By Letitia Stein
TAMPA, Fla. (Reuters) - The Florida cat that crawled out of its grave after a traffic accident is now ensnared in a legal dispute over custody involving its owner and the Humane Society of Tampa Bay.
Bart the cat, nicknamed "zombie cat" on social media, made international headlines last month when he surfaced five days after he was hit by a car and buried for dead.
He was initially expected to return home after surgery at the Humane Society's veterinary clinic, where Bart was treated for a broken jaw and facial injuries. One of his eyes had to be removed. [ID:nL1N0V72FP]
But the agency, which is chronicling Bart's recovery online in a blog, http://humanesocietytampa.org/blog/, decided not to return the cat to its owner after learning more about "circumstances leading up to his burial," the agency said.
Bart's owner, Ellis Hutson of Tampa, filed a court motion earlier this week to demand the return of the black and white pet. Hutson claimed the society's leadership sought to use Bart for fundraising, according to court filings provided to Reuters by the Humane Society.
The motion said Bart's owner was not being allowed to visit the feline, nor receiving updates about his condition. Hutson could not immediately be reached for comment.
The Humane Society disclosed the legal action on its website and said it reviewing legal options. Bart remained in the agency's care on Wednesday, officials said.
The agency has received donations from around the world that helped to pay for Bart's care, according to its blog, which earlier had noted that Bart's owner could not afford other veterinary providers.
In a later blog post, the society said animal welfare investigators were going to evaluate the Hutson home.
A welfare check was conducted at the residence, according to the Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center. A spokeswoman said officers found two mixed-breed dogs in good health and there is no investigation.
(Reporting by Letitia Stein; Editing by Bill Trott)