Free Moose!

There are times when human relationship drama is so bizarre and intense you feel like you’re living in a TV soap opera. Thus sums up recovering Moose; the cat belonged to one neighbor but was taken away by another. I played my role.

My wife and I first encountered the tortoiseshell, running off her porch to greet us, in early December 2017—and I profiled her in my “Cats of University Heights” series. We saw her at least once more, months later, in the building’s parking lot. Thirteen days ago, someone direct-messaged me on NextDoor about the kitty. He had seen my photos and wondered if she was a stray, as she frequented his property. For the purpose of privacy, I am changing the names of all the participants. We will call this gentleman Jerry.  He asked where I had seen Moose. I gave an approximate address and expressed confidence that the tortie belonged to someone. 

On June 10th, the mother of a three year-old posted on NextDoor about her tortoiseshell being missing for two days. We will call her Betty. I replied with a link to the putty-tat’s profile in my series. To which she responded: “That is Moose, and that’s my front porch. She’s not a stray. We’ve tried three different collars, and she gets them off every single time. This is the longest she’s been missing”. She also wasn’t chipped. Someone wanting her could claim that she was a stray.

A lost cat can be most upsetting when a child cries for her missing pet. Betty searched, meandering through the neighborhood, calling for Moose, who eventually appeared behind the screen of an apartment on a property behind hers along a different street. Another neighbor gave Betty pen and paper to leave a note, which included a contact number; she departed, with her daughter crying about leaving behind Moose. BTW, Betty shot the photo below that night and added the #freemoose hashtag, before sharing on NextDoor the next afternoon.

The abductor, whom we will call Dick, phoned Betty and fiercely berated her for being a terrible pet owner and parent. I wondered if perhaps she exaggerated until I heard him rip into her nearly verbatim her description; more on that encounter later. Dick refused to surrender the animal without proof of ownership.

Betty made copies of Moose’s adoption and spay papers—from another state; the family moved to San Diego about a year ago. She had Moose, who is named for her grandfather, since she was a kitten. Betty slid the documents under Dick’s door around 8:30 a.m. PDT on June 13, after no one answered.

By this time, Betty and I direct-messaged about the unfolding drama. Jerry also communicated with her, following my suggestion. By early afternoon, she and I had reciprocated cell numbers and moved to phone calls. With Dick still refusing to let go of Moose, I encouraged Betty to contact animal services. Someone there told her to call the police (non-emergency number, of course), which she did. The papers would be enough to establish ownership, the animal services representative explained.

The waiting began. Betty had given her address and that of the Dick’s to the police dispatcher. For reasons unclear—and perhaps nothing more complicated than a missed phone call—the cops only visited Dick, who said the cat belonged to him. Case closed, or so Betty would learn late-afternoon after we spoke and I encouraged her to contact the police department once more. Case reopened. BUT, the dispatcher warned that officers were busy with other matters. She could expect to wait. Even longer.

Neighbors Rally
Betty’s nearest neighbor, whom we will call Rocky, wanted to help her, and I asked if he would be willing to go with me to Dick’s. Would she want that? Yes and yes. Sometime after 5 p.m. on the 13th, I arrived for Rocky. Betty wanted to come along but I requested that she stay home, just in case San Diego’s finest finally showed up at her apartment.

Walking around the corner, I told Rocky: “We need allies”. In May, I met the delightful owner of white kitty Aylin. The woman, whom we will call Angelica, lives close by Dick. I wondered if maybe she knew him. Nope. But, surprise, Rocky was acquainted with Angelica and her husband. He proved to be a mighty force that night, so let’s call him Arthur—as in King Arthur of the Knights of the Roundtable. For he is gallant, stocky, and muscular—even in his elder years.

We three men walked over to Dick’s apartment, and I proceeded to the door, which had no obvious bell to ring. Strange thing: The door wasn’t closed shut, but pushed ajar. I rapped on the wood, which started two dogs barking, and waited. I knocked again, and the beasts barked even more. No one answered. Then with the next raps, the door open. My heart stopped as I gulped in a moment of hope that little Moose might run out and put an end to the situation.

