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The outcome of a yearlong custody battle over a lost cat — initiated by the cat’s original owner against an animal-rescue agency and, subsequently, the cat’s new owner — will hinge on the requirements of the 1894 New York City Dog License Law, a Manhattan Supreme Court Justice has ruled. Oliver, a 4-year-old pure-bred Russian Blue, walked out of Chavisa Woods’ apartment one evening in September 2004, when a friend of Woods’ blind apartment-mate accidentally left open the door to their East Village walk-up. Woods, who was out of town, came home to discover Oliver, who is susceptible to life-threatening urinary tract-infections, missing, she later told a reporter. After learning that Oliver had been dropped off at KittyKind, the cat-rescue group best known for its cat-adoption center inside the Union Square Petco, Woods contacted the group. A KittyKind worker discovered that Oliver — renamed Gatsby — had been at KittyKind, but had already been adopted by a new owner. KittyKind, however, declined to disclose to Woods the new owner’s name. Woods initiated legal proceedings against KittyKind and the new owner, “Jane Doe.” During the course of the proceedings, the two sides agreed to keep Doe’s identity anonymous as long as she abided by the ultimate legal outcome. Justice Marylin G. Diamond ruled that the Dog License Law controls the dispute. Section 7 of the 111-year-old law provides essentially a two-part test for determining whether owners of lost pets have kept alive the right to recover their animals. Under the law, a “person claiming a dog or cat which was lawfully seized is entitled to resume possession only if the animal is claimed within 48 hours of the time that it was seized,” Diamond wrote, in Woods v. KittyKind, 117601/04. She ruled that Oliver had been “legally seized” by an authorized agency. However, Diamond ruled that an issue of fact remains as to whether Woods sought to claim Oliver within the 48-hour statutory waiting period. “Given the fact that more than a hundred not-for-profit corporations participate in the [Mayor's Alliance for N.Y.C.'s Animals] and that some of these corporations … authorize private individuals to rescue lost animals and keep them in apartments for a period of time, it would be practically impossible for an owner to locate his or her pet unless and until the animal is listed” in the Animal Care & Control registry, the judge wrote. “Under the circumstances,” she concluded, “the 48-hour period should not be deemed to have run until a lost pet is listed in the registry.” At issue in the trial, therefore, will be if and when KittyKind listed the cat on the registry, as well as when Woods effectively asserted her claim. Diamond set an expedited discovery schedule, noting that “if the cat is going to be returned to the plaintiff it should be returned as soon as possible.” The parties have until Jan. 19. Michael Goldberg of Pryor Cashman Sherman & Flynn represented Doe. Doe “had no idea” that Woods had filed a lawsuit against KittyKind until about a year after she initiated the proceedings, Goldberg said. “KittyKind didn’t even mention it to my client until they had lost,” he said. Donald N. David of Cozen O’Connor represented Woods. “There is no way in which an animal owner can find out before the deadline is up whether their animal is sitting in a shelter someplace,” David said. “The rescue agencies don’t believe they have an obligation to check the databases contemporaneously or to notify the animal control agency that they have an animal.” He added that “other courts have addressed this issue outside of New York on constitutional grounds. There’s a question of due process.”

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