Kathy McFadden and her husband, Jim Ladd, set up a spacious kitty-condo outside their home near West Hale Street and South Michigan Lane, where their 5-year-old orange tabby, Melvin, lived.
Melvin had his own little sky bridge leading from the structure to a fenced enclosure around a tree. The couple made sure it was locked every night. “I don’t believe you should let your pets disturb your neighbors,” McFadden said.
But on the morning of Feb. 4, something was wrong. The wire around the outbuilding was cut and the window on the shed was ajar.
Nothing in the shed was taken. Only Melvin was gone. And though they don’t know quite what happened, it seemed clear a human was involved, McFadden said.
“It broke my heart into a million pieces,” she said.
The case was investigated as a burglary. But it was eventually closed when Boise police couldn’t find any leads.
Melvin went missing at a time many Southeast Boise residents were reporting their pets vanishing or mysteriously dying.
Though it’s not simple to track local cat disappearances or deaths, reports made to the Idaho Humane Society indicate 2016’s numbers aren’t much different than in years past.
Regardless, many residents are fired up and some argue Idaho needs better laws to protect cats from harm.
What are the laws?
“In state statute, there are a number of general laws applying to the proper care of ‘animals,’ and domesticated cats are named in the definition for ‘companion animal.’ But there aren’t laws specific to cats,” said Allison Maier, spokeswoman for the Idaho Humane Society. Dogs get an entire chapter of state law, she added.
The laws that can be applied to cats aren’t always easy to prosecute. Neighbors can legally trap cats on their own property, as long as they drop the cat off at a shelter. But if a neighbor illegally harms a cat or abandons it elsewhere, it’s difficult to prove the neighbor did so.
And politics play a role. In 2010, IHS backed a proposal to manage feral cat populations by no longer banning Idaho cities from allowing trap-neuter-release programs. Right now, that’s illegal because technically, releasing a cat outside of a shelter is abandonment.
The legislation didn’t go anywhere because the concept of letting cats wander, with the understanding they may meander onto private property, was too controversial, Maier said.
“I think cats, in general, when you ask people in the animal welfare world, ‘What is your biggest challenge?’ cats are always going to be the answer,” she said. “Over the past couple decades we’ve seen so many improvements for dogs but we haven’t seen the equivalent effect for cats.”
Erin Liedtke founded the “Catch the Boise Cat Napper” Facebook page after losing cats several times this year and last. Though cats vanish for many reasons — cars, trapping, predators — she believes cats missing in town the last two years were the victims of something intentional, whether it’s one person grabbing pets or several independent groups.
She said she thinks Idaho needs more limits on trapping cats, and IHS should create a database of recovered pets.
“I’d like the law on trapping to be changed to say if you’re going to trap you need to make three attempts to contact your neighbors in a three-block radius, face-to-face,” she said in a text message. “Signs need to be put up in large print stating dates you will be putting the traps out and who you are (and) where you will be taking said cat.”
What’s a cat owner to do?
Many who make their way to Liedtke’s Facebook page just use it to post about their missing cats. But some use it to call for organized patrols. And occasionally, people post sightings of someone driving or walking through a neighborhood after dark and, more rarely, reports of confronting them.
“Someone really stealing cats?” a commenter wrote on a map of disappearances posted in August. “Yes. It’s been going on for quite sometime now,” the page administrator replied.
“To the cat napper...you have stolen cats from the wrong people. We will find you, and we won’t stop till we do! Turn yourselves in!” a Twitter account related to the group posted earlier this month.
It’s certainly legal for folks to walk their neighborhood and keep an eye out. But Boise Police Department spokeswoman Haley Williams recommends communities use a formalized neighborhood watch if they want to prevent crime where they live.
BPD spokesman Ryan Larrondo said residents should search for their pets through traditional methods, starting by checking with local shelters. Maier advises filing a lost pet report with IHS and staying in touch with your neighbors.
“If the person has evidence or reason to believe their pet has been stolen, officers recommend they call police and file a report at the earliest convenience,” Larrondo said. “An investigation will be conducted as soon as is possible, and officers ask that the calling party provide as much identifying information about the missing pet as they can, such as pictures, a detailed description, and any features that may help identify the pet. An investigation will follow.”
When we hear that cats are missing, in general, the least likely scenario is that someone is stealing it. It’s probably hiding somewhere, or something to do with traffic or wildlife.
Allison Maier, spokeswoman, Idaho Humane Society
Liedtke said she thinks checking shelters is a tricky task for a group focused on a large area like hers.
“Getting volunteers for that is hard, though,” she said. “I think with the numbers (of missing cats) being so high, police should step in a (bit) to help citizens feel better and safer.”