Middletown woman fights to get her exotic cat back - WFSB 3 Connecticut

Middletown woman fights to get her exotic cat back

Posted: Updated:
Noah snuggles with its owner, Middletown resident Beth Rhines. (change.org) Noah snuggles with its owner, Middletown resident Beth Rhines. (change.org)

A Connecticut woman is fighting to get her exotic animal back after state officials seized it from her home.

Middletown resident Beth Rhines has started a petition to get her Serval, which is an African wild cat, back from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

The male Serval, which weighed between 20 to 40 pounds, was seized by DEEP crews on May 5 after they executed a search warrant at the home. DEEP officials said it is illegal to own a Serval in Connecticut

"They were in the house for about two hours, came out with the cat and then everyone took off," Rhines' neighbor Kevin Hyder said.

The seizure of the Serval, which is named Noah's, came after police got a call from a concerned citizen. The complaint was investigated by the Middletown animal control officer and after confirming the information, the officer contacted DEEP.

"The Serval, born in captivity, will still have its natural instincts such as its prey drives," DEEP said in a statement on Monday.

DEEP officials compared the Serval to a bobcat and said the animal has "the potential to cause serious injury."

"Servals are taller, leaner, and faster than a bobcat and at times people have compared Servals with a cheetah," DEEP said.

Following the incident, Rhines said in the petition post, the Serval was raised "as a domestic family member" and "was not aggressive." Noah's has lived with Rhines for the last year and a half and was raised by her since he was eight weeks old.

"Noah's is not a dangerous animal. African Servals are not dangerous animals and laws vary from state to state over the legality of keeping one," Rhines' lawyer Joseph R. Sastre told Eyewitness News in a statement on Monday.

Rhines built a secure outdoor enclosure for Noah's.

"Servals bond to one person or family for life, transitioning him now would harm his wellbeing, and is completely unfair. Noah's is a docile, completely domestic African Serval," the petition stated.

In the petition, she also stated Noah's has "never gotten loose or bothered anyone."

"The cat is very friendly, not vicious whatsoever," Hyder said.

In an email to Eyewitness News, Sastre discussed laws on ownership of African Servals in the United States.

"Laws range from being outlawed in some states to requiring an owner's permit in others while in some states the keeping of an African serval is totally unregulated. Connecticut's law on the matter is unclear and unsettled," Sastre said.

In Connecticut, it's illegal to own any member of the felidae family that is not a recognized breed of The International Cat Association, the Cat Fanciers Association or the American Cat Fanciers Association, DEEP said. A Serval is "not recognized by any of these associations," DEEP officials added. 

As of Monday afternoon, there were more than 1,000 signatures on the petition. To read the petition, click here

Rhines was charged with violating Connecticut General Statutes. She will face a judge next Thursday.

The investigation into the incident is "ongoing," DEEP said.

Copyright 2016 WFSB (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.