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Manchester business owner denies racism and theft after cat found dead 

Manchester business owner denies racism and theft after cat found dead 

Courtesy Debbie Valente

By Katy Savage

July 3, 2024

The president of the New Hampshire Property Owners Association is coming under scrutiny for allegedly stealing a 19-year-old Maine Coon cat in Manchester and making a racist remark to the cat’s owner. 

The cat, Sgt. Tibbs, was pronounced dead in Manchester on Tuesday morning.

Debbie Valente, who has been the president of the New Hampshire Property Owners Association since around 2010, said in court documents her daughter found the cat on June 6 on her property and kept it because she believed it was abused. 

Meanwhile, the cat’s owner, Rose Garcia, who lives next door, found out June 28 that Valente had her cat and said Valente refused to give it back last weekend. Garcia said Valente told her to her face June 30 she was keeping the cat because, “You’re Black and I don’t support you.”

Valente “categorically” denies making any such remark.

Valente owns a three-unit apartment building on Russell Street in Manchester and represents landlords in the Legislature as part of her role with the NH Property Owners Association. She has also owned Myths and Maidens, a small shop in Manchester, for the last 25 years.

The Manchester Animal Shelter posted a description that matched Tibbs’ on Facebook around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday morning. The post said a deceased longhaired cat with a shaved back was found on Kelley and Montgomery Street. The shelter asked the cat owner to contact them.

But Valente said the cat died in a carrier on her way to the animal shelter Tuesday morning. 

Valente said she was turning the cat in per instructions from Manchester Animal Control. Officers informed her Monday that she had to return the cat or she could face a search warrant and be charged with theft. 

When Valente’s daughter took him out of the carrier at the shelter, the cat was dead.  

“My daughter was beside herself, crying,” Valente said, explainingthe cat was eating and climbing up stairs that morning.  “It’s the worst possible outcome. I honestly think he passed from stress.”

The two stories have led to confusion in the community.

Peter McNamara, the executive director of the shelter, confirmed the Facebook post saying the cat died in the street was written Tuesday morning by a staff member. McNamara said the post was quickly deleted because the incident is under police investigation. He declined to say more.

“We’re working with Manchester Police,” McNamara said, explaining the police have been in touch with the shelter since Tuesday. “I can’t comment on any of that right now.”

Heather Hamel, the public information officer for the Manchester Police Department, confirmed the cat was dead on Tuesday but declined to say more.

“It’s still under investigation,” Hamel said in an email. 

The cat died after a weekend of protests and outrage. Hundreds of people on Facebook flooded Myths and Maidens with bad reviews. Some used the hashtag #freetibbs.

Valente said she found the cat the evening of June 7 on her property. The cat was shaven, “starving,” and in need of immediate medical attention. 

“He looked like a Halloween decoration,” Valente said. “They had shaved him and he was skin and bones. His skin was so thin that it looked like his bones were going to pop through. It looked like it came out of a concentration camp.”

Valente said the cat wouldn’t eat and was throwing up its food. 

Valente and her daughter, Sabrina Rahme, said they spent nearly $3,000 on vet bills over three weeks. They took a cat to Rockingham Emergency Veterinary Hospital the night of June 7 and spent nearly $800 on an exam and fluids, a copy of the bill obtained by the Granite Post show. The cat was described as a shorthair, 2-year-old cat named Nelson. They then took the cat to the Veterinary Emergency Center of Manchester on June 13 after the cat wasn’t eating and spent another $737 on radiographs and fluids. The Manchester vet described the cat as a longhaired cat named Giovanni, born June 13, 2011. Valente spent another $1,307 at the vet on June 18 for an ultrasound and fluids.

Valente said they gave the cat different names because they weren’t sure of its name. Valente said the Rockingham vet inaccurately determined the cat was just 2 years old. At first, Valente assumed the cat had cancer. 

“We assumed the cat was abandoned because it was sickly,” she said.

Valente and her daughter started cooking chicken livers in a paste because the cat couldn’t chew. The cat’s health seemed like it was improving.

“He started eating 4-5 meals a day of chicken livers,” Valente said. 

On Friday, June 28, Valente started going door-to-door in the neighborhood, looking for the owner in hopes they could get a copy of the cat’s medical records. They found the owner, Rose Garcia, in an apartment behind the store. 

