Home Australia Yes, I stole my neighbor’s cat, but don’t you dare call me a criminal! So, is Lynne loving or delinquent? Read her story and decide for yourself.

Yes, I stole my neighbor’s cat, but don’t you dare call me a criminal! So, is Lynne loving or delinquent? Read her story and decide for yourself.

by Elijah
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Return Instinct: Drexl, in the photo, was simply returning to Lynne's apartment

It was a moment of crazy recklessness. I looked around, grabbed my former neighbors’ cat, stuffed it under a blanket in the back seat of my car, and left.

It was exhilarating. And at that moment I knew she was doing the right thing. But as I walked away, I felt a lingering sense of guilt.

Had he just committed a horrible crime? Was he now a thief on the run from the law?

It may well have been, according to the new Pet Abduction Bill, which had its second reading in the House of Commons in January.

And I could have been given up to five years in prison for my actions. Because, when the bill becomes law, the theft of dogs and cats will be treated as a serious and specific crime, rather than simply the taking of property as it is today.

Return Instinct: Drexl, in the photo, was simply returning to Lynne's apartment

Search Instinct: Drexl, pictured, just kept coming back to Lynne’s apartment

Risk: Lynne Wallis, above, believes she could have received up to five years in prison for her actions.

Risk: Lynne Wallis, above, believes she could have received up to five years in prison for her actions.

Risk: Lynne Wallis, above, believes she could have received up to five years in prison for her actions.

But before you mix me up with the growing number of heartless criminals who steal pedigree pets for financial gain, let me explain.

The story begins in 2005, when he lived in a ground floor flat in Blackheath, south-east London, with direct access to a large garden.

One morning, I heard a knock on my patio window and assumed it was my friend Steve, who came over for coffee most mornings.

But I looked up to see my American neighbor, glaring at me. Although I went out to ask him what was happening, I already had a pretty clear idea.

Her cat, Drexl (named after a Gary Oldman character in Quentin Tarantino’s True Romance) had been visiting me almost every day for about a year and a half, and had managed to get in through an old cat flap. Lately, he had been coming home for dinner, then coming back to me and even staying the night.

The main reason Drexl, a black and white short-haired domestic dog, liked being with me was because he was terrified of two husky dogs who had recently been rehomed by their legal owners. Every time I heard them barking, he would run under my bed.

I tried to explain to my neighbor (let’s call him Guy) that I hadn’t done anything to encourage Drexl. He had never fed it or even called it. He kept showing up. After all, cats are sentient creatures who, with their independent spirit, can never truly be “owned.”

But Guy wasn’t having any of that: ‘You stole it. You’re a thief, Lynne. Do you walk into someone’s house and take their DVD player? Or move your car out of the front? Is the same.’

I was shocked, offended, and most of all, scared by the tall, 40-something man in my yard whose voice was shaking with anger. As Guy walked away, he told me that he was moving house and taking Drexl with him.

The news left me heartbroken. Maybe he hadn’t wanted to admit it because he wasn’t “mine”, but he loved Drexl.

And honestly, it hadn’t exactly discouraged him from his little visits.

A few months earlier, Guy had asked me to close the cat flap at night to keep Drexl out. After all, he had no pets of his own. I told him I’d think about it. But I really knew I couldn’t. He wanted Drexl to have a place to escape to if the big dogs scared him.

The growing prospect that she would never see him again was too much to bear.

But a couple of weeks after my meeting with Guy, moving vans arrived, and by lunchtime that day, the family was gone, along with two loud, rambunctious huskies and an adorable, if unhappy, moggy.

As time went on, I missed Drexl more than I could have imagined. He had become a part of my life.

Then a miracle happened. A week after Guy and his family moved in, I was woken up in the night by the cat flap opening; I knew that could only mean one thing. My boy was back!

He was a little thinner and very dirty. No wonder: The family had moved five miles away, and the only route back to me involved crossing a highway.

The next morning, Guy arrived to take Drexl home. But in the following days the same farce was repeated. Every time he went to pick up the cat, Guy insisted that Drexl was happy in his house.

Around this time I also moved house. I knew I wouldn’t see Drexl again, but I was grateful for the time we’d spent together. He is a brave and resourceful cat, I told myself: he will get ahead.

To secure the property, I had to close the internal wooden shutters, blocking the cat flap.

But fifteen days later I returned to pick up an email. And who was waiting for me outside the patio door, looking completely helpless?

That’s when I exploded. I couldn’t take it anymore. So I took Drexl and we made our bid for freedom.

Since then, another former neighbor told me that Guy had returned to the area several times to look for Drexl.

I’ll let you judge whether or not I’m a criminal. But in my opinion, the idea that they could be prosecuted for this act fills me with indignation and horror.

Don’t get me wrong, the theft of animals from loving homes, motivated by financial gain, is inexcusable.

In 2022, 2,160 dogs were reported stolen, according to Direct Line Pet Insurance, and only one in four were returned to their owners.

Cat theft has increased an average of 18 percent year over year since 2017, with 1,300 cases reported in the past five years, according to police records.

Following these figures, Conservative MP Anna Firth called for a change in the law, the result of which is the Pet Abduction Bill.

Under the Theft Act 1968, pets are currently treated as property and punishments are linked to the “monetary value” of the stolen animal. In other words, the law does not take into account the strong emotional bond between pet owners and their animals, nor the immense feeling of loss when they are gone.

For millions of us, pets are infinitely more than property: they are part of the family. The new bill recognizes this and it should be considered a good thing. However, the proposed legislation is opaque when it comes to cats, whose lives are, of course, peripatetic.

So I’m relieved to know that, according to Anna Firth, I’m probably in the clear: ‘If someone had a reasonable excuse like “The cat just broke into my house,” the police wouldn’t prosecute me. ‘ said the deputy.

“There is no intention to criminalize people who mean well.”

However, animal behavior expert Dr Anne McBride, from the University of Southampton, is still unsure whether, when it comes to pets, there is a one-size-fits-all bill.

“The issues of luring and detaining are simple for dogs, but cats cannot be caught and detained in the same way,” he explained. “Dogs need to be part of a social group, but cats are more location-based than attachment to an individual person.”

The RSPCA shares Dr McBride’s reservations, although it generally welcomes the bill: “We understand that, as cats roam naturally, there can be a real difficulty in determining whether a cat is truly stray or owned.” said a spokesperson.

“It is important to find out if the cat already has a loving owner before feeding it or trying to adopt it.”

My beautiful, loving, resilient Drexl died in 2016 at 14 years old.

I was heartbroken and still think about my dear son to this day. But it makes me smile wistfully to remember that for nine happy years he enjoyed a home with me where he felt safe and loved.

Am I a thief, a criminal? It’s too early to tell how this new Bill might treat someone in my situation, but let’s just say I don’t regret choosing him one bit.

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