The Claws Come Out When a No-Kill Rescue Reclaims a Contract-Breaking Kitty

When someone adopts a dog or cat from a shelter, they’re trying to do the right thing. They’re happy to pay the fee, sign an adoption contract and hurry home to toss a Frisbee to their new rescue dog or watch their kitten bat a ball across the rug.

Nancy Whipple had to file a lawsuit to get her cat Newman back from Save-A-Pet.

But how much control of that family member remains in the hands of the rescue where they adopted the pet? And what happens if the adopters break one of those rules from that list in the contract?

Just ask Gene and Nancy Whipple of Lake County, Illinois. The couple filed a lawsuit last month against Save-A-Pet Inc., a no-kill animal rescue near Chicago, where they adopted their slinky black cat, Newman, in 2008. The Whipples claimed in the suit that Save-A-Pet “repossessed” Newman — four and a half years later — after “stalking” the Whipples’ home, waiting for the amber-eyed feline to step outside.

The Whipples had no idea that Newman would one day be the catalyst for a lawsuit alleging that one of the largest no-kill rescues in Lake County staked out the home of one of its adoptees. That is, not until they decided to adopt another homeless cat from Save-A-Pet. Like all potential adopters, the Whipples sat down with an adoption counselor for an interview.

“It was more like an interrogation,” says Nancy of the interview. Everything looked promising for adding another cat to the family. Then Nancy says the counselor asked the Whipples what she calls a “trick” question: “This cat will be outside, right?”

“If our cat gets out, we make sure he gets safely back inside,” the Whipples told the counselor, speaking of another cat they owned that sometimes prowled their six-acre property. At that point, the interview skidded to a halt, according to Nancy: “They heard the word ‘outside’ and told us, ‘No, you can’t adopt a cat.’”

The Whipples say they called Save-A-Pet the next day, hoping a supervisor might okay the adoption anyway. After all, they were excellent cat owners. Instead, she says, the rescue pounced on the Whipples with alarming news: Save-A-Pet wanted Newman back. Letting him outside had violated the rescue’s adoption contract.

Newman wanted to see the world. But he only made it as far as a cage at Save-A-Pet.

“They’re just kidding, right?” Nancy asked her husband after he hung up the phone.

“No,” Gene told her. “They’re serious. They’re going to come and get Newman!”

Nine months passed, but no one came to retrieve the contract-breaking cat. The Whipples had no plans to return Newman to Save-A-Pet. It seemed the whole tussle had blown over like a fur ball in the wind – that is, until September 16 — when Newman mysteriously vanished after he inadvertently slipped outside while the Whipples were out of town.

The Whipples immediately suspected that Save-A-Pet might be behind Newman’s disappearance. They contacted the local Sheriff’s Department, which confirmed that Newman was indeed being held in “quarantine” at Save-A-Pet’s facility. Although Newman was microchipped as the Whipple’s cat, the rescue refused to return him.

Newman may have gotten snagged when he slipped outside, but he wasn’t neglected or abused. He was a cherished part of the family. In fact, the Whipples’ veterinarian gave the couple and their cat a glowing review: “I consider Nancy Whipple to be one of the best pet guardians I have as a client,” wrote the veterinarian in a letter supplied to the Whipples’ attorney.  “Newman…is in excellent health. He is kept up-to-date on vaccinations….and is always impeccably clean and well-groomed.”

It’s not like Gene and Nancy were eager to slap a lawsuit on the animal rescue group. Nancy says she tried to resolve the situation like a reasonable person when she went to Save-A-Pet, toting a cat carrier and armed with a microchip scanner loaned by her veterinarian (in case a staffer tried to pull a black cat switcheroo).

“I asked if I could pick him up. They told me no,” says Nancy. “I asked if I could at least see him. They said no. At that point, I knew they were going to play hardball.”

Fearing that Save-A-Pet might adopt Newman to another family, the Whipples contacted attorney Jim Kaiser, who got an emergency injunction to keep the rescue from placing Newman into another adoptive home. A few days later, Nancy and her attorney headed to court.

