It is a saga set amid white picket fences, pools and million-dollar homes that lends literal meaning to the expression "cat fight. " At the center of the epic is a 24-pound, orange-and-white...

Share story

KEY WEST, Fla. — It is a saga set amid white picket fences, pools and million-dollar homes that lends literal meaning to the expression “cat fight.”

At the center of the epic is a 24-pound, orange-and-white tabby with extra toes and a social calendar that includes napping, nuzzling and gazing through five sets of French doors that open into a clapboard home in Key West’s Truman Annex neighborhood.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

Ownership of the 11-year-old cat — who goes by the names Bigfoot and Toes — has spawned the kind of vicious and expensive legal dispute that is more akin to a child-custody suit.

On one side: Joan and Thomas Tukey, wealthy retirees who say they found the declawed kitty in May wandering the perfectly manicured Truman Annex grounds, dirty and hungry.

They “adopted” the cat and, saying they could not locate an owner, drove him to Bar Harbor, Maine, for the summer. Back in Key West now, the Tukeys say Toes is now a Tukey, too.

Kathleen Eddins says the cat is rightfully hers.

On the other side: Kathleen Eddins, the cat’s original owner — a Duval Street jewelry-shop saleswoman who lives on the condominium side of Truman Annex. Eddins claims the cat, adopted from a Virginia Beach, Va., animal shelter in 1993, is her property and should be returned pronto.

“They are trying to paint me as some kind of bad guy because I let him outside,” said Eddins, 56, who has filed a civil suit to reclaim the cat after several attempts at criminal charges. “They are retired, and they have nothing better to do.”

The Tukeys contend the animal followed them home, had no collar and “ravenously” gobbled up a meal. They say neighbors later told them the cat was left outside for long periods of time and was fed by good Samaritans. Eddins disputes those accounts and says the cat she named Bigfoot slept nightly on a plaid comforter on her bed.

The Tukeys have hired at least two lawyers — one of them a West Palm Beach, Fla., animal-law expert — to work a case they said they expect to spend at least $10,000 making. The couple, who also run a cat-welfare foundation called Cat Kind, have countersued Eddins for libel.

“This animal was pretty much abandoned on a regular basis,” said Tom Tukey, 55, who is also president of the Truman Annex homeowners association. “Why not return it? Because we are the owners, he’s our cat. It’s a backward view to see animals as property.”

After getting a copy of the cat’s adoption contract in Virginia, which states adoptees should not “run loose,” the Tukeys contacted the Virginia Beach Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and got an affidavit in which the SPCA said it was “revoking” Eddins’ ownership 11 years later.

But that’s just another salvo in a case that has prompted both sides to take out nasty ads in newspapers proclaiming themselves to be the cat’s correct owner.

Eddins’ civil suit has prompted at least four hearings before a Monroe County, Fla., judge in recent months. The case reached a milestone Thursday when Judge Wayne Miller ordered that the cat be turned over to the Key West SPCA for safekeeping unless the Tukeys ponied up a $10,000 bond by Friday — which they did.

Right now, Toes is living in the lap of luxury.

He stretches on a mahogany coffee table, munches on treats and dines on diabetic pet food from a sculpted brass food holder. Still, his future is far from settled. Everyone involved in the ordeal expects the ultimate arbitration will occur in a courtroom.

“The money that has been spent on this case would be far better spent if donated to an animal agency,” said Roberta Fine, Eddins’ attorney.