbins.

“I don’t have kids. She’s my kid and she’s seen me through so many things. And they took her, and I want her back,” Farrell said. “The second I’d open that door or drive up the driveway or go out back … There’s Nubbins just in my lap.”

Nubbins and her kittens
Nubbins in Farrell’s home. Originally a stray who escaped California’s wild fires, Nubbins gave birth to a litter before Farrell had her spayed and chipped.

The ‘catnapper’ comes forward

Now there’s a new development in the case: A man has come forward and admitted he took Nubbins, describing her as a neglected street cat who had been left outside to fend for herself in the cold without access to food or water.

The man detailed the allegations in a letter to Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick, and he’s not hiding his identity or denying he took the cat without asking Farrell. He identified himself as James R. Wakefield, an attorney in private practice out of Irvine, California.

“[W]e were never going to let that cat get put back in the living condition she was in without a fight,” Wakefield wrote in the letter to the sheriff.

While vacationing at the Airbnb in California wine country, Wakefield encountered Nubbins, saying she was “obviously hungry” and “she scarfed down the food” the vacationing couple gave her. Wakefield said that when he asked the Airbnb’s owner about the cat, the man said she was a local stray who needed a home.

Describing him and his wife as “70-year-old catnappers,” Wakefield said they’d do “everything in our ability to protect” Nubbins.

Farrell disagrees. He said the stumped tail and damage to Nubbins’ lip were from her days as a stray, when she escaped California wildfires several years ago and wandered into Farrell’s neighborhood. He took her in, he said, and she’s been his cat since. Nubbins is allowed in and out of the home as she pleases, he said, and always returns after she’s had her day’s adventures.

Nubbins refuses to be an indoor cat, Farrell said, and is well known to neighbors on the block, who also feed her and look out for her. It’s not uncommon for outdoor cats to make small circuits around their neighborhoods, visiting friendly neighbors for snacks and scritches before heading home for the day.

“That cat lives so large it’s not even funny,” Farrell said. “That cat has so many houses, so many people, so many little girls to play with down the block.”

Nubbins the Cat: Lounging
Nubbins lounging outside. Her human, Troy Farrell, says the former stray likes to visit his neighbors every day.

That appears to be true: Farrell’s neighbors have backed up his story to the press, there are videos of the beloved cat hanging out in yards on the street, and one concerned neighbor even wrote a letter to the local newspaper imploring the police to get the situation sorted and return Nubbins to Sonoma.

The police have told Wakefield to return the cat to Farrell, while a spokesman for the district attorney told the Sonoma Index-Tribune that the DA is still reviewing the case. Like many other states, California considers pets as “property,” and authorities would have to determine if Nubbins is “worth” at least $950 to file criminal charges.

If Farrell can’t get Nubbins back via law enforcement his remaining recourse would be a civil trial, the newspaper noted.

Is it ever okay to steal someone’s pet?

This case raises some thorny questions. Farrell seems lost without his cat and has been clearly emotional in interviews with reporters as the saga of Nubbins has stretched on over the months. Meanwhile, I don’t think there’s any doubt Wakefield and his wife thought they were doing the right thing.

At least part of this standoff can be chalked up to misinformation and a lack of information: Matthew Knudsen, the man who rented the vacation home to the Wakefields, told them Nubbins was a stray who didn’t belong to anyone, according to Wakefield’s letter to the sheriff. Farrell said Knudsen owns and rents the house two doors down but doesn’t actually live in the neighborhood and doesn’t know how well Nubbins is cared for.

So from the Wakefields’ point of view, they thought they were rescuing a neglected cat and doing a good thing. At the same time, any cat servant should be able to empathize with the anguish another cat lover feels if their beloved feline goes missing or is stolen.

It’s easy to read the details and think maybe Farrell wasn’t doing right by his cat, and as readers of this blog know, I’m a strong advocate of keeping cats indoors for a long list of reasons, including myriad dangers to outdoor cats and the damage cats can do to local wildlife like birds, small mammals and lizards.

