Friday, December 31, 2010
In the case of one-time tenant Christine Tuohy vs. former landlord Thomas Renkel, Court Commissioner Kim Knowles ruled in favor of Renkel regarding the custody of Bast, the cat that had fallen into posthumous fame.
Mediation proceedings, begun at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, had collapsed, putting ownership of the cat in Knowles’ lap.
The decision was meant to settle months of conflict over the corpse, which escalated to the point that Renkel called the Sonora Police Department to finger Tuohy for the dead cat’s theft.
Even with the question of ownership decided, however, Bast’s fate was still up in the air until a last minute mediation put it in the hands of a third party that, until then, hadn’t been involved in the case at all.
First, some background.
Bast, named by Tuohy after an Egyptian cat-god, tumbled into the future adversaries’ lives by accident in June 2008.
Tuohy was planning to move from Reno to Sonora and had made plans with Renkel to rent space in the historic Yo-semite House on North Washington Street, part of which was to be renovated before she moved in.
Renkel was investigating a burst pipe which had caused damage to part of the building. He directed a crew to cut away a piece of ceiling to expose another pipe he believed to be in danger of rupturing.
“We did not find a pipe,” Renkel said. “What we did find was the cat. It fell onto a worker. Gave him quite a shock.”
Not surprising, since Bast is anywhere from 10 to 130 years old, depending on whom you ask. The desiccated cat carcass is a pale yellow with tattered ears and a gaping maw.
It’s still a little smelly, Tuohy said, but Renkel took a shine to the creepy thing, and displayed it outside on the stoop during the renovation process.
The grand opening of Tuohy’s Blue World Photography was set for Oct. 31. When she saw the creature soon to be known as Bast, she asked if she could display it, since scary cats and Halloween were like a match made in Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
This is where the stories differ. Tuohy claims that Renkel was about to throw the cat away when she saved it from a fate worse than its own death — the garbage.
Renkel maintains that the cat’s well-being was always at the forefront of his mind, and that he’d merely lent the ghoulish thing to Tuohy.
In Tuohy’s opinion, she made that cat a star, creating a media campaign that dubbed Bast “the Amazing Cat Mummy.”
She even took it to the California State Fair as part of the Wild and Whacky exhibit, and set up a Facebook page in Bast’s honor.
It took up seemingly permanent residence in Blue World Photography. The fate of the cat didn’t come up again until Renkel evicted Tuohy from the building, a matter which also came before the court on Thursday.
“Suddenly, after two years of not wanting it, he wanted it back,” she said.
When she refused to return the freakish feline, Renkel reported it stolen.
“And you’re not willing to give it back to him at this point?” Knowles asked.
“This is going to sound strange, but I don’t think he’d take care of it like I have,” Tuohy responded.
In Knowles’ view, the cat case was pretty cut and dry.
“The court finds that you are the owner of that cat. It was in your building, it’s your cat,” Knowles told Renkel.
The trouble was that Renkel had sued for possession of the cat claiming its worth at $1,000, a position that Knowles couldn’t support.
“How do you value the mummy cat?” she asked.
Lacking any way to assign value to do so, and being forced by California law to offer a conditional settlement, Knowles had little option but to apply a “nominal value” to the thing, assigning Bast the going rate of $1.
Tuohy thus had the option of returning the cat or paying Renkel $1 to retain possession of her treasure.
When Tuohy reached into her purse and gave Renkel a buck, the case was settled in the eyes of the court.
Yet it went one step farther.
Mediator Jim W Hildreth stepped in, and, after almost four hours of trial, Tuohy and Renkel agreed to do what they’d reportedly been kicking around all day: offer the creature up to the Tuolumne County Museum.
No representative for the museum was present to accept, or reject, the gift.