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A Portage man accused of stealing cats is scheduled to appear in court after dead cats were found on a Lewiston woman’s property.

The 73-year-old man is scheduled to appear in Columbia County Circuit Court on charges of disorderly conduct and catnapping on April 18.

“We’re pretty comfortable in saying he was trapping cats in town here and just disposing of them at this person’s house out in the county, because they have had something of a neighborhood dispute in the past,” said Columbia County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Detective Roger Brandner.

The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office was alerted to the situation March 22 when Liz Masterson, of the town of Lewiston, reported finding dead domestic cats on her property in a rural area north of Portage. That day, a deputy began an investigation into the cats apparently thrown into the yard, according to a joint press release from Portage Police Chief Ken Manthey and Sheriff Dennis Richards. Investigators said they were withholding the suspect’s name.

On March 25, Masterson reported finding another cat and the next day reported seeing a man she recognized getting out of a vehicle and throwing a dead cat onto her property on Anacker Road.

In total, nine cats were found on the property with no preliminary information suggesting how the animals died. The Portage Police Department noted there were reports of residents missing their cats. Three of the cats were identified as belonging to three homes in the same general neighborhood, according to Portage Lt. Detective Daniel Garrigan.

After looking at a lost pets website, Masterson was able to connect with one owner and deliver the hard news.

“I sent her the pictures that I had and she positively confirmed that was her cat,” Masterson said, “so then after that I decided there must be other cat owners who are missing their cats so I made a Facebook post and that’s how I came to connect with the two other pet owners that positively identified their cats.”

She was able to turn over the ashes of the first cat to its owner, but is no longer able to give that same closure to the other owners.

“At this point, if they suspect that one of those cats is theirs, I don’t have any of the carcasses. I was instructed by law enforcement to dispose of them, unfortunately,” Masterson said. “They should get in contact with the Portage Police Department if they are in town or the Sheriff’s Office if they were out of town.”

Of the nine cats found, three were identified, but detectives are unable to say how many had homes and how many may have been wild or strays.

On Monday, officers with the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office interviewed the 73-year-old suspect, presenting him with a summons to appear in court on charges of disorderly conduct and catnapping.

The Columbia County District Attorney’s Office is reviewing information from the joint investigation of the Sheriff’s Office and Portage Police Department. Charges are expected in the case.

“It’s unsettling, it’s disturbing, and it’s just one of those investigations that you really scratch your head and wonder why that would happen, and I really feel for the community because when you have a domesticated animal and someone else crosses that line — takes it, traps it, kills it, that is one thing,” Brandner said. “But then to take that animal and dispose of it and harass someone else really is terrible.”

“We’re pretty comfortable in saying he was trapping cats in town here and just disposing of them at this person’s house out in the county, because they have had something of a neighborhood dispute in the past.” — Roger Brandner, Columbia County Sheriff’s Office detective