Kaiser and Save-A-Pet’s attorney resolved the situation that day after the two determined  that Newman’s repossession was based on a “misunderstanding,” says Kaiser. The adoption interviewer had wrongly assumed that the Whipples were talking about Newman (an indoor cat) when they were actually referring to their other (indoor/outdoor) cat. The parties agreed to dismiss the lawsuit, as long as the Whipples signed an affidavit promising that Newman would be an exclusively indoor cat – barring accidental door bolts — and allowing Save-A-Pet to come and do a wellness check on Newman at any time over the next year.

Newman, who now spends his afternoons stretched out on a comforter in a patch of sun – inside the house – doesn’t seem too damaged by his stay in quarantine.

“Poor little Newman was trapped in a cage for nine days,” says Nancy. “But he’s like a kitten again.” Maybe Newman just figures if he can’t do the time, don’t do the crime. Several people have asked Nancy why she and Gene went to so much trouble “for a cat.”

Filing the lawsuit wasn’t just about Newman, says Nancy, who spent more than $2,000 in legal fees and postponed a vacation to Germany to get her kitty back.

“We need to make these shelters accountable. They need to be using their donations doing what is best for animals who are actually homeless,” she says. “Not taking animals out of loving homes.”

Save-A-Pet staff declined to comment for this article.


About Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is involved in the Kansas City, Missouri animal rescue community and is a freelance writer.


17 thoughts on “The Claws Come Out When a No-Kill Rescue Reclaims a Contract-Breaking Kitty

  1. I have to say. First I don’t believe these people that they never let Newman outside, only “their other cat.” I have worked act adoptions and we also had a contract that our cats needed to go to INDOOR only homes, it’s not difficult to understand. The facts remain – cats who roam free outdoors face a long list of dangers and it is the duty of every rescue group to adopt their cats to safe homes. This family had a 6 acre property? No doubt coyotes hanging around there. Newman should not be referred to as a “contract-breaking cat”, it’s the owners who broke the contract and shame on them for not honoring their promise to protect this innocent cat!

    Posted by Kristin | October 24, 2012, 3:46 pm
    • Apparently Kristin, you are missing the point. The “rescue” facility came onto the property took their pet, neglected to report him found, re-vaccinated him, and left him in a cage for 9 days! He had been their healthy, loving family member for 4 years and you’re focused on honoring a contract. Based on the vet’s statement, he was very well indeed taken care of. Isn’t that the point of all this?

      Posted by nancy ray | October 24, 2012, 9:38 pm
      • Um. wow, did you read the article?? I think you are missing the point. The article is heavily focused on the subject of a contract between the rescue and the adopter. The title of the article has the words “contract-breaking cat” in it. Hmm. The family violated the agreement to keep Newman inside. It wasn’t their other “indoor/outdoor” cat the shelter got confused with, they are liars! Like anyone should believe some family would let one cat roam freely outdoors but not the other. Nice try. And as far as this being a loving home??? I don’t think allowing your cat to roam outdoors exposed to dangers that could KILL him is loving. Yes I have high standards but I happen to think all animals are worth it!

        Posted by Kristin | October 25, 2012, 2:49 am
    • I agree wholeheartedly.

      Posted by Terri | April 11, 2018, 10:07 am
  2. One thing to think about with this situation is that because Newman was taking up a cage at the rescue, there was one cat somewhere that couldn’t be rescued because that cage was full. Maybe in a shelter, waiting to be euthanized. All to make a point about a contract and control.

    Posted by Deb Hipp | October 25, 2012, 3:40 am
  3. In my opinion it seems that the shelter folks lost sight of the forest for the trees….Clearly Newman had been well cared for…and very loved. Time for the shelter folk to trust that Newman is in good, if not perfect, hands and “let go”, Their focus needs to be on helping the cats who are mere days away from euthenization because someone couldn’t be bothered to care for them, not Newman. Good post Deb!

