Caramel, a two-and-a-half-month-old kitten, was on her way back to the MSPCA-Nevins Farm in Methuen after being stolen from the adoption center Thursday afternoon.
At about 1:15 p.m. on Thursday, the brown and orange kitten was stolen by a woman who put the kitten in her bag, officials said.
Surveillance video from the center shows a woman leaving the cat adoption room with Caramel in her purse. Rob Halpin, an MSPCA spokesperson, shared images from the security camera with “a red circle around the woman’s handbag as you can just see Caramel’s head peeking through,” he said in an email.
The woman was described by MSPCA staffers as Caucasian, approximately 5’6” tall, weighing 200 pounds and believed to be in her 60s. She was carrying a dark-colored bag, according to security footage, and followed a man, also believed to be in his 60s, out of the adoption center after nabbing Caramel.
She talked to an MSPCA volunteer about Caramel at the center, Halpin confirmed, and then said that she did not want to adopt. When the volunteer started helping someone else, the woman grabbed the kitten and left.
Outside, security cameras on the property caught Caramel jumping from the woman’s purse, according to the MSPCA, and her leaning down to pick the kitten back up. The two then drove off together in a light-colored Ford F-150 extended cab pick-up truck. Security cameras did not capture the truck’s license plate number.
After the MSPCA shared the news about the stolen kitten on their Facebook page, their post was shared more than 10,000 times.
It was that social media attention that led to Caramel's return with the adoption center, said Mike Keiley, director of Adoption Centers and Programs with the MSPCA, at a press conference Friday afternoon.
Originally the press conference was called as an attempt to plead with the woman to return Caramel, he said, but soon after calling the press conference, social media users did identify the animal thieves.
That allowed Methuen and Malden police to make contact with the person who stole the animal, Keiley said, and a staff member is bringing Caramel back to the adoption center.
Caramel will then go back into the foster home of an MSPCA volunteer, where the kitten was previously before being at the adoption center. The MSPCA will identify an adoption from there for the kitten, a domestic shorthair torbie (meaning her fur is brown with some orange markings).
Keiley said that it's extremely rare for an animal to be stolen from one of their centers.
"We see about 75,000 people a year through this adoption center alone, and we can count on one hand the number of times people have stolen animals from us," he said. "We look at ourselves as part of the community, and we rely on people to behave responsibly within this community. We like to be a welcoming place where people can have a good, positive experience — not with security guards watching them at every moment. Hopefully this never happens again."
Keiley did not identify the woman who stole Caramel and said that they haven't gotten to discussing with officials if charges can or will be pressed.
"We haven't gotten that far. We recognize a bad decision here was made, but that the bad decision can be unmade by returning the cat to us, and we were making sure that opportunity was present," he said. "We're thankful that she didn’t do anything rash ... other than making the right choice and returning the cat to us."