But I also know how easily people tend to toss out accusations of animal abuse and/or neglect. One reader was very upset with me when I posted a photo of Buddy with his paws stuck in the screen door that opens from the living room to the balcony. She strongly felt I was abusing Bud by allowing him to hang there for a few extra seconds while I snapped a few photos.

Context is important in that case too. Buddy loves to lounge on the balcony in the summer, and he’s gotten his claws stuck on that damn door more times than I can count. (The many claw marks on the screen attest to that.) When he gets stuck he cries pitifully until I drop whatever I’m doing, lift him gently off the ground so he can unhook his claws without hurting himself, and reassure him in a soothing voice that he’s okay. It’s the cat dad equivalent of putting a band aid on a scraped knee.

No matter how many times Buddy gets stuck, no matter how many times I tell him “No!” and try to discourage him from scratching the door, he won’t stop doing it. He’s even got a four-foot-tall, sturdy scratcher literally a foot away, just a step inside the door! Clearly he has alternatives.

Not only is Buddy incredibly stubborn, but the day I took the above photographs, he’d already gotten stuck twice — including 20 or 30 minutes prior.

So yeah, I took the photos. Does that make me an animal abuser or guilty of neglect?

That woman thought so. If she’d been in a position to take Buddy, maybe she would have.

At the very least, the saga of Nubbins provides another good reason to keep cats indoors, even if they’re former strays who like to go outside. (Easier said than done, I realize.) But I don’t think there are any bad guys here, just people who thought they were doing the right thing without complete information.

PITB readers: What’s your take on this story?

12 thoughts on “Nubbins The Cat: Is It Ever Right To Steal A Kitty You Believe Has Been Abused Or Neglected?”

  1. A neighbor took my 5-yr-old daughter’s cat from our yard and wouldn’t return her. The cat was a beautiful young rescue who used a cat flap during the day while we were at work and school. We always kept her in when we were home. My daughter was devastated, but our only recourse was small claims court, which we couldn’t afford.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Was the cat on your property or wandering around the neighborhood? There are so many factors to these situations and I think location, circumstances and context matter. Sorry your cat was taken from you.


      1. Sasha was in our yard, on a small plot in the city, and another neighbor witnessed the catnapping. Because she (the cat) was a rescue, keeping her inside 24/7 was difficult. She was an absolutely stunning white cat, collared, tagged, chipped, and well cared for. I think the catnappers wanted her for themselves.

        Now that I’m older and wiser and have moved to Texas, I never ever allow our cats outside where the coyotes and hawks can catch them. I do feed strays, even when I suspect they are making the rounds to several houses.


      2. Taking a cat from someone else’s property is definitely wrong.

        As for coyotes, a woman up the street from me, probably a fifth of a mile away, was walking her dog on a summer night some years back and a coyote swooped in, grabbed the dog in its teeth and bolted, tugging the leash out of the woman’s hand.

        That’s horrific and another reason for me never to allow Bud outside on his own, even if we didn’t live in an area with high traffic. He’s a house cat with no idea how to defend himself even if he might think otherwise.

        Good on you to keep your cats safe.


    1. I do too, and I think it’s important to keep them indoors to avoid conflict over cats preying on small wildlife. But at the same time I do try to keep in mind people live in different circumstances and allowing cats to go outside if you live on a farm or a big piece of property in a rural area is different than doing it in my situation, in a suburban/urban area with high traffic and myriad dangers.

