A civil case that sought to establish ownership of an office pet took place recently in Palmer, Alaska. At the center of the controversy was Carl, the charismatic orange tabby cat that called the office of Fosselman & Associates home for six years.
Carlâ€™s story begins back in 2000, when Traci Weiland, a former partner in the accounting firm, found the stray kitten and brought him to the office. He lived there for 6 years, until a fire destroyed the building in February 2006. The firmâ€™s principle, Catherine Fosselman, rescued Carl from the fire and turned him over to an employee, Staci Fieser. According to Fosselman, that arrangement was intended to be temporary and Carl is in fact â€œcompany propertyâ€. Fieser refused to return the cat, claiming that Weiland, the catâ€™s true owner, had given him to her. Fosselman filed suit to regain custody of Carl, along with $100,000 in punitive damages.
The trial lasted four days. Central to the case was the testimony of Patricia Arnold, a former employee. She and Fieser shared the responsibility for day-to-day care of Carl and another office cat, Chloe, who did not survive the fire. Fosselmanâ€™s contention was that Arnold and Fieser cared for the cats on company time, using company funds. Arnold had carefully documented these expenses, but testified that she believed Carl was Weilandâ€™s cat. Arnold said that Fosselman didnâ€™t interact much with Carl and stopped bringing him home on weekends after an incident of inappropriate elimination.
In his closing argument, Fieserâ€™s attorney claimed that Fosselman was engaged in a personal vendetta against her former employee, and that the case had nothing to do with the cat. Fosselmanâ€™s attorney dismissed that argument and said that she and the companyâ€™s 30 employees were emotionally tied to Carl.
After nearly three days of deliberations, the jury awarded custody to Fosselman, but declined to award any money for punitive damages. Carl is to be turned over to Fosselman within two weeks.
While the Carl custody case will probably be debated around Palmer for quite some time, the practice of allowing pets at the office is becoming increasingly common. A 2006 American Pet Products Manufacturers Association national poll estimates that nearly one in five U.S. companies allows pets at work. A 2007 survey by the same organization supports the notion that allowing pets in the workplace reduces stress, leading to happier, healthier employees, with more motivation, creativity and productivity. 27% of respondents reported that absenteeism actually declined when pets were allowed in the workplace.
Source: Anchorage Daily News
Photo: The cat pictured here is not Carl, but an anonymous orange tabby hard at work.