“Hello! Is anyone home?” I asked through the crack. A young woman, perhaps in her twenties, jumped up and pulled open the door, accusing me of trying to break in. I never crossed the threshold and had made no attempt to enter. A dog darted out and started running about the apartment complex. She paid it no attention whatsoever. But the woman did pull out a cell phone and call the police. Excellent! Finally the men in blue, or is that black, might come. I asked Rocky to fetch Betty and her daughter, presuming the cops would arrive at Dick’s place first (they wouldn’t).

Around that time, Angelica arrived, assessed the situation, and requested that Arthur return home. The couple asked that someone fetch them when the cops came, for which I was grateful. I might need Arthur, along with Rocky, should Dick’s housemate, whom we will call Cadence, try to press charges against me for breaking and entering (I didn’t).

The Housemate
I regarded Cadence’s cop call as a fantastic development. Better still, she was alone. Perhaps with enough evidence, she would surrender the cat captive. We chatted, but she was a cool customer, giving up little information or inflection in her voice (hence, the moniker) until Betty arrived with her daughter, whom we will refer to as Missy.

The little girl was excited and interested, and at one point she kind of hugged Cadence and put hands on her. The woman bristled complaint: “I don’t like being touched!” Betty said the obvious: Missy was being innocently friendly in ways children tend to be. Cadence complained more intensely, and Betty pulled back her daughter, rebuking the woman at the same time.

In all the time waiting for the police—and also for Dick, as it turned out—Betty pumped for information but gave up little. She never revealed her name to me, nor did he.

Hoping yet for quick resolution, and expecting some sense of decency from Cadence, I asked Betty to call for Moose. A few minutes later, the kitty pushed around closed blinds to the screen of the same window in the photo. Poignant moments passed as the little girl greeted her kitty. We pointed out this behavior, and Rocky showed Betty photos of the cat on his smartphone. “They could have been taken anytime”, she reacted. “They are dated”, he answered, showing one of younger Missy in diapers with Moose. Cadence wouldn’t look.

The cat wasn’t hers to release, she said, being a housemate of a few months who didn’t really know Dick all that well. Oh yeah? The dog wasn’t hers either, but she hadn’t stopped it from running loose (although by this time the animal was indoors). For a time after fido’s escape, we neighbors watched over the animal after Cadence stepped inside and shut the door. BTW, Dick would later refer to her as his girlfriend.

Cadence claimed that other people had come by demanding the cat, which they said belonged to them. Neighbors in the same complex had asked on three separate occasions, she said, requesting return of their animal. But later, when repeating the story, she misspoke and revealed the lie, which I perceived and accused her for: They had asked to adopt Moose, rather than make claim of ownership. Big difference!

All the while she texted/typed, and when my attention diverted, seemingly shot photos of us with her bejeweled cased phone. Was she sending them to Dick? Posting to Instagram? I wouldn’t guess. But pressing a little for some information, I discovered that Dick would arrive soon.

We stood around as dusk fell and night rose, watching several neighbors drive up and park. Finally, Dick arrived. I don’t exaggerate when stating that he walked with a commanding swagger. He immediately let loose verbal assault, mostly aimed at Betty. He rudely called her a terrible cat owner, asserting that the tortie was anemic, full of fleas, and afflicted with mange. He accused her of setting neighbors against him. His taunts turned to each of us as we spoke—words quick as ammo might be leaving an assault rifle. Rat-tat-tat. Fiercest fire: Dick accused Betty of writing “Fuck You” on his car, and he had the documents she left to prove it by the handwriting! She quite believably denied such vandalism.

Feeling fully in command, his back arched straight up and I imagined a male peacock brandishing its feathers. Dick made Betty an offer: He would release the cat with promise the animal would never return. The inference was clear: should she, he would take her. We relaxed, and waves of relief visibly crossed Betty’s face. But the agreement was false. A few minutes later, Dick swaggered out of the apartment without Moose. He would wait for the “police to arbitrate”.

