SONOMA COUNTY, California — To one woman, the black and white feline is Whiley, a one-time stray who she adopted from a rescue nearly five years ago.
To another, the 10-year-old tuxedo cat is David, who she bottle-fed when he was a kitten and frantically searched for when he went missing.
Now the two women are fighting in court in Sonoma County, California, asking a judge to weigh in on their cat custody battle.
In court, the judge has decided he’ll refer to the cat as “DW” to be fair and refer to both names for the animal both women describe as a beloved pet.
“The cat has it made,” said attorney Elizabeth Reifler. “He has two women that loved him.”
But the lawyer, who represents the woman who claims to be the cat’s original — and rightful — owner, also said the case strikes at the heart of a very serious issue: the animal adoption process.
Her client, Tiffany Mestas, says she took in the cat and three others from the same litter in 2005. In 2007, he slipped away when she moved to a new neighborhood. The veterinary technician says she put up posters as she searched for him and offered a $1,000 reward, but there was no sign of her missing pet.
That changed last year, when she says a microchip company notified her that someone else was trying to change her long-missing cat’s registration.
‘It’s become a family member’
Therese Weczorek argues that she’s the feline’s rightful owner. She says she picked him up after making a $50 donation at a cat rescue site recommended by her veterinarian in 2010.
Now, attorney Leo Bartolotta argues, the cat is “extremely content.”
“I have concerns that it would be extremely stressful to the cat to take it from a home it has been in for five years and put it in a new environment,” he said. “My client is a retired nurse who has grown very attached to the cat. It’s become a family member to her. She tells me it’s like a grandchild.”
Weczorek’s attorney says she only learned the cat had a microchip last year, when she took him to a new veterinarian. She then called the microchip company to see about changing the cat’s name, her lawyer says.
“We’ll be moving to dismiss the case at some point,” Bartolotta said. “Though the law is not totally clear, I believe that my client is the owner of the cat and will retain ownership of the cat.”
Attorney: Cat should have been scanned for chip
There’s been no date set for a trial, but neither side shows any side of backing down.
Reifler says the case isn’t just about one pet.
Everyone involved, she said, had good intentions. But she argues that when Weczorek took in the cat, she should have taken it to a shelter or vet to have it scanned for microchips right away.
“This is something people need to be educated about,” she said. “We can avoid a lot of broken hearts that way.”