Living in a van leads to dilemma for cat owner
For 14 years, Nighty the black cat has been Corey Jacob’s constant companion.
Jacob, 44, picked him out of a litter and trained Nighty to be his service animal — alerting him to sit down before a health episode.
Nighty would come with Jacob everywhere until the federal law changed on March 15, 2011, which defined a service animal as a dog. He said at that time Nighty was “forcibly retired,” but that doesn’t mean that Jacob stopped training Nighty and having him perform his needed job.
“He still has his uses. I can’t get rid of him for my own well-being,” Jacob said. “He’s not a pet. He doesn’t behave like one either.”
Jacob even credits Nighty with saving his life a few times when he’s stopped breathing in his sleep.
Jacob’s struggle is that he lives in a van. While he considers it his home, that doesn’t hold up with the Minnesota state statute about leaving animals in vehicles. That is where Jacob’s issues with the Rochester police began.
He said people in the neighborhoods call to complain about him parking on the street and say he hasn’t moved in 12 hours — which is required by city ordinance.
Or, they call to report that Nighty is in distress. Minnesota state statute 346.57, subdivision 1 states, “A person may not leave a dog or a cat unattended in a standing or parked motor vehicle in a manner that endangers the dog’s or cat’s health or safety.”
He doesn’t have a regular place to park that is free, near to downtown and doesn’t seem to anger neighbors.
He can’t afford both a home and transportation, so he picked something he could own outright instead of rent. He’s been living in a van that he’s made modifications to for about a year and a half. He has installed new back windows so they can open, added extra installation and a fan that is powered by the car battery regardless if the vehicle is on.
“He’s been content in the van,” Jacob said of Nighty. “He’s in great health.”
A vet at Quarry Hill Animal Hospital verified Nighty’s health earlier this week when Jacob took the cat in for an appointment.
On the day Jacob met with the Post Bulletin, he had just come from the vet. He showed a reporter a hand-written note on Quarry Hill stationary that read “I find Nighty to be in excellent health” and was signed by Karen Lee, DVM.
The Post Bulletin reviewed seven police reports related to Jacob and his van dating from April 4 to July 30 — all but one were in July and four are related to his cat, Nighty. According to the reports, no parking violations or tickets were issued in that time.
Sgt. Chad Blanchette said enforcing the state statute is left to the officer’s discretion.
“The temperature has to be appropriate to the animal. The animal can’t be in distress,” Blanchette said. “Even if they live in their vehicle, it is still a motor vehicle so the statute applies still, in my opinion.”
Blanchette said animal control officers take into account several factors including the temperature outside and how the animal looks when observed.
“We don’t want to take anyone’s animal away, as long as they are able to take care of their animal, we want to leave it with them as long as they can adequately care for them,” he said.
Blanchette was familiar with Jacob’s interaction with animal control, as well as parking enforcement, and said when calls come in they have to investigate.
On July 30, Rochester Police employees went to Jacob’s van parked in the 1000 block of Third Street Southeast over reports that people were concerned about the black cat in the van.
“I saw a black cat sitting in the passenger seat of the van, with a water bowl next to him. Tag on the cat said service cat. The car did not appear to be hot because it was parked under a big oak tree. The windows were down about 2 inches in the front an the rear van windows were pushed open as far as they could. The sunroof was also open in the van,” a report read from 12:10 p.m.
A police narrative from a day later indicated that Quarry Hill Vet hospital called police “and said Jacob is an excellent cat owner and the cat gets all its veterinary care at Quarry Hill.”
Michele Quandt, the director of Camp Companion, a pet adoption group, said the organization doesn’t have a lot of resources to help homeless pet owners. One thing they’ve done in the past is place animals whose owners are homeless or deployed overseas into foster homes, but Quandt acknowledges that organization doesn’t have a ton of open foster homes.
“If there is no forward movement to get themselves into appropriate housing, then that animal is being put in a difficult situation,” Quandt said. “For us, it’s a two-way thing. We are really an animal advocacy group. We will try to assist human beings in whatever way we an but our program is here for animals. It’s a tough one.”
Jacob tries his best to follow the rules but he said he’s stuck between a rock and a hard place. He’s doing his best to make the van a livable space but he said he has no safety net. He said he’s tried to push the city to create a sort of “safe harbor” for homeless residents who live in vehicles so that they have a safe place to park and avoid being harassed by neighbors who don’t want them in their neighborhoods.
“I may never have housing again” he said.