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‘The cat did not testify’: Judge forced to decide who owns ‘spoiled’ Fluffy

‘The issue is not who is the better “cat parent,” but who in law is its owner’

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A mischievous Nova Scotia small claims court adjudicator has acknowledged what most pet owners already know: “Dogs have owners. Cats have staff.”

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But adjudicator Raffi Balmanoukian was nonetheless forced to decide who owns a feline known variously as Fluffy, Black Puss, Black Foot and Mr. Puss, after a landlord accused a former tenant of napping his cat.

In a wry decision in favor of the landlord after much bickering between the two sides, Balmanoukian noted sadly: “The cat did not testify.”

The ruling, released last month, lays out the facts of the case: Landlord Donald Myatt owns a multi-unit property in Williams Point, NS, outside Antigonish. He got Fluffy for his daughter from him while living at the property, but left the cat when he moved elsewhere, although he did take the family dog.

Tenant Jacob Cameron testified Myatt asked him and his partner to look after the cat, and refused to pay his vet bills. Further, according to the ruling, Cameron said “(Myatt) favored dogs over cats.” He said the cat had adopted them, and he showed the adjudicator photos of it sleeping on their bed.

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Cameron described Fluffy as “happy.” Another neighbor said the couple clearly “spoiled” fluffy.

Dogs have owners. Cats have staff

Cameron said they felt it had become their cat after three or four years, so took it with them when they moved.

But Myatt said he made it clear to them it was his daughter’s cat, and that they would be returning for it. He left Fluffy because “we were going through hard times,” and saw him daily as he visited the property. He insisted he’d paid the vet bills, and said he’d only found out the cat had moved with Cameron and his partner after posting about Fluffy’s disappearance on Facebook.

At one point, the RCMP had become involved in the alleged catnapping but ultimately decided it was a civil dispute.

Said Balmanoukian in his ruling: “I made it clear to the parties that although we are dealing with a sentient being, a cat is property and its ownership is a matter of property law.”

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The ruling suggested some disapproval of Myatt, saying there was “unadmirable” evidence Myatt left the cat deliberately, and said his reasons for doing so “may be questionable.”

But: “The issue is not who is the better ‘cat parent,’ but who in law is its owner,” Balmanoukian said.

The adjudicator said Myatt’s actions “did not manifest a divesture of ownership (either for himself or on behalf of his infant daughter).”

Balmanoukian also noted the dispute stems in part from other issues, including a mess that was left behind when the tenants moved.

“It is manifest from this litigation that both have strong feelings towards the feline, although at times the feelings for the animal mixed with feelings of animus,” Balmanoukian said.

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