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Custody Battle Over Cat Brings Out Claws

Court: Bitter fight erupts over Grady, including charges of neglect and complaints about uprooting the feline.

September 21, 1997|BROOKE A. MASTERS | WASHINGTON POST

WASHINGTON — It was a bitter custody battle with allegations of neglect, claims that one adult showed more love and complaints that uprooting the 2 1/2-year-old wouldn't be fair.

But the case before Arlington, Va., Circuit Court Judge Benjamin N.A. Kendrick wasn't about a child.

Instead, he was holding the county's fourth hearing in as many months on the ownership of Grady, a longhaired gray cat with a white tip on his tail and a white blaze on his chest.

For about a year, Andrew Zovko, 30, and Kovar Gregory, 21, coexisted in reasonable peace as roommates in South Arlington. Gregory had been given the cat by a friend, Susan Donner, who couldn't keep him. But Zovko told the judge that he believed the 14-pound feline became partly his when the roommates agreed to share Grady's medical bills and other costs.

"I was feeding and cleaning two or three times a day with little or no help," Zovko said. "Grady spent a lot of time with me. He slept in my bed. He has functioned as my pet. . . . I love him dearly."

But Gregory viewed the cat as his. "Mr. Zovko did take care of the cat," he told the judge. "But the cat was given to me."

When their lease ran out in May, Zovko moved out and took Grady with him. So Gregory charged him with petty larceny--the arrest warrant values the animal at less than $200. A detective seized the cat as evidence, and Grady spent the next three months in the Animal Welfare League shelter.

While Grady was there, Zovko visited 64 times and Gregory twice, said Linda Willen, the League's executive director.

Assistant Commonwealth's Atty. Theo Stamos said she dropped the larceny charge at an Aug. 21 hearing because the cat appeared to be jointly owned. Two weeks later, Gregory was able to persuade a General District Court judge to give the cat to him.

So Zovko filed a civil suit in Circuit Court. Which brings us back to Kendrick's courtroom.

Zovko brought in witnesses to swear that he was the cat's favorite. Zovko "was clearly devoted to the cat. He had trained the cat to do tricks," said Mary Cooper, his former girlfriend.

But Gregory kept saying that Donner had given him the cat and that he had promised to give her right of first refusal before he gave the animal away.

Among those listening to the testimony was NBC sportscaster Marv Albert, who was in the courtroom for a hearing in preparation for his trial later this month on charges of sexual assault.

For Kendrick, Grady's happiness took priority. He took the cat out of the cardboard carrier, held him in his lap and fed him a kitty treat before making his decision.

If Donner had been present to testify that she gave Gregory the cat, Kendrick said, Gregory would have had clear title.

But she wasn't. Donner said in an interview that she had already taken three days off work because of the cat fight and couldn't take more time to deal with it.

So, Kendrick said he would decide "what is in the best interest of Grady the cat. . . . From what I have seen, Grady would be better off with Mr. Zovko. . . . Go, with my blessing, with Grady the cat."

Gregory said later he is considering an appeal. "I'm very disappointed. This has taken up a lot of tax dollars and he has no case," he said.

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