Owner of Sonoma cat taken by vacation rental guests fighting to get it back
Nubbins the cat had lived outside for years — even surviving the wildfires of 2020 — so her adopted owner Troy Farrell was used to her leaving for days or weeks at a time. But she always came back.
Then he got a call from a veterinarian in Long Beach, California at the end of November.
The veterinarian had scanned a cat with a nub for a tail -- a trait that inspired her name -- and a coat like a clouded leopard that was brought in by a couple who had taken the cat home after vacationing at a short-term rental in Sonoma on Railroad Avenue. Farrell confirmed that was his cat, but two months later, he has yet to be reunited with his beloved feline.
“They stole my damn cat!” Farrell said. “They then took that cat to the vet in L.A. and the vet said, ‘This is not your cat. What's going on?’”
Farrell had been traveling over Thanksgiving weekend and didn’t think much of Nubbins’ absence. One of the last people to see the cat before her disappearance was Farrell’s neighbor, Terry Muller, who interacted with the vacationing couple the day before they left, he said.
“The day after Thanksgiving, my wife and I were sitting in our chairs in our living room and we noticed a woman walking up between my wife's car,” Muller said.
Muller’s wife confronted the woman, and learned that she was staying at the vacation rental next door. The woman began asking questions about Nubbins -- “Is it an indoor or outdoor cat? What breed is the cat? What's the name of the cat?” -- and then she left.
“The next day, the cat was gone,” Muller said.
Nubbins was nowhere to be found. Not with the young children she played with down the block. Not in a neighbor’s garage. She had simply vanished.
It was a few weeks before Farrell received a call from VCA Los Altos Animal Hospital on Woodruff Avenue in Long Beach. A veterinarian had scanned Nubbins and found a microchip that identified Farrell as her owner. But Nubbins had been brought in by someone with a different name.
According to the vet, California law prohibits them from providing any information about who brought Nubbins into the office. According to Muller, the vet initially told Farrell that the the woman who brought in Nubbins acquired her while vacationing in Sonoma. In addition, neighbors heard the vacation rental’s owner said it was a neighborhood cat that the woman could take.
Joseph Campbell, the director of external affairs at VCA Animal Hospitals, said that chip companies typically facilitate the return of animals back to their registered owners. The animal hospital gave Nubbins back to the vacation couple who brought the cat more than 400 miles away from its registered owner. And the veterinarian said the couple refused to return the cat to Farrell, he said.
Campbell shared a California Veterinary Medical Association passage that outlines how veterinarians should respond to owner discrepancies based on chip scans. In scenarios where a new patient for a microchip is not the registered owner, it is up to the veterinarians discretion on how to respond to the situation.
“Regardless of how the veterinarian chooses to proceed... the veterinarian cannot disclose client information to the person identified by scanning the microchip,” the CVMA article states.
Farrell filed a police report about Nubbins’ alleged cat-napping and is awaiting to hear whether the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office will charge the couple. Farrell said the office has not provided information to Farrell about the suspects.
In an email, Campbell wrote, “While we cannot discuss the details of this situation, we are fully cooperating with the Sonoma County Sheriff’s investigation.”
At the mercy of discretion in law enforcement and California law, Farrell and Muller began to do their own investigating, beginning with the owner of the vacation rental, Matthew Knudsen.
Farrell attempted to contact Knudsen multiple times in regards to Nubbins and the vacationing couple who took her. Knudsen rebuffed Farrell’s efforts and threatened to file a civil harassment complaint against Farrell if he continued, according to texts between Farrell and Knudsen shared with the Index-Tribune.
Multiple attempts were made to reach Knudsen by phone, but he did not respond in time for the publication of this article.
“I think honestly, it was retaliation because the neighbors have been reporting him to PRMD (Permit and Resource Management Department) about violations of building permits that he doesn't have and constant noise complaints over there,” Muller said. “He knows this cat's been around and is loved and cared for.”
The situation has left Farrell with a sour taste in his mouth, knowing that so many people know the identity of the vacationing couple who took Nubbins but being unable to identify or contact them.
“It's the most ludicrous circle of protecting the people who stole my cat as opposed to protecting me, who lost my cat,” Farrell said.