      Of course I could never unleash Buddy no matter what, he’s just too much of a beast and apex predator to be let loose!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, I have “stolen” a neglected cat, but let me tell you the circumstances: I moved to another state because I thought I had an opportunity there, and I went to live on a “farm” with some other “like-minded” people. I lived there six weeks. There was a young cat there, probably around six or seven months old. She had an open, oozing sore down her back from the base of her neck to the base of her tail. It was impossible to stroke her back because of it. She spent most of her time crouched on the railing of the upstairs steps. No one seemed to notice or care.
    The first thing I did was to borrow a truck and drive her to the local vet, several miles away. I paid for her treatment and got a diagnosis: she had Flea Allergy Dermatitis. The directions were to vacuum the house every day, wash all the bedding and throw rugs, and eliminate the fleas.
    There were several other animals there, which no one really took care of, except to put down pans of food, and as for cleaning, I myself took all of the filthy throw rugs with me when I went to town to do my own wash and had to wash them twice to get them clean. In the time I was there, I saw no one but myself pick up a broom.
    The people there weren’t “like-minded”; they screamed at the weakest ones, gaslighted, and smoked more pot than I was comfortable with. They had said that they “lived self-sufficiently” on their farm, but the garden was overgrown and unused.
    When I got there, there were huge holes in the sheetrock on the first floor from a time when the owner of the farm went into a rage and broke the walls with a hammer. Moreover, when I brought up the work that needed to be done to prevent the cat’s illness recurring (and offered to pay out of my own pocket for the treatment for the rest of the farm to prevent fleas from breeding there), she looked at me with horror and utterly refused to do it.
    I realized that I didn’t want to stay there, and I pondered what I was going to do about the cat, which was recovering with my treatment. I decided that I couldn’t, in good conscience, leave her there to be neglected again, so I “stole” (rescued) her.
    (Since they refused to let me come back on the property to get everything I owned, on the grounds that I had “stolen” their cat, it cost me a lot. But I would do it all over again if necessary.)

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I feel if an owner has a microchip implanted and also REGISTERS the chip, it’s indicative of love for the kitty. They’ve gone to the trouble of doing that, they probably care about the kitty. I believe the vet is wrong in this case. Troy obviously loves the cat. I am stunned the Wakefields haven’t returned Nubbins to him.
    I understands if the found cat is filthy and looks like it’s been out there fending for itself, that owner should be interviewed. Perhaps the cat was stolen or lost thru no fault of the owner. It has to be judged on a case by case basis.
    My kitties stay in but I have lost a chipped kitty outside before. It was heartbreaking. This is why owners chip their cats: so the cat can be returned if found.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah the until confusion is understandable if they really thought Nubbins was a stray, but even if they disagree with the way she’s cared for, they should understand the plight of someone who really wants their cat back. Maybe a local rescue can mediate and get the guy to agree to keep her inside. She’ll adjust, especially with a concerted effort to keep her entertained indoors.


  4. I feel Nubbins should be returned and taught to be an inside cat. Just because he feels she is fine outside doesn’t make it true. If he cannot learn to keep her inside perhaps she is better off with someone who will keep her inside. But that needs to be negotiated. Theft is illegal no matter what justification someone uses. It is not okay to steal cats or dogs from their neighborhoods. For the same reason it is not okay to steal children out playing on the block.
    I have owned rescued and recovered lost cats for people for over fifty years. Inside cats are healthier, happier, and live longer when cared for properly. Outside cats are always in danger, risk many illnesses, risk getting injured or killed by a multitude of dangers and get stolen by strangers. Outside cats live on average 3 to 7 years and get sick and injured often. Inside cats live 14 to 20 years and have a clean safe place to sleep. My best girl passed away last week from a stroke. I rescued her from being abandoned after her owner moved. She was 6 to 10 years old and pregnant. The vet said she had probably been outside having kittens for a while. The owner didn’t get her cat care. She was starving and scared. House cats are accustomed to being fed. Outside cats get round worms from eating rabbits and mice. The worms steal nutrition from the cats stomach and cause the cat to waste away. I got her medical care and fed her and her babies well. I paid for vetting on all kittens and found good homes for all four kittens. Mom cat was afraid of all humans except me so I adopted her. She loved me and showed me everyday how sweet and amazing she was. She was affectionate to all my cats and kittens and pulled our rescue together. She loved my plush throw and curled up with me on the couch nightly. She had no interest in outside ever again. One day the back door was open while bringing in groceries. I looked at her and asked her, do you want to go out. She looked up at me turned and ran down the hall to her room. That was my answer. Cats prefer inside when they are cared for properly. I love cats and will always do what I can to keep them safe.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s