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Game commission takes exotic cat from home

Wednesday, November 07, 2001

By Michael A. Fuoco, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The saga of Mr. Bigglesworth continues.

No, not Dr. Evil's hairless feline from the Austin Powers movies but his namesake, an African serval cat that made headlines for twice escaping from his Point Breeze home since August.

Again Mr. Bigglesworth has left home, but this time it's the law and not his instinct that's at work.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission seized Mr. Bigglesworth Monday afternoon because his owner, Mark Nernberg, had not acquired an exotic pet permit despite having already been fined $300 plus court costs for failing to have one.

Nernberg yesterday vowed to fight to get his 42-pound cat back, claiming the only reason he never got the necessary permit was because the game commission didn't come to inspect Mr. Bigglesworth's pen.

As the parties square off, Mr. Bigglesworth is in the care of a veterinarian during a 30-day quarantine. Should Nernberg fail to regain the cat through an administrative hearing, it would be placed with an owner who has the necessary permit.

Mr. Bigglesworth, who resembles a small cheetah, first gained notoriety when he slipped out of Nernberg's ground-floor apartment on Aug. 2. For a month, he roamed Frick Park and Homewood Cemetery. Despite numerous attempts to capture him, the feline remained elusive and solitary.

The publicity drew the attention of the game commission, which found that Nernberg, who raised the cat from the time it was 10 days old, had not acquired either a permit to bring the cat into the state nor a permit to keep it here.

The commission fined Nernberg $300 plus court costs; it could have fined him $300 for every day he had the cat without a permit, but "we were trying to be nice guys," said Matt Hough, law enforcement supervisor for the game commission in Ligonier.

Mr. Bigglesworth eventually was captured Sept. 2 in Homewood Cemetery and Nernberg was given 30 days to acquire the state permit, which requires an inspection of where the animal is kept.

This is where the parties diverge. Nernberg claims he did everything he was required to do and contacted the commission on the 30th day to inspect Mr. Bigglesworth's living area. The commission claims they never heard of Mr. Bigglesworth again -- until the 31st day, Oct. 3, when he escaped again.

"I was ready for inspection on the 30th day, but unfortunately he escaped," Nernberg said.

"Basically, I think we've given him every opportunity to come into compliance; actually we've done more than that," Hough said. "When [Mr. Bigglesworth] escaped the first time, you would think the person in possession of the cat would take the necessary precautions so it wouldn't happen again. Obviously, that didn't happen."

Nernberg conceded the game commission may be operating within the letter of the law but said that's not the question.

"The question is whether this is right, moral and just. The answer to that is 'No way,' " he said.

Hough said he had been under the impression that Nernberg was happy the commission took the cat and, because of that, was not considering fining him anything more. But if Nernberg fights for the cat, Hough said, the commission is considering fining him again for not having the permit and for failure to safeguard the public, which carries a $100 a day fine.

"It's up to Mr. Nernberg, as far as I'm concerned," Hough said. "If you look at this rationally, Mr. Nernberg, the cat and we are all in better shape if we proceed this way [by placing it with another owner]."

Nernberg isn't so sure.

"All the experts told me that based on how I raised it that to take it out of this environment would be traumatic to him," he said. "Cats enjoy stability and he has that with his three brother and sister domestic cats and me and my roommate.

"He's like a child to me. ... This is a major emotional loss for me."

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