    Posted by strollingturtle | October 25, 2012, 7:02 am
  4. I’m sorry – but no rescue should be ‘stalking’ homes of adopters/potential adopters. Instead of taking the time to do that, why are you not taking care of the cats you currently have in rescue?

    After 4 years, no rescue has the right to take back a cat because of accidental door slips. We exclusively adopt cats out, and I would NEVER attempt to remove a cat from a loving home. Cats are runners, it happens. But to steal a cat from the yard? Come on – get serious. If Save-a-Pet really thought the cat was in a bad home, they never would have backed off a lawsuit. It makes me wonder what else they have hiding in their closet since they backed off after only 2 days of meeting with a lawyer.

    Posted by DisgustedInFlorida | October 26, 2012, 7:48 pm
  5. This is an incredible story. Newman’s family clearly loves him very much — and even went to the effort of filing a lawsuit to get their kitty back. I think overzealous rescues can get really jaded and think everyone is bad, then they waste time and effort catnapping cats like Newman from loving families when they could be saving another cat from death row and adopting him into an equally loving home. This overzealousness can seep into the adoption process too and even discourage great people from adopting pets in need, especially when they are judged and interrogated with “trick questions” designed to get to no, rather than yes! I have known rescues like this and they drive away volunteers and adopters and then their animals sit in rescue for months, a year or more rather than being in a loving home.

    Posted by Allie | October 26, 2012, 8:48 pm
  6. Unfortunately because of this story Save-A-Pet will lose donations. Many people in the area were appalled that their money given for the care of homeless- abused animal victims was spent stalking and catching a cat that had a loving and kind wonderful home for 4 years putting him in quarantine for 9 days- re vaccinating him -Playing God. Save- A -pet is a Great organization but it’s time to let the people go who have let this job go to their heads and feel they are above the law.

    Posted by Justise Jane | October 27, 2012, 3:14 am
  7. Clearly, this is a volatile topic!! There are at least two issues involved in this story. First, the emotional factor. Yes, it’s been proven that cats generally live longer, healthier and less dangerous lives if they are kept indoors in a safer environment. But it is also true that most cats love to go outdoors. There’s so much to see and play with. Outdoors fits much more within the realm of their natural environment. And they are quick creatures, making it very easy for them to go exploring. We humans are the ones who domesticated animals, which leaves us with the responsibility of taking care of them. Personally, my three cats are indoor cats for just this reason. That does not mean they don’t want to go outside, and I’m sure they would have a blast doing so. I’ve just lost too many cats over my lifetime and it hurts, so I do my best to keep them safe and happy inside.

    The second factor here is the legalities of what happened. Yes, a contract was signed and the Whipples agreed to Newman being an indoor cat. I think it is obvious how much they cared about Newman, on many levels. Some cats are more insistent, or more sneaky, than others. It happens – they sometimes get out. Personally, I think Save-A-Pet went too far. There is a reason that the term “for the greater good” exists. We have a HUGE population of animals that need homes and the greater good has to come into play here. Obviously, the court felt the same way. I totally agree with Allie’s comment about rescues sometimes getting jaded and overzealous. When people give donations to rescues, they can only hope their money is put to good use. The rescue, in taking donations, has a duty to those donors, as well as to the animals that they are working for. I would certainly hope that MY donation would not be used to pay an attorney to resolve a situation like this.

    Posted by Stephanie | October 27, 2012, 2:38 pm
  8. WOW Kristen, I can’t believe that you have NEVER had a cat get outside by accident and if you say you haven’t then I would have to say that you are “one perfect person.” It happens……. Dogs, Cat’s, Snakes, Bunnies and all the other adopted (and non-adopted) pets get out at some point in their lives. And YES I do foster dogs with the same rules but it still happens. People can’t even control their kids and keep them safely out of harm’s way at all times so please don’t judge them for something I am sure has happened to you at some point in your life.
    AND if the Save-A-Pet Shelter was so worried about this cat, why did they wait 9 months to make any attempt to get him back and when they did, it was behind everyone’s back in such a sneaky way. They have had Newman for over 4 years, I think they ARE “Honoring their promise to protect this innocent cat”. There is no shame on them – I say Great Job Gene and Nancy for standing your ground!

