Sonoma Cat Owner Taken By Vacation Rental Guests Fighting To Get Him Back

Nubbins, the cat, had lived outdoors for years — even surviving the 2020 wildfires — so her adopted owner Troy Farrell was used to being away for days or weeks at a time. But she always came back.

Then, in late November, he got a call from a vet in Long Beach, California.

The vet had scanned a cat with a lump for a tail — a trait that inspired her name — and a clouded leopard coat brought in by a couple who had brought the cat home after vacationing at a short-term rental in Sonoma on the Railroad avenue. Farrell confirmed it was his cat, but two months later he has yet to be reunited with his beloved feline.

“They stole my damn cat!” said Farrel. “They then took that cat to the vet in LA and the vet said, ‘This isn’t your cat. What’s going on?'”

Farrell had been traveling over the Thanksgiving weekend and Nubbins’ absence was of little use. One of the last people to see the cat before her disappearance was Farrell’s neighbor, Terry Muller, who had contact with the holiday 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 saw a woman walking between my wife’s car,” Muller says.

Muller’s wife confronted the woman and learned that she was staying in the neighboring holiday home. The woman started asking questions about Nubbins — “Is it an indoor or outdoor cat? What breed is the cat? What’s the cat’s name?” — and then she left.

“The next day the cat was gone,” Muller said.

Nubbins was nowhere to be seen. Not with the young children she played with further down the road. Not in the neighbor’s garage. She just disappeared.

It took a few weeks for Farrell to get a call from VCA Los Altos Animal Hospital on Woodruff Avenue in Long Beach. A vet had scanned Nubbins and found a microchip that identified Farrell as her owner. But Nubbins had been brought in by someone by a different name.

According to the vet, California law prohibits them from providing information about who brought Nubbins to the office. According to Muller, the vet initially told Farrell that the woman who brought Nubbins in had bought her while on vacation in Sonoma. In addition, neighbors heard that the owner of the vacation home said it was a neighborhood cat that the woman could take with her.

Joseph Campbell, the director of external affairs at VCA Animal Hospitals, said chip companies typically facilitate the return of animals to their registered owners. The animal hospital returned Nubbins to the vacationing couple who had the cat more than 400 miles from its registered owner. And the vet said the couple refused to return the cat to Farrell, he said.

Campbell shared a passage from the California Veterinary Medical Association outlining how veterinarians should respond to owner abnormalities based on chip scans. In scenarios where a new microchip patient is not the registered owner, it is up to the vets to decide how to respond to the situation.

“Regardless of how the vet operates…the vet cannot release customer information to the person identified by scanning the microchip,” the CVMA article states.

Farrell has filed a police report over Nubbins’ alleged cat naps and is awaiting whether the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office will charge the couple. Farrell said Farrell’s office has not provided any information 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 law enforcement and California law, Farrell and Muller began their own investigation, starting with vacation rental owner Matthew Knudsen.

Farrell has tried several times to contact Knudsen about Nubbins and the holiday couple who took her. According to texts between Farrell and Knudsen shared with the Index-Tribune, Knudsen rejected Farrell’s efforts and threatened to file a civil harassment complaint against Farrell if he proceeded.

Several attempts have been made to reach Knudsen by phone, but he failed to respond in time for the publication of this article.

“I honestly think it was retaliation because the neighbors reported him to the PRMD about building permit violations he doesn’t have and constant noise complaints there,” Muller said. “He knows this cat has 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 holiday couple who took Nubbins with them, but are unable to identify or contact them.

“It’s the most ridiculous circle of protecting the people who stole my cat as opposed to protecting me who lost my cat,” Farrell said.

Contact Chase Hunter at chase.hunter@sonomanews.com and follow @Chase_HunterB on Twitter.

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