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Roscoe the cat found; Richland neighbor faces theft charge

After 27 days in the wild, a Richland house cat has been found and reunited with his owners and the neighbor accused of dumping the cat in the desert is facing a theft charge.

Roscoe's owners say their black-and-white tuxedo cat was trapped by their next-door neighbor and dumped in the desert off Highway 240 near Horn Rapids ORV park.

Roscoe was last seen May 20 by his owner, Elliott Ahola, who said he walked out of his Goethals Drive home and spotted the cat in a live-animal trap next door. He said he later was told that the neighbor dumped the 1-year-old cat near Horn Rapids.

Ahola and his significant other, Laurie Nearing, searched for Roscoe around the ORV park, but couldn't find him. There were a couple of reported sightings of a cat matching Roscoe's description around the Horn Rapids development, but he wasn't located until Tuesday.

"Roscoe survived 27 days and 26 nights evading coyotes and traveled 4 miles from his reported dump location," Ahola said in an e-mail to the Herald.

The cat reportedly was spotted going under a trailer at the Horn Rapids RV Resort on June 3, then again Monday. But several attempts to find him during that two-week period were unsuccessful, Ahola said.

But Tuesday night, Roscoe came out from under the trailer and rubbed up against the leg of the "cat-friendly" resident who was outside working on his car, Ahola said.

The resident recognized Roscoe from fliers Ahola had posted in the resort's laundry room.

Ahola said the family -- which includes another pet cat -- is happy to have Roscoe home.

"I'm very surprised (he survived). I thought he was coyote food the first night," he said.

Roscoe is already getting back to his normal routines, and has been given the all-clear from the veterinarian.

"If you didn't know he was missing, you wouldn't know anything was wrong, except he's over 2 pounds lighter and he's got a scratched-up nose," Ahola said.

Angela Zilar, Tri-City Animal Control director, said she forwarded her report last week to the Richland city prosecutor to review for possible charges against Ahola's neighbor.

In her report, Zilar recommended charges of animal abandonment and depriving the owner, both gross misdemeanors.

She said she found Ahola's story and the neighbor's story the same -- except for the part about what happened to Roscoe.

The neighbor, William Barnard, told animal control officers he only told Ahola that he dumped Roscoe in the desert to get a rise out of him but denied really doing it, Zilar said.

Zilar said they had a photo Ahola took of Roscoe in the trap, so that wasn't in question. And Ahola and Barnard said Barnard had come home briefly, left, and then returned home and the cage was empty.

Barnard claimed he simply released Roscoe from the trap in the yard, but Zilar said her investigation indicated that Roscoe had been dumped.

Having Roscoe found at Horn Rapids "pretty much confirms that the cat was dumped out there," she said.

Tami Bunker, legal assistant in the Richland city attorney's office, said Wednesday that Michael Rio, the city prosecutor, had reviewed the report and will be charging Barnard with misdemeanor theft.

Barnard will be receiving a criminal complaint in the mail and likely will have a hearing in Benton County District Court in two or three weeks, she said.

-- Paula Horton: 582-1556;