    Posted by Trixie CO | October 29, 2012, 1:35 pm
  9. Kristen, the word “stupidity” does not even BEGIN to cover your asinine remarks. Get a clue. If I had a magnifying glass or a detective hat, I’d offer it to you. But maybe you already work at Save-A-Pet or its affiliates, which explains your attitude.

    If you are more concerned with animals NEVER getting outside than their potential adoption by loving owners – then maybe you would suggest keeping them in the same room all the time with locked doors. Or better, caging them 24/7. Don’t even put the cage near a window – they might find a way to knock the cage out of the enclosed window to escape the type of “high standards” you possess. We would never want an animal to ACCIDENTALLY escape … because *gasp!* if that happened, that person obviously is the worst pet owner in all eternity! Accidents: The horror!!! I guess in your world, it’s always possible to prevent this. Cats have 4 legs. We have 2. They are smart, fast and curious. They don’t eat McDonald’s, so chances are they can ALWAYS outrun us. They have claws and wits that most people don’t possess, so they can climb trees – we can’t. Their fur can match their surroundings easily, making them camouflaged without much effort. If they want outside, they are often able to accomplish this goal with or without your permission.

    I’m sure coyotes and other wildlife are on the Whipples’ property. But are you willing to say a cat should stay in a kill-shelter or not have room at a no-kill shelter and therefore be euthanized so this cat can be “safely housed” when it already had a loving home? If so, maybe you should do some more research about the number of homeless, abused or mistreated animals that are left as strays or killed at shelters. Keeping a previously adopted one there for these purposes and taking the spot of a needy animal is foolishness and irresponsible on behalf of the adoption agency or anyone else who shares those views.

    It seems this organization needs a full audit of how they spend their donations. If I had donated, I would be demanding one.

    I’m not going any further because I am sure it will be met with more idiotic comments from your perfectly sensible point of view and I honestly don’t care what you have to say.

    Posted by I Love Sibuna | October 29, 2012, 4:54 pm
  10. I agree whole heartedly with humane intentions behind adoption contracts, but it is shocking the extent this group went to monitor and enforce the “inside only” clause. Cats will be cats and occasionally even with due diligence they dash outside. This seems to me to be a loving home that should not have had to go through this.

    Posted by Diana | November 3, 2012, 11:30 am
  11. Well I’ve been following this story and did a little digging myself. Save-A-Pet is a reputable rescue org. But Nickie who works there has lost sight of whats important. I believe Nickie just may be Krisitn 😦 I have inside cats but DANG they sneak by fast to escape. Guess what? They always come home because they know they have a good thing going.

    Posted by justise jane | November 17, 2012, 6:12 pm
  12. I know there’s a lot going on here but I wish to focus on one part, the legality of the adoption contract regarding repossession. Is it legal, in Illinois, for an adoption agency to write into a contract a clause requiring the adopter (the Whipples) to keep the adoptee (cat) indoors, and in the event of a breach, can the shelter regain possession of that animal?

    Posted by Oh that goes here? | February 19, 2016, 3:15 am
  13. I am involved in a similar case. What is the jurisdiction and style of the case?

    I am an attorney who is trying to return a pet back to his loving family and I have found researching case law in this issue to be difficult.

    Can you email me at

    Posted by Jada Brisentine | February 25, 2018, 5:13 pm
    • Hi Jada,

      I have the lawsuit somewhere but I wrote that story six years ago, and I don’t know where the complaint is. If I had more time, I could find it but I am really busy this week. The case was against a Chicago shelter, so I’d suggest going online to the Illinois courts and looking it up by plaintiff and/or defendants, which are named in the story. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help.


      Posted by Deb Hipp | February 25, 2018, 7:48 pm

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