How to steal a cat in Duluth

John Ramos

Polly and Sunlight in 2016. Photo credit: Camila Ramos
Polly and Sunlight in 2016. Photo credit: Camila Ramos

Before I begin the sad tale of the abduction and forced relocation of our family’s one-year-old cat Polly, let me first describe all the things of which I am guilty. As the dismal saga played out, more than one person who I turned to for help instead accused me of wrongdoing and culpability, and I certainly do not wish to minimize my crimes. So here they are.

• I was guilty of not getting Polly micro-chipped.

• I was guilty of letting Polly outside without a leash.

• I was guilty of not calling Animal Control when she disappeared.

Okay? Good. Now here’s the story.

The afternoon of Monday, May 8, 2017 was warm and sunny—so much so that I showed unusual initiative and decided to wash the windows of the family van. As I left the house with my Windex and paper towels, Polly followed me out. She is the middle cat of our three—Taco Taco is the oldest and Sunlight the youngest—and one of her favorite things to do is roll around on the concrete path that leads from our door to the sidewalk. As I climbed into the van, that is what she was doing.

A few minutes later, two girls of about high school age came walking by. When they saw Polly, they knelt and called to her. Polly approached them without hesitation. They petted her and snapped pictures of her with their phones. The girls didn’t see me inside the van, and I didn’t bother letting them know I was there. It was fine with me if they wanted to play with Polly.  She was a friendly, gentle cat who was known in the neighborhood, and she never missed a chance to be petted. Many people, including my kids’ schoolmates and various random adults, took a few moments to pet her when they passed by our house. I went back to wiping windows.

The next time I looked, the girls had moved a couple of houses up the street. Polly must have followed them, because they were still fussing over her and snapping selfies with her.

That was the last time I saw Polly. 

I wasn’t too worried when she failed to come home that evening, because she had stayed out at night before, but when she still hadn’t returned by the next morning I became concerned. I walked around the neighborhood looking for the two girls. I didn’t find them. I put Polly’s litter box outside, in case she escaped from her abductors and needed to find a way home.

As another day went by, and another, I modified my usual walking routes to visit alleys and streets where I didn’t usually go, but I still didn’t find anybody. I was extremely irritated. How could somebody take a cat out of somebody else’s front yard? It was so selfish and disrespectful. 

A week and a half passed. I decided that Polly was gone for good. I hoped that she was at least being treated well. I didn’t like to think that her trusting personality might have put her in a bad situation. I wished I had taught her not to talk to strangers, but I had no idea how to teach a cat anything.

On Saturday, May 20, my wife Camila took our two younger boys to Animal Allies to pet the kittens and maybe scout out a replacement cat. That’s where they found Polly. She was now going by the name of Clementine, given to her by Animal Allies. Camila said Polly seemed suspicious and out-of-sorts, which I could certainly understand. I would have been suspicious too if somebody grabbed me from my coddled life and threw me in amongst ruffians and cutthroats.

Unfortunately, when Camila told the staff that Clementine/Polly was ours, she was told that no, the cat was not ours. Polly had been at the city’s Animal Control facility for five days without anybody claiming her and thus we had apparently relinquished our ownership rights. Worse, somebody else had already put a hold on Polly for adoption, and that person’s claim took precedence over ours.

It was my mistake, of course. The truth was that it hadn’t even crossed my mind to call Animal Control. I thought the girls had stolen her and taken her home, not brought her to the city pound. The idea that anyone would have thought a friendly, tame, well-groomed cat sitting in somebody’s front yard was abandoned was ludicrous. And even if they did think that, wouldn’t they have first knocked on the door to see if the cat was ours?

Evidently not. And now it was too late. When Camila got home and told me about the bureaucratic stone wall she had run up against, I couldn’t believe it. I thought that all I would need to do would be to show proof that Polly really was ours and we weren’t trying to pull a fast one on anybody and all would be well. I spent an hour searching through photographs on the computer and found three that clearly showed Polly’s markings. I loaded them up on the tablet and the next day visited Animal Allies myself, certain that I would be taking Polly home.

Alas, I ran into the same stone wall. The receptionist would not even look at my pictures. It didn’t matter what I said.  More than five days had passed. Polly was no longer ours. We had no claim on her. The receptionist offered to put me second in line to adopt Polly. That made me furious. I stomped out.

