At Odds Over Purebred
Which of two neighbors rightfully owns a cat, which one woman believes is her long-lost Ragdoll, a cream-colored breed created in the 1960s, will apparently be resolved in court, as the women involved and who live on Northway in the Barnes Landing area of Springs, each claim it and have hired lawyers.
Ragdolls look something like Siamese, but are long-haired and fuller-bodied. Beth Eckhardt believes it is the cat she bought as a 41/2-month-old kitten at a pet store in Malibu in 2001, and that disappeared in 2004. A male, she named it Sara, pronounced Sirrah. On the other hand, Suzanne Dickinson, who lives three doors away, says the cat is a Burmese and has been hers for years. Both women have had two cats living with them and, in fact, cats led them to each other and the dispute.
On Aug. 3, Ms. Eckhardt said she was outside looking for Brother, one of her two black cats. An indoor-outdoor cat, he had not returned to her house. Izzy, her other cat, black but long-haired, went along with her. As they approached Ms. Dickinson’s driveway, however, Ms. Eckhardt said Izzy lay down and started howling. When she tried to persuade him to follow her, he wouldn’t budge and continued to howl.
At that point, Ms. Eckardt said, she looked in a window of her neighbor’s house to see if she could learn what had set Izzy off. To her amazement, she said she saw Sara. Izzy and Sara had grown up together, she added.
Like Brother, Sara was an indoor-outdoor cat. In 2004, when he hadn’t come home, Ms. Eckhardt reported him missing. She ran an ad in The East Hampton Star for five weeks, put fliers up, and had the disappearance announced on the radio. She also reported the loss to the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons, the Town Highway Department, to local veterinarians and animal hospitals, and to Pat Lillis, who operates a private rescue organization.
She said she had canvassed her neighborhood, and that no one was home when she knocked on the door of the Dickinson house.
After seeing the cat she believed to be hers, Ms. Eckhardt said, she knocked on the door but, again, no one responded. She went back later in the day, however, and this time Ms. Dickinson came to the door, and so did the cat. Ms. Eckhardt said she asked Ms. Dickinson about her black cat. Ms. Dickinson had not seen Brother and said her own cats were rescues.
According to Ms. Eckhardt, Ms. Dickinson said she had found the cat on her deck, assumed he had been abandoned, and, in September, had taken him to New York City. She said she had had the cat scanned for a microchip but had not made a further attempt to identify its owner.
“My husband and I both thought he had been bought by a mother for her children and then abandoned at the end of the summer. We thought we were doing a nice thing, especially since it was cold and rainy,” Ms. Dickinson subsequently said. Her husband has since died.
Ms. Dickinson said, “She thinks it’s her cat but it’s not.” Ms. Dickinson said the cat was already declawed when she found him and that Ms. Eckhardt does not declaw her cats. Ms. Eckhardt has contended that the cat was declawed by whoever took him. Ms. Dickinson said that, although she was not planning to give the cat to Ms. Eckhardt, “I want to know what would make her whole.”
One of the reasons the breed was named Ragdoll is because of its affectionate, outgoing personality and its tendency, once in the embrace of a person, to become completely loose jointed and relaxed.
Ms. Eckhardt described the paperwork necessary to bring the cat east on an airplane. Once at home in Springs, she said she used to take the kitten to her business, Amagansett Flowers by Beth, in Amagansett Square.
Ms. Dickinson had been unsure, in speaking to a reporter, of the year she had found the cat. She thought it might have been earlier than 2004, perhaps as early as 2000 or 2001. She said she would be gardening and would hear a cat purring, and it would be that cat.
On Aug. 8, Ms. Eckhardt filed a complaint with the East Hampton Town Police, and an officer visited Ms. Dickinson to get her side of the story. The police report states that Ms. Eckhardt arrived with a photograph of the cat, but that Ms. Dickinson refused to look at it, and asked Ms. Eckhardt to leave.
The police report also notes that Ms. Eckhardt paid $1,000 for the Ragdoll. She has spoken with an attorney, John Courtney, and plans to pursue legal action in civil court. Ms. Dickinson has retained the services of Robert Savage.
Ms. Eckhardt’s black cat, Brother, did return home.