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Cat stories and tall tales take hold of the police department in Berlin

September 22, 2010
BERLIN — The Berlin Police Department fielded calls from around the country last week, all on account of one name: Hobbes.

Who is Hobbes? Hobbes is Whiskers, and Whiskers is Hobbes, and neither lives in Berlin anymore.

Hobbes is the cat, sometimes known as Whiskers, that sparked a controversy that kept Chief Peter Morency's email inbox full. He's white and orange and went to Conway, and he was never abused by any Berlin youths.

But that isn't the story the Internet tells, which is why Hobbes had the department abuzz last week.

First the facts: Hobbes has a broken jaw, and he's getting medical care.

Berlin Police Sgt. Steve Arsenault responded to Pine Street on Friday, August 13 to investigate a report of a group of kids torturing a cat.

"It was originally called in as a stray cat," he said, but then it turned out the cat had a name (Hobbes or Whiskers, at this point it's not clear which) and an owner who lived nearby.

The owner said no, Hobbes broken jaw wasn't due to any run-ins with humans. The cat had been attacked by their dog. They were supposed to take Hobbes to the vet that day, the owner said, unfortunately their ride backed out. But they would take the cat soon, they promised.

"I thought that was the end of my involvement until the chief started getting all sorts of emails," Sgt. Arsenault said.

The emails came from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Haven, Conn., Providence, R.I., and as far away as Iowa, asking what kind of barbarous youth live in Berlin?

Dumbfounded, Sgt. Arsenault kept digging, interviewing witnesses and talking to local kids. He spoke to parents, visited schools, and continued looking to see if he'd missed something.

He hadn't, but the Internet didn't concur.

Hobbes "was rescued by a kind passer by in Berlin, N.H.," according to the Animal Rescue League of New Hampshire –North website, "who saved the young cat from a gang of adolescents who were beating and torturing him, throwing him off a roof for good measure."

It continues: "Hobbes was brought to ARLNH–N late Friday evening with a broken jaw and other internal and facial injuries. Staff administered pain treatment, fed him liquid food and made him comfortable until he could go to the veterinarian the following morning. After extensive medical treatment his condition has improved, although he still cannot close his mouth. He may be facing surgery to fix his jaw. The shelter is facing a still growing veterinary bill to bring him back to good health and he is receiving lots of TLC."

That was the spark that lit the fire, and the department tried stamping it out all last week.

"Everybody is trying to do the right thing here," Chief Peter Morency said, but somewhere the wires got crossed.

They got crossed, Sgt. Arsenault said, because the witness that originally reported the incident was unreliable, and despite the investigation he still didn't believe it was the dog.

The problem was further fueled when Hobbes first went to the shelter, the police said, some weeks after the original call. Someone called the police department and asked, "Is there a place we can bring a cat with a broken jaw to?" The dispatcher gave the caller the number to the shelter.

The caller dialed the shelter to ask if they would take a cat who's jaw was broken by a group of kids. The shelter told the caller to talk to the police, to which the caller responded the police had just given them the shelter's number. The shelter (understandably) called the department immediately to find out how they could ignore a report of neglect. The department said they had no such report.

"That's how we started this whole situation off," Sgt. Arsenault said.

But it didn't end there. Charges were filed, though not where you might expect.

It turns out that Berlin Police Sgt. Hollie Dube responded to the same Pine Street house five days before Sgt. Arsenault did for an unrelated matter, and she noticed the beleaguered Hobbes then. She was on vacation when things picked up steam, when she returned she and Sgt. Arsenault determined Hobbes had been going around with a broken jaw for weeks.

This, of course, was after the calls had begun, and after Hobbes was already in the shelter.

Hobbes' owner, it seemed, had spent more than a week waiting and putting off taking the cat to the vet, and likely longer before someone else took the liberty of sending the cat to the shelter. It wasn't marauding kids, it seemed that were Hobbes nemesis, but the house he lived in.

"It was a complete twist," Chief Morency said, from the original report, but it's Hobbes' owner who is to be charged with cruelty to animals, a class A misdemeanor, for neglecting to get the cat medical treatment in a timely fashion. They could face up to a year in jail.

"The moral of the story is don't jump to conclusions before the facts come out," Chief Morency said, because things are often more complicated than they first appear. He appreciated all the input, he said, but he is hoping the fervor will die down and people will stop sending him emails about the perceived of sadism of northern New Hampshire youth.

Sgt. Arsenault is also hoping to put the entire event behind him. He estimated he spent several days investigating the torturing kids claim.

And despite his extensive involvement in the case, Sgt. Arsenault said, beyond a basic description of Hobbes he doesn't know what the cat looks like.

"I never saw the cat," he said. "I'm the only person who never saw the cat."

He may get his chance: Hobbes reportedly has someone interested in adopting him, someone from the Berlin area.

Martin Lord Osman
Brewster Academy
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