Of course, I should have had Polly micro-chipped. Taco Taco was micro-chipped. When Polly and Sunlight got vaccinated, Camila had urged me to take them somewhere to get chipped, but I procrastinated and didn’t get it done. Even so, I couldn’t see how my failure justified taking a cat away from its home. It wasn’t fair to the cat. Wasn’t Animal Allies supposed to be looking out for the cat?

I wrote a long email detailing my story and sent it along with the pictures to Animal Allies executive director Lindsay Snustad. Surely she would see the sense in what I said. It was precisely because Polly had had such a good life that she trusted people enough to let them grab her. The best thing for Polly now would be to return to that life. I thought that would be clear to anyone.

On Monday, May 22, I got a call from Daryl Yankee, Animal Allies’ shelter operations director. He spent some time noting my failures and missteps before repeating the same message: We couldn’t have Polly back. No matter what. I got the feeling from his tone that I was being judged, and coming up badly. As I continued to argue, he grew increasingly short with me. “That isn’t your cat anymore,” he said.

“You know it’s our cat because of the pictures I sent,” I said. “You know it’s our cat, and you’re choosing to send it to a stranger.” 

“I guess you could paint it that way,” he said.

“Paint it that way?” I yelped. “That’s what’s happening! But I can see where this is going. I guess I’ve got nothing I can do about it except write an article. That’s the next step.” 

“I hope you use the article to educate folks that if you don’t want to be in this position that you should have your animal licensed and microchipped,” he replied.

“Yeah, I’ll do that,” I said. “And I’ll also use it to educate folks how to steal a cat. You KNOW it’s our cat! That’s what I don’t get. You KNOW it’s our cat.”

“It isn’t your cat,” he said.

My teeth were grinding. “You know it’s the cat that we raised from a kitten, and you’re just choosing to send it away from where it grew up, where its food is, where its other two cat friends are, and you’re choosing to send it to a stranger. That doesn’t seem to me to be in the best interests of the cat. Why not send it home if you have the choice?”

“Well, there’s some choices that you made, too, John,” said the moralist on the other end of the line.

At that moment, as I paced and gesticulated, I accidentally hung up on Daryl. It really was an accident, but I doubted he saw it that way. I immediately called back, and this time I was put through to executive director Lindsay Snustad. By this time, I had little hope, but I went through the whole thing again. Lindsay, too, bullet-pointed my many transgressions, also adding the tidbit that cats that were outside in the city of Duluth were supposed to be on leashes, so I had failed at that, too.

Never mind that a leashed cat was hardly a cat at all. How were they supposed to chase squirrels up telephone poles if they were leashed? Or climb up to the peak of the neighbor’s roof to get a better view of the world? Or stalk mice in the tall grass across the road? Whenever my kids and I saw a cat on a leash, we laughed. But that was the law, apparently, and I had broken it. I was just an awful person, scarcely one step away from the penitentiary—but it was Polly who was being punished.

“If that happened to a kid, that would be a serious crime,” I said. “Find a nice friendly kid in somebody’s yard and grab it.”

“I don’t know what you’re saying,” said Lindsay. “What are you saying?”

“I’m making a joke,” I said. My point was that I was pretty sure the kid would be returned to its parents even if they didn’t fill out the right paperwork. But somehow the conversation didn’t improve after that. 

In the end, I had Lindsay put me second on the adoption list. After I hung up, I drove down to the city animal shelter. I hoped that the intake record for Polly would show where she had been picked up—further proof, I hoped, that she had been taken from my yard. I also hoped that the record would show contact information for the two girls, so I could get in touch with them to ascertain if they were the ones who were trying to adopt Polly.

The woman running the shelter was very helpful and immediately found the record I was looking for. Alas, it contained virtually no information. It said that a “tabby/tortoise” cat had been turned in on May 8, and nothing else. The woman said, “I’m sure if you went to Animal Allies and explained the situation, they’d be happy to give you your cat back.” I laughed.

Later I called Lindsay Snustad again and asked her to please tell the people who were adopting Polly that the original owners wanted her back. She said she would advise her staff to pass that along.

So that’s my story. As of May 23, I have received no further information. As far as I know, Polly is still in jail, fashioning shanks out of toothbrush handles.