essay writersaeon coin reviewFebruary 27, 2019

A story that can only be described as “bizarre,” a Grants Pass woman said she was told she had committed a felony theft for trapping a trespassing cat.

Let’s start from the beginning.

Denise Highfield says her neighbors cat has been sneaking into her home and making a mess in her house for months now. Specifically, the cat has been spraying urine on her walls and appliances.

Highfield said she’s been in contact with cat’s owners, who said they would try to work on the issue. But months later, the cat was still showing up in Highfield’s home.

One Saturday in December 2018, Highfield said she called Josephine County Animal Control and told them about the issue. She said, they told her if the animal was trespassing on her property, she was allowed to trap it and bring it to the shelter.

Highfield did just that.

Later that night, Highfield said the cat’s owners came by to ask her if she’d seen him.

“I didn’t tell them, I didn’t want to start anything,” Highland said. “It was at animal control and there was nothing they could do about it until Monday morning.”

With tensions high, Highfield said she called the Grants Pass Department of Public Safety so they could tell her neighbors the truth about where their cat was. Highland said the responding officer went out to talk with neighbors.

When the officer came back Highfield, she was shocked to hear that she had committed a felony theft.

“He said that I had committed this crime, and that his sergeant wanted to take me to jail,” Highfield said. “He said the doggy door was implied consent.”

Grants Pass Department of Public Safety declined to answer our questions about the bizarre case, but earlier this month, Lieutenant Dennis Ward told the Daily Courier the cat was a companion animal. He added that he found it “surprising” that animal control instructed Highland to trap the cat.

Lt. Ward was quoted saying, “You can’t just take someone’s animal.”

Josephine County Animal Shelter Coordinator Laura Milnes says she wasn’t involved in this case, but adds, it’s a tough one.

“I do know that you are legally permitted to trap cats who are on your property, but I also know that cats are considered personal property in Oregon. So, if you knowingly withhold it from a known owner, that could be perceived as theft,” Milnes said.

But Josephine County District Attorney Ryan Mulkins said in this particular situation, Highfield did not commit theft.

He provided the following statement to NBC5 News:

“A charge of theft was not appropriate in Ms. Highfield’s case because there was not evidence that Ms. Highfield intended to “deprive another of property” nor “appropriate property” to herself as those terms are defined by law.

Under ORS 164.005(1) “appropriate property of another” means to:

“(a) Exercise control over property of another, or to aid a third person to exercise control over property of another, permanently or for so extended a period or under such circumstances as to acquire the major portion of the economic value or benefit of such property; or

(b) Dispose of the property of another for the benefit of oneself or a third person.”

Under ORS 164.005(2) “Deprive another of property” means to:

(a) Withhold property of another or cause property of another to be withheld from that person permanently or for so extended a period or under such circumstances that the major portion of its economic value or benefit is lost to that person; or

(b) Dispose of the property in such manner or under such circumstances as to render it unlikely that an owner will recover such property.”

Therefore,

I assume that the responding officer thought Ms. Highfield’s conduct had risen to the level of a theft but under the law it had not because there was insufficient evidence that she intended to “appropriate the property of another” to herself nor “deprive another of property” as those terms are defined by Oregon Criminal Statutes.”

– Ryan Mulkins, Josephine County District Attorney

While Highfield may not be in trouble with the law, she said the cat continues to come to her house. But, because her neighbors aren’t breaking any laws either, the question remains — what can be done about it?

“I’m just hoping we can get to a solution that works for our community, really,” Highfield said.

Currently in Grants Pass you can only have two dogs on a residential property, but you can have an unlimited amount of cats.

“Most of the laws are written for dogs,” Grants Pass City Councilor Valerie Lovelace said. Lovelace said the county’s animal shelter receives money from dog licensing fees, although the majority of the pets that come through are cats.

Lovelace said, because the animal shelter is under the county, Grants Pass city council has asked Josephine County Commissioners to look into the possibility of cat licensing to hold cat owners more responsible. However, the bottom line is, cats are harder to control.

“[Commissioners] put it to a committee to do some research, and their committee came back and said it’s really not cost effective. Because the administration of it, trying to find the cat owners and chase them down… it’s more costly than the money you receive from it,” Lovelace explained.

County Commissioner Lily Morgan said she’s aware that there are cat issues in the county, but echoed Lovelace’s concerns.

“It’s a lot easier to identify who a dog’s owner is. Dogs generally don’t jump fences or get outside and can jump on roofs,”  Morgan said. “You know, there’s a saying, ‘nobody owns a cat, a cat owns a human.”

Truth is, the problem extends far beyond Josephine County.

The state of Oregon has plenty of laws outlining licensing and requirements for dog owners, but generally falls silent for felines.

“If you look around the state of Oregon, there’s not a lot of cat licensing. There’s not other programs to follow when it comes to this,” Morgan said.

While adding local cat ordinances may be out of reach for now, leaders say they’re focusing on what they can do to curb the cat problem. For now, they’re teaming up with animal experts, to try to control the cat population.

“The clear cut answer is spay neuter. The struggle our county has is we do not have a low cost spay neuter clinic,” Milnes said.

“It comes back down– for me — to responsible pet ownership. I mean, that’s part of the problem,” Lovelace said. “People don’t get their animals fixed and then it becomes a community problem.”

Lovelace said she has been advocating for a mobile vet clinic to make low-cost spay and neuter services more accessible in the county. Morgan said Commissioners have also been applying for grants for said clinic.

As for the possibility of cat ordinances for problems like Highfield is having, it seems felines will remain above the law, for now.

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