MASSENA - For the past four years, Ben Noreau and his family have lived in the Homecroft neighborhood with their beloved cat Domino.
But after Domino found himself at the center of Massenas cat licensing debate Mr. Noreau said he has made the difficult decision to give up the cat.
The debate began last week when Charlie B. Romigh spoke to the town board about a cat he described as the most pitiful looking animal you have ever looked at.
Mr. Noreau said Domino suffers from a skin condition known as feline eczema, which causes his hair to fall out and sometimes leads to sores from his constant scratching.
Charlies story was manipulated to suit his needs, Mr. Noreau said. I know this because it was my cat he was talking about.
Mr. Noreau, in an email, said the problems involving Domino began earlier this year when Mr. and Mrs. Romigh began feeding Domino and giving him treats.
I have been Mr. Romighs neighbor for four years. I have known his wife longer than that and until this happened considered them friends, he wrote. Domino, the cat in his story, came to live here shortly after we moved in. He has always been an outdoor cat.
And until recently, Dominos trips around the neighborhood werent a problem.
Mr. Romigh has never had an issue with Domino roaming free. In fact, Mr. Romigh mentioned to me several times this past fall and spring how grateful he was that Domino was killing off the rodent population in his beloved garden, Mr. Noreau said.
It was at that point that he said the Romighs began showering Domino with food and treats, not because he was starved, but because they were grateful that he was taking care of the pests in their garden.
Thats where the problem started, Mr. Noreau said, noting things came to a head after the Romighs stopped giving him food and treats.
He had served his purpose and when he came around expecting to be fed, as they had conditioned him to, they took offense, Mr. Noreau said. To make matters worse Domino suffers from a type of feline eczema. It gets really bad in the late summer and clears up when the cooler weather sets in. Now that Domino was ugly and coming around for attention Mr. Romigh took issue.
Thats when Mr. Noreau says the harassment began and he was first confronted by Mr. Romigh.
He insisted something be done immediately. He offered to take Domino to the shelter. He implied that Domino was being neglected and abused, Mr. Noreau said. Domino had a loving family and was cared for. Yes Domino was lean, but he was not anorexic.
Mr. Noreau said he initially ignored the harassment coming from the Romighs, but that became harder and harder to do after first the Humane Society and then the police became involved.
When immediate action wasnt taken, he made hourly calls to the Humane Society for someone to come and visit. While the woman was here, the office called to confirm she was here, because the Romighs were on the phone demanding that something be done, he said. The police came the next day and ordered us to keep the cat inside as they had received several calls from the Romighs and didnt want to come back again because of such foolishness.
Making matters worse, Mr. Noreau said the Romighs began talking to other people in the neighborhood in an effort to get them to join the crusade against Domino and his family.
Mr. Romigh and his wife shouted threats to call the police from their house and were overheard making slanderous gossip to neighbors regarding the situation, he said. He stated to one neighbor after exaggerating the story to make it sound like Domino was near death, Im not putting money into someone elses cat.
All of the stress as a result of the situation eventually led Dominos condition to worsen and the lack of fresh air and playtime outside caused him to become depressed, Mr. Noreau suggested,
It was decided that it was best that Domino go somewhere where he could roam free, so we gave him up, Mr. Noreau said, adding he hasnt yet found a way to tell his daughter that Domino isnt coming back.
There is a six-year-old little girl in the house who loved him very much and doesnt know that he isnt coming back, he said. I dont know how to tell her, nor do I have the heart to.
As for whether or not pet owners should be required to license their cats, Mr. Noreau said he has no strong feelings either way.
I see the pros and cons of the issue. I am indifferent, he said. If it was mandatory to license them I would.
Mr. Noreau added that he and his family still have three cats, who roam free despite the recent issues with the Romighs.
After being informed that Domino no longer resided with the Noreaus, Mr. Romigh said that was surprising news to him.
The cat could have been taken to the Humane Society for medical treatment, but he said, No I want to keep my cat.
Mr. Romigh and his wife, Karen, also disputed Mr. Noreaus claim that they twisted their story to garner public support for licensing cats.
We took one can of Fancy Feast over to his home over a year ag, because Domino had killed a chipmunk. We dont even know if he got the food because at one time he had five cats and one can of food doesnt go very far with five cats. Mr. Romigh said. That was a long time ago.
Mrs. Romigh event went as far as calling Mr. Noreau a liar.
In the months we were feeding that malnourished cat we had never said we were feeding him because he was killing rodents. Thats a lie, she said.
Mr. Romigh said they were feeding the cat because he appeared to be in need.
The reason we were feeding him is I wasnt going to let an animal starve, he said. While their opinions dont bother me, I was seeing an animal that was malnourished and needed medical treatment. If anyone has any doubts about the condition of the cat, they should speak to Heidi Bradish at the Humane Society.
Mrs. Romigh added, If you had seen that cat before we gave him a flea dip, you would have thrown up.
Making matters worse for Mr. Romigh is the fact the Noreau family has a fenced in yard with a five-foot high fence.
If he wanted to give his cats some outdoor time all he would have to do is trim their nails so they couldnt climb, but then they would be defecating in his yard, not mine.
He also reiterated a point he made at last weeks town board meeting, about people letting their pets outside.
If owners liked their cats so much, they would keep them inside.