For the second time this week, two people are fighting over a cat after the original “owner” received a request from a microchip company to confirm another person’s claim on the feline.
Charlotte Sawyer of Swindon, a town in southwest England, told her local newspaper she was livid when she got the request to sign over her claim to one-year-old Oreo.
“I can’t believe the audacity of this person trying to steal our beautiful cat,” she told the Swindon Advertiser.
But Sawyer readily admitted Oreo was going out for days and sometimes weeks at a time before returning home, and she hasn’t seen him for four months now.
Like many cats in the UK, Oreo not only had access to the outdoors, he was accustomed to coming and going as he pleased. Other families were feeding him, and it’s likely he made the rounds among several houses before returning home. Because “home” is a nebulous concept in this instance, it’s not the first time someone has asked Sawyer to relinquish custody of Oreo.
“A woman claiming to be someone who looks for missing cats once knocked on my door and handed me a form asking for permission to change Oreo’s microchip,” Sawyer said. “I wanted to rip it up, I was furious, and told her he was my cat. Now it’s happened again. At least it’s provided some reassurance that he’s still alive.”
While I feel for anyone who loses a pet, I don’t know how someone who truly loves a cat can accept the kitty being gone for days or weeks at a time, not knowing if he’s in danger, hurt or still breathing. That kind of arrangement isn’t in the cat’s best interests, and it’s not compatible with our responsibility to ensure the welfare of our four-legged friends, an obligation all of us take on when we adopt our pets.
The people who encountered Oreo likely thought he was a stray or an abandoned former pet. If they’re requesting a change to microchip registration, it probably means they spent their own money to take the little guy to the vet, where the chip was discovered and scanned.
This is emphatically not a blanket criticism of UK norms regarding outdoor access, by the way. Americans cannot claim moral superiority. In the past week or so we’ve had a Pennsylvania man kill a cat with a blow dart because the feline “was trying to kill my birds,” a vulgar approximation of a human being in New Jersey “repeatedly raped” his pet cat before torturing her to death, and some deranged lunatic in Florida used a cat as target practice, leaving 30 pellets lodged in the innocent animal’s little body.
That represents a tiny fraction of the cat abuse stories from the last 10 days and I’ve omitted the worsted examples because I know we have readers who can’t handle this stuff. (I can’t either, which is why I paused my Google News alerts for most of the past two weeks.)
My point here is not to shock. It’s to underscore the fact that we have absolutely no moral authority when it comes to telling people in other countries how to care for animals.
Moral authority concerns aside, the two examples of ownership claims by microchip this week raise important questions about the definition of “ownership” and what it means to properly care for a cat.
Like many cat lovers I don’t like the term “owner” and I describe myself as a caretaker, but where the law is concerned, ownership is important concept because it determines who has claim over the animal. The law views cats and dogs as property, whether we like it or not. That’s why animal welfare statutes fall under agriculture and markets law in many US states instead of the criminal code, and it’s why so many of those laws need updating.
Cat culture across the Atlantic is different in that the majority of people who have cats believe our furry friends must have access to the outdoors to live a complete, fulfilled life. In the US, 63 percent of cat caretakers keep their felines strictly indoors, while in the UK it’s virtually the opposite, with 70 percent allowing cats to roam outdoors. Not all definitions of outdoor access are equal: Some people allow only supervised outdoor time in the backyard (or “garden”), some make sure their kitties are safely indoors by nightfall, while others have cats who return at their own whim.
There are also differences regarding geography, traffic density, the prevalence of natural predators and the nature of city life that account for how much outdoor access they allow their cats.
As the UK sets a June 2024 date for the mandatory microchipping of pet cats, disputes like this are going to become more common, which means people would be wise to make sure their cats’ microchips have up-to-date information and have readily available proof that they own their felines. If cat owners don’t establish the criteria for what it means to “own” a feline, the government will.