Bitter 'custody' battle over Buffy the cat

26 April 2021 - 11:35 By Tania Broughton
A bitter 'custody' battle is playing out over Buffy, a Chinchilla Persian cat.
A bitter 'custody' battle is playing out over Buffy, a Chinchilla Persian cat.
Image: Supplied

A bitter legal war is brewing between a divorced couple over their beloved Chinchilla Persian cat, called Buffy, who they both consider to be their “child”.

Durban attorney Mark Leathers on Friday brought an urgent application in the high court seeking to stop his ex-wife, Lisa Vissers-Leathers, from putting Buffy in a cattery while she goes on holiday.

The application, which he said he initiated “in the best interest of Buffy”, was struck from the roll for lack of urgency.

But Leathers says in his affidavit he intends taking further legal action “for the return of my child to me”.

The couple separated in early 2020 and divorced in July that year. They had no children and Buffy remained with Vissers-Leathers after they split up because, Leathers said, he believed it to be in the cat’s best interests.

Buffy has been part of their lives since 2009 when, as a kitten, they decided to “take in a new member of the family”.

In his affidavit, Leathers said his relationship with Buffy was the “closest I will ever have to a human child”.

“She was very attached to me, I catered for her every whim,” he said. This included getting up at 4am to feed her, buying her new toys and sourcing her favourite food from overseas.

He said he had remote Wi-Fi air conditioners installed in the marital home “to ensure an ambient temperature” so Buffy was comfortable throughout the day while they were working.

“I was her primary caregiver up until our separation and I continue to maintain the relationship, visiting her on a regular basis,” he said, adding Buffy was the first thing he would save from a fire.

He also registered his private plane in the name ZU-BUF, being short for Buffy.

He said Lisa had told him recently that she was going away on holiday and intended putting Buffy in a cattery “to see how she does”.

“For an elderly cat, who has never been in a strange environment, nor with strange people who do not know her routines or quirks, placing her into a cattery for even one hour will cause her stress and anxiety, unnecessary when I am available and willing to look after her.”

He said he had attempted to resolve the issue amicably, suggesting that Buffy either stay with him, or he move back into the marital home to care for her there.

He said in a “final attempt” to avoid going to court, he had telephoned her.

“She said that Buffy was a movable asset, and her attorney had advised her that as harsh as it may sound, she is her asset. She now views our child as being no different to a table or a chair. She later denied saying this.

She had refused to tell him when she was going away and what cattery Buffy was being taken to.

“Her insistence to put her own needs and desire to feel independent from me above what is clearly in the best interests of Buffy has resulted in there being no alternative recourse but to approach this court for relief to protect her.

“This will be pending an action for the return of my child to me. Buffy is the only concern here. I do not seek to punish her in any way.”

Vissers-Leathers opposed the application. In her affidavit, she said Buffy was her cat and when they split up, there was no doubt that she would remain with her.

“Any attachment to him is superficial. Cats are resilient. When our divorce settlement agreement was prepared, not once did he, an experienced attorney, make provision for any visitation rights.

“I never saw him dote on her any more than I did.

“She is the closest I will ever have to a human child,” she said.

She said she needed an alternative plan for Buffy if she needed to go away for a few days and she could not depend on him because he lived in a “no pets” complex and travelled overseas frequently.

“The cattery stay is only for three nights. If she is distressed, I have made arrangements that I will collect her immediately.”

Leathers accused her of detracting from the true issue at hand, “the wellbeing and happiness of Buffy, a wonderful, amazing creature who unfortunately cannot voice her own opinion in this forum”.

He submitted a report to the court from animal behavioural scientist Leigh Shenker, who said from information given to her, Buffy was an indoor cat and her home and daily routine was “all she has ever known her whole life”.

“Cats naturally do not respond well to change. It is therefore in my professional opinion that it would not be in her best interests to be placed in a cattery if a more suitable, less aversive environment would be available to her.”

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