Three-year-old Pepper disappeared while in the care of Awahuri Cat Motel in Palmerston North.
A family is heartbroken and angry after a Manawatu cattery lost their cat while they were on holiday, and then tried to give them someone else’s pet.
Jill McAsey has asked the SPCA to investigate the standard of care at Awahuri Cat Motel after what should have been a routine pick-up ended in confusion and tears.
A co-owner of the cattery says she is appalled by what happened and apologizes.
When McAsey went to pick up her beloved Pepper on January 6, she was handed a cat box. She looked inside, but it wasn’t Pepper looking back at her.
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“This isn’t my cat, I thought. I know my cat,” she told Stuff.
A search of the cattery found no sign of Pepper; no cage with her name on it, and her blanket was gone.
More than a week later, the three-year-old cat remains missing, and the family is struggling to understand how.
McAsey said when she was searching the cattery with the owner Jonathan Waterhouse, she kept asking him when was the last time he saw Pepper, and where was her blanket.
“He did not respond to any of my questions.”
Waterhouse entered a garage and told McAsey not to follow him as it was a storage area.
During the next 48 hours, the family put up posters around Awahuri and posted on missing pet pages on Facebook, and also learned a second cat, Toby, was missing from the cattery.
Waterhouse suspected the two cats had got through a gap in one of the enclosures.
Toby was found by his owner, close to the cattery, on Sunday afternoon. The McAseys returned, too, and called out for Pepper, but to no avail.
They received a sympathetic message from Bridie McCabe, who had read a post about Pepper.
Her cat Ata had been lost at the cattery in January last year, when it bolted out the door after being confused for another cat and handed to the wrong owner.
McAsey has been reimbursed $182 paid for Pepper’s two-week stay, but has been left heartbroken, with many questions about the cattery’s procedures and staffing levels.
The cattery’s co-owner Veronica Waterhouse said she was appalled by both the disappearance of the cats and the handling of it.
“I think he is [Jonathan] panicked. It was an awful situation.”
She said staff were out looking for Pepper twice a day, and she was in the process of appointing a manager. Procedures to ensure every cat would have an identifying collar that corresponded with cages were being enforced.
The gap in the conservatory, where it’s believed the cats escaped, had been sealed.
Veronica, who had owned the cattery with Jonathan since 2016, said she understood Pepper had spent two nights in a garage, that had been converted into an area for overflow or isolating a sick cat, before being moved. She suspected the name tag for her cage was not moved with her.
There were two staff working in the morning and one in the afternoon. There were 70 cats booked in during the Christmas period, which she said was at the “peak” of their comfort levels.
What happened with Pepper was unacceptable and there were no excuses, she said, but it was a one-off incident.
The other escapee, Toby, was back staying at the cattery again, “showing the owner trusts us”.
She said Jonathan had stepped away from the business, and they were looking to sell the cattery.