Ernie McGrath showed up for his July 13 court date primped and polished in blue Dockers dress slacks, a white oxford-cloth shirt and a patterned necktie. He left disheveled and drenched in sweat but otherwise grateful.
Before a courtroom filled with traffic violators and sundry misdemeanor offenders awaiting their hearings, St. Louis County Municipal Judge Jess Ullom took a full fifteen minutes to grill McGrath on the feud surrounding his daughter's orange tabby cat, Tiger, and the McGraths' next-door neighbor, Sally Morgan.
In recent years the feud has prompted a bevy of calls to the police and St. Louis County Animal Control, two civil lawsuits and a restraining order, all stemming from the times Tiger has made his way onto Morgan's lawn. (For more, see "Catfight" in the June 7 issue of the Riverfront Times.)
In May McGrath violated probation from a previous court date when he entered Morgan's yard in an attempt to free Tiger from an Animal Control officer. The violation carried with it a maximum $1,000 fine and up to 30 days in jail. At this month's hearing, the first thing on Judge Ullom's mind was how Tiger ended up once again on Morgan's property. In December McGrath swore to the judge that he'd gotten rid of the cat. "Judges don't like to be lied to," says a repentant McGrath. "I learned that lesson the hard way."
This time around, McGrath says, he's truly reformed. The cat no longer lives in the family home in unincorporated St. Louis County. To prove it, McGrath brought to court a copy of a lease agreement for an apartment he began renting last month. Included as evidence were several photos of Tiger napping in the apartment.
After conferring with prosecuting attorney Barry King, Judge Ullom opted not to impose jail time for the probation violation, but did slap McGrath with the maximum fine of $1,000 and prohibited the family from keeping any pets. Coupled with the $934-per-month apartment lease and the $1,300 in fines and court fees, McGrath estimates Tiger will end up costing him tens of thousands of dollars. But, says McGrath, the feud appears to be over at least as far as Tiger is concerned.
"She won't ever again call the pound on the cat," says McGrath. "But should I ever catch her dog on my property, you can be sure I'm going to call the pound. Heck, I'll tackle the dog myself and wait for them to show up."