Then he demanded that all of us immediately leave his property. I was the most resistant, backing towards the common area, where I planned to stand firm. He pulled out his cell phone, pointed it like a weapon, and started videoing with the flash shining to illuminate. “This is how the court system works in this country now”, he cackled. He advanced, as I gave ground. His video-taping smartphone intimidated more than a gun would have. I have seen the damage that comes from content shared online stripped of context. I joined the others in the street. Night had come. A three year-old shivered in the cooling air. Her normal bedtime had long passed.

We needed reinforcements. I asked Rocky to watch over things while I hurried over to plead with Angelica and Arthur to rejoin the group. She is sensible, and he is tough, despite both being ( I believe) in their Seventies. I felt bad bringing them back into the situation, particularly after seeing Dick’s belligerence and unwillingness to be reasonable. Their presence could be invaluable when the police arrived and maybe even dealing with Dick. They agreed to come. I left, and they followed minutes later.

Angelica brought either a coat or blanket—I don’t recall which—to cover and to warm the truest victim of Moose’s abduction and Dick’s behavior: Betty’s precious child. What kind of human being yells at a mother in front of her little girl? Fists or weapons needn’t be raised for there to be violence.

Even if Dick released Moose, threat would remain. He claimed as justification for taking the tortie moral authority: Cats should be kept indoors. Betty let hers run loose, which he strongly opposed. Stripping back all other accusations aside, Betty couldn’t let outside Moose without risking future abduction. His power to hurt her family would remain.

We talked. I believed and told the others that Dick played a waiting game: As darkness engulfed, would we just give up and go? Seeing that the police didn’t immediately respond to Cadence’s call, their arrival could be long ways off. Time favored him.

The Threat
Normally, I would never leave behind my cellular. But before going to Betty’s place, I had initiated data transfer between devices—start of a personal platform switch I will write about in a few days. It’s also reason why I didn’t finish this recollection sooner. The tone of this story would be very different had I carried my smartphone and used it to record some of Dick’s verbal assaults; my descriptions don’t adequately capture their intensity.

I asked Angelica to borrow her iPhone to ring the police, which I did. The dispatcher said that the request had already been logged; there had been other calls, too, presumably, from neighbors hearing the disturbance. He told us to leave and return to Betty’s place. Officers would go there first, and she would receive a phone call beforehand.

As Betty started towards home, carrying her girl, Dick swaggered out to the street to confront the newcomers. He let loose earlier accusations, making sure Angelica and Arthur knew just how terrible a cat owner was Betty. He also, with great emotion, made the “Fuck You” on the car accusation again. Who would have guessed the response to that? Angelica advanced, asserting that it was kid vandals, who had written the same thing on her car, too, a few nights earlier! Dick ignored her defense but either then, or in response to something else, stepped into the street towards me: “What do you think about that, Mr. Tech Journalist?” Ah, Cadence had shared information about us.

Emotions finally boiled over, as Arthur and Dick yelled (and swore) at one another. Rocky took out his smartphone and started videoing the exchange. Dick immediately quieted and turned to another attack tactic, by letting Arthur continue yelling (and cussing) and then accusing that the recording would make the old man look bad. Not him. Dick swung age like a weapon, calling the couple “old” repeatedly and, as such, inferior to him. By now the group had moved down the street, mainly because we were going to Betty’s place, with Dick pursuing. What he said next is open to interpretation. Following the couple, he yelled: “You’re going to die!” The husband and wife took that as a threat. “Now you’ve gone too far!” Angelica yelled. She turned about and moved back towards Dick. He wasn’t going to threaten her man!

The explosive interchange diffused into a standoff ending in separation, for no other reason than urgency to be present outside Betty’s apartment when the police arrived. As we walked up to her building, Arthur expressed surprise that there were no cops yet. Fortunately, a cruiser drove by about 10 minutes later, and we flagged it down. The two officers stepped through the group of neighbors to collect Betty’s statement. By this time, Rocky’s pregnant wife—let’s call her Adrienne—had come by to help with Missy.

