Iain McGaw thought it was odd his cats weren’t at the door to greet him when he arrived home from his seven-week-long trip last summer.
He had hired a petsitter while he was gone and received word from her just the day before that the cats were fine.
But things were far from fine.
His beloved animals were missing and he was worried.
For 20 minutes, he scoured the house looking for Tabitha and Snuffy — searching under beds, rummaging through closets and drawers and shaking out storage boxes.
“I couldn’t find them anywhere,” he said.
McGaw recalled the day of July 4, 2010, while on the stand Tuesday at provincial court in St. John’s during the second day of the trial of Carlene Tracey Lovell.
Lovell is charged with animal cruety. The 29-year-old Paradise woman was a contract employee with now-defunct Creature Care, which closed soon after the accusations of animal neglect by Lovell came to light.
Police say Lovell had neglected to care for the animals and they died as a result, although they have never been found.
McGaw told the court that after searching inside and outside the house for the cats, he called Lovell, who assured him she had seen the cats the day before.
The litterbox was soiled with hardened feces and the cats’ bowls were filled with food and water.
When Lovell arrived at the house an hour later, she pointed to a basement window, which had an unsealed latch. She suggested the cats might have escaped or had been taken by an intruder.
But McGaw later dismissed that theory, since there were no signs of forced entry and no valuables in the house missing.
In court, he showed a diagram of the window. While the handle was not completely up, he said the window was still hooked.
“The cats wouldn’t have been able to push against that to escape,” he testified. “To lift the latch completely takes a bit of force.”
There was no explanation.
“What happened to my cats?” McGaw said, recalling his confusion that day. “How did they disappear into thin air? …
“I asked her point blank, did they die in her care.”
Lovell continued to deny any wrongdoing.
But McGaw grew more suspicious after speaking to his neighbour, who said newspapers had been piling up on his doorstep for weeks. Before he left for his trip, McGaw had instructed Lovell to take in any newspaper flyers during her visits to the house.
That’s when he called police.
“It was hard to believe she would do anything to hurt them … but something doesn’t quite add up, …” said McGaw, a Memorial University biology professor.
“I was reluctant to press charges. I would feel terrible if she was wrongfully charged … but (the cats) didn’t just escape.”
But in cross-examination, defence lawyer Bob Buckingham attacked McGaw’s threatening attitude towards Lovell before the case came to trial.
He pointed to an email McGaw sent to victim services in April of this year.
It read: “I would like to see this go to trial, even if there’s not a conviction, to show she is up to something and to embarrass that nasty bitch and her squirm in front of a few spectators.”
McGaw explained he was upset about what happened to his cats.
Buckingham then showed McGaw another document, which he said had been sent to Lovell, threatening her.
“You should change your plea to guilty,” the document read. “You are a nasty bitch and you need to be punished.”
McGaw denied having anything to do with that letter.
“It’s the first time in my life I’ve seen it …,” he said.
“I’m not stupid enough to do something like that.”
McGaw explained he wanted the case to go to trial so the evidence could be heard and a judge render a fair judgment.
Lovell was again absent from proceedings. She’s not required to be there, since it’s a summary offence, which means, if convicted, the sentence will be less severe.
Outside court, Buckingham would not confirm to reporters if he plans to put Lovell on the stand when the case resumes Aug. 17.