Garcia said Valente came to her home around 2 p.m. with pictures of the cat. Garcia immediately started crying.

“I was overwhelmed because I thought my cat had passed,” Garcia said. 

Garcia said Valente asked for the cat’s medical records, but was initially uncomfortable turning them over. She assumed after the conversation with Valente that she was going to get her cat back that day.

Garcia said she waited outside on her porch Friday at 9 p.m., believing Valente was on her way with Tibbs. She waited for about an hour with no word from Valente, despite a series of texts.

Garcia said she got a phone call from Valente around 10 p.m. informing her she wasn’t coming because she believed Garcia couldn’t afford the vet bills.

“My heart started racing,” Garcia said. 

Garcia said she has owned the cat since 2015. Her ex boyfriend inherited him and Garcia took him when they broke up. Garcia noticed him missing on June 11 and assumed he died. About a week prior, the cat was diagnosed with asthma and Garcia said she shaved him to keep him cool in the summer. 

Valente said she refused to give Garcia the cat because she thought it was abused. 

“I’m never going to give an animal back in that condition to the party that caused the harm,” Valente said.

“Then she just rained down hell on me,” Valente said.  

Garcia called the police after her conversation with Valente Friday night and asked residents for  help in a public Manchester Facebook group, telling people her cat was stolen by the owner of Myths and Maidens.

“I just want my baby back,” Garcia said. 

On Sunday afternoon, around 10 people gathered and protested outside Valente’s business. Garcia held a sign that said “CAT THIEVES. #freetibbs.” 

It was during the protest that Garcia said Valente tapped her on the shoulder and said, “You’re Black and I don’t support you.” 

In a video clip obtained by the Granite Post just moments after the alleged remark, Garcia is heard telling Valente to “say it again.” 

“I was surprised because you don’t expect to hear that, especially in front of people—to be so blatant about it,” Garcia said in a phone interview.

Garcia’s boyfriend Cody Fowler said he was standing about three feet away from Valente at the time. He said he and Garcia looked at each other in disbelief.

“I can’t believe she just said that,” Fowler said.

Garcia took to Facebook on Monday to inform people about the incident.  She wrote, “Yesterday I protested in front of myths and maidens and she tapped me on my shoulder to tell me I’m not getting my cat back because I’m Black and she doesn’t support me.

“The morals of this woman are dark and manipulative but I can see through it,” Garcia posted.

Valente said in a text message with the Granite Post that “absolutely and categorically no racial references” were made.

“This is about saving a cat—nothing more!!!” Valente wrote. 

People soon started sending Valente death threats, copies of text messages show. One said they’d beat her up. Another said they’d break things at the shop. Another person threatened to capture Valente’s daughter.

Valente said she got calls from people all weekend. Some people contacted her family members in different states, they contacted business associates, and they listed her home address online.

“They’re just terrorizing me and threatening me. It’s atrocious behavior,” Valente said. “I’m proud of what I did. I’m not going to hide.” 

Myths and Maidens said July 1 on social media that they wouldn’t be taking phone calls due to death threats. Valente said her employees didn’t want to go to work out of fear.

The outrage culminated in the cat’s death on Tuesday morning, which both Valtente and Garcia said was a shock. 

Garcia didn’t know her cat was dead until she saw the Manchester Animal Shelter Facebook post on Tuesday morning. The police showed up at her house to confirm the news shortly after that, Garcia said.

“I was wailing. I couldn’t stand up,” Garcia said. “I knew something like this would happen.”

The deceased cat is currently at the Manchester Animal shelter. Garcia requested an autopsy, believing it didn’t just die of old age.

Valente said she continues to get threats after the cat died. She announced July 3 on Facebook that she’s closing her store until July 10 due to “threats toward patrons and workers.”

“It’s the worst thing that could have happened to the cat,” Valente said. 

Valente and her daughter have obtained temporary retraining orders against Garcia, ordering her to stay at least 300 feet away from them. A hearing is scheduled for July 30.

 

Author

  • Katy Savage

    Katy Savage is an award-winning reporter with more than 10 years of experience working in daily, weekly and digital news organizations as both an editor and reporter. Katy is a New England native and has a passion for telling stories about where she grew up.

CATEGORIES: ANIMALS
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