To say that Betty was emotionally spent understates the tears and trauma upon her face. A police officer instructed us to wait there, except for Betty, who should walk over to Dick’s address and wait on the street. The cop explained that if Dick didn’t surrender the cat, he and his partner could do nothing more. That would be a matter for the courts. He closed the cruiser door, and visibly downtrodden Betty walked by lugging a cat carrier. Rocky and I stayed behind as instructed. But Angelica and Arthur followed; the direction was homeward bound for them—and because of all that had happened, she expressed concern that her kitties were indoors for the night.

Released into Captivity
Adrienne and Rocky invited me inside the apartment, where I said the obvious, based on the cop’s information: Betty would likely return without Moose. But I was wrong; she brought home the rescued tortie about 15 minutes later. Missy, while obviously over-tired, was ecstatic with newfound enthusiasm. Betty snuggled and kissed Moose—and cried. But the homecoming was a little bit muted by Mr. Cat, Moose’s long-time companion. He hissed uncharacteristically, perhaps because Dick housed another feline, whose scent lingered on Moose.

More than four-and-a-half hours after arriving at Betty’s place, time had come to go home. Blocks away, in the darkness, I saw sweet Willow running before me on the sidewalk in front of her home. “Would Moose ever have such freedom again?” I wondered.

Back at our apartment, with my phone still out of service, I used my wife’s cellular to ring Angelica and give her the good news. But she already knew. The older woman stayed with the younger one while the police spoke tp Dick. Angelica also had taken the police officer’s name, badge number, and case number. She revealed new information, as well: The cop explained that Dick was overly emotional because his cat had recently been hit and killed by a car. I wondered something else: The “Fuck You” he wrongly presumed that Betty had written on his car. If someone hadn’t vandalized his and other vehicles, perhaps he would have been more reasonable. I likely will never know the extent of the misunderstanding’s influence.

Bless her, Angelica walked Betty back to the lighted corner of her street. I regard Angelica and Arthur as the heroes of the night. They demonstrated tremendously great character. She wanted to press charges, by the way, but one of the officers said that the offending statement wasn’t clearly threat enough.

I have to wonder what the cops said to Dick that caused him to relinquish Moose. Perhaps they showed some deference, and more importantly respect—and I heard him complain about being disrespected during the evening at least once. Perhaps gathering of numbers drew too much attention, and he decided peace before feline. Regardless, the two officers were instrumental in ending the cat captive standoff. I thank them.

Something else needs to expressed about Dick: He didn’t physically threaten, and his verbal assaults looked to be very calculated. He brandished words to cut up opponents and to make them react. No, to overreact. In retrospect, writing this recollection nearly a week later, I don’t feel threatened or afraid. The videoing incident did intimidate me. I could have responded similarly with my smartphone. I was defenseless without it.

That said, I wasn’t his target. Betty took the major brunt of Dick’s aggression. She was made to feel helpless, inadequate, and incapable. The terror isn’t over. Now she lives in a prison. Moose stays indoors, for fear of the consequences wandering by Dick’s apartment. Betty and Missy must keep closed the windows, lest Moose and/or Mr. Cat tear open the screens and escape. The animals won’t stay inside otherwise. Betty worries about what she will do when the days grow hot and the windows are closed. She shouldn’t feel so afraid to open them, particularly in a neighborhood where ocean breeze is a refreshing benefit.

It’s for that reason, not the sordid story told here, I chose title “Free Moose!” For Moose is still a captive, as are Betty and her daughter. How unjust is that?

Addendum: I shot the Featured Image on Dec. 5, 2017 at 11:34 a.m. PST using iPhone X. Vitals: f/1.8, ISO 20, 1/704 sec, 4mm. While not the best portrait of the tortie, it serves for comparison with the #FREEMOOSE companion. Coloring around the nose unmistakably shows they are the same cat.

The story as presented is incomplete. Omissions are for flow. For example, before calling the police on Angelica’s phone, I left the group and walked over to Park Blvd., hoping to flag down a cop cruiser.

For purposes of balanced storytelling, I deliberately favor narrative describing interactions with Cadence or Dick rather than liberally using quotes. To do otherwise would be unfairly harsh—and likely error-prone because of variances in memory—without audio/video recordings that would leave little doubt what was said and its expression.