Humane Society of Harford County Commits a Crime and a Tort?

mistoffelessBackground: this is a follow up to the article about the Hartford Humane Society who assessed a cat brought in as feral and killed her almost immediately when in fact the cat was Mistoffelees, a long term cat companion to Robert Brooks. Mistoffelees was declawed and totally domesticated.

It is quite possible that the Humane Society of Harford County (HSHC) have committed a crime and a tort when they destroyed Robert Brooks’s cat Mistoffelee in breach of their own guidelines and what appears to the law referred to on their own website. They say:

“The law requires that stray animals be held for a period of time so that owners can find and reclaim them…. cats for three days on “stray holds”. After this time, the animal is placed up for adoption and becomes the property of HSHC.”

We are told by Mr Brooks that when the supervisor at the facility eventually called him back he was told that his cat had been killed on the day she arrived at the facility. Mr Brooks says this:

THEN HE DROPPED THE BOMBSHELL on me. He told me she was Killed the very day she came in. She never had a chance for us to claim her. She wasn’t given time to calm down after being thrown in a cage. She was executed terrified and alone without me with an hour or two of her arrival in this ghastly facility.

The source for this is the Change.org website. You can read Mr Brook’s statement on this page.

There is no doubt that HSHC made a big mistake but is the mistake actionable? Is there some sort of legal action that can be taken? I think it is worth discussing this because it is clear to me that Mr Brooks is not going to get very far discussing the matter with the HSHC, informally. They’ll just see him off over time and present a brick wall.

A cat is a chattel in law. We know that. That means a cat is like a watch or car for instance. Any object possessed by a person.

Potential US crimes for destroying a cat owned by another are:

  • CRIMINAL MISCHIEF. (a) A person commits an offense if, without the effective consent of the owner: (1) he intentionally or knowingly damages or destroys the tangible property of the owner;. It would be a misdemeanor for a cat because moggies are worth less than $50
  • RECKLESS DAMAGE OR DESTRUCTION. (a) A person commits an offense if, without the effective consent of the owner, he recklessly damages or destroys property of the owner.

You would have to prove that HSHC were reckless in their behavior in deciding that Mistoffelees was feral. I don’t think that is impossible.

A tort is a civil wrong. The best known tort is negligence. A car crash can be negligence. Medical negligence is another well known form of negligence.

In the case of Mistoffelees, the possible US torts that could give rise to an actionable case are:

  • Trespass to Chattels – “The tort of tresspass of chattels requires proof that a defendant ‘had either actual of constructive possession’ of the personal property of another’ and that there was an unauthorised, unlawful interference or dispossession of the property'”. Comment: for me this fits the circumstances nicely. Mr Brooks would have to make a claim in a small claims court. The best thing about these legal actions is that they change the relative positions of the parties. Mr Brooks can take charge. At the moment he is chasing HSHC.
  • Conversion – Similar to trespass to chattels. Mr Brooks would have to prove he (a) has a right to the property (yes) and (b) he had a right to immediate possession (yes)  and (c) he made a demand for his property (yes) and (d) HSHC wrongfully assumed ownership of the property (yes). It would seem that HSHC are liable in the tort of conversion.

Personally, I would threaten a legal action in a formal letter before action. Mr Brooks should be prepared to follow through if nothing happens. It would escalate the matter and give it a higher profile. That is a good thing. It would force the hand of HSHC to make admissions and pay compensation. Monetary compensation would not be true compensation of course but in paying it HSHC would be admitting their failure. Mr Brooks would get justice and payback. I think that is important.

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Humane Society of Harford County Commits a Crime and a Tort? — 10 Comments

  1. declawed – even worse and they thought a declawed cat was feral. They should be declawed and euthanized for criminal negligence – I would bet my last dollar they they just killed the cat as a matter of routine without so much as a thought – with EVEN realizing the cat was declawed.

    I tell you – if I had a ton of money I would take up the guy’s cause and take them to court, let him do it with my money. They deserve every bit of shame they get but I doubt they will get any.

    This happens everyday in the US. It’s a form of genocide of animals not people, the animals have no individuality and are just processed to save money.

    • I would bet my last dollar they they just killed the cat as a matter of routine without so much as a thought

      Yes, they got blasé, careless, used to killing cats. Totally against their objectives and purpose. Or is killing cats their purpose?

      It is time someone sued the arse of these people. Sue them hard and fast. Frighten them. Put them on the back foot and take charge. Make a noise and set a precedent. Equal things out. Courts should be places where everyone is equal.

  2. Yes Mr Brooks should go ahead and take that Shelter to court and if he wins the case he should donate any money he receives to The Paw Project in memory of poor declawed Mistoffelees.
    I wonder if he had the cat declawed or adopted him that way?
    Poor little cat, unused to the outside world, defenceless and then killed by uncaring ignorant people.
    R.I.P Mistoffelees x

    • Thanks Ruth. Fully agree. Mistofeless went from one disaster – declawing – to another – killed – both by people, a vet and shelter staff, who should know better and do better. Bloody makes my blood boil.

      • Mine too Michael, to some people cats are just possessions to do with as they please.
        Like us they only have one life, yet whether that life is good or bad, long or short, is in the hands of whoever fate passes them on to 🙁

  3. I sincerely hope that Mr. Brooks aggressively pursues justice and change. They will just blow him off if he doesn’t. The HSUS is a huge and powerful organization. They won’t be hurt in the least by any monetary settlement although, you are right Michael, that it would be an admission of their wrongdoing.

    I think they would be most distressed by immense media coverage and perhaps investigative reporting from a news station (They do have investigating crews). They wouldn’t like their precious reputation tarnished and their clandestine activities brought to light.
    Mr. Brooks needs to spit and spit and spit!

  4. This happens here. I know of 2 occasions where the RSPCA killed owned cats that were in the proximity of their own homes. One was a sparsely furred Devon Rex the officer mis-identified as a mangy feral because it fought back (in fear!). Another was a friends much-loved elderly cat that went on its usual morning consitutional to sit by some bins. “Oh sorry it looked ill” does not bring back a much loved long-term companion.

    One of my rescue cats came to me because the RSPCA deemed her too old to be rehomeable and told the vet he might as well put her down. Luckily the vet knew better! The cat was a bit arthritic and had a benign oral tumour and was with me for 3 years. I remain biased against the publicity-seeking RSPCA. Ever had to go up onto a roof yourself to rescue a stuck kitten because the RSPCA refused to come out unless there was a local press photographer present to give them publicity? Publicity first, animals second. (end of tirade)

    • Yes, agreed, totally. For me, the RSPCA has lost its way. It has become too commercial. There has to commercialism to keep it alive but it should be about really caring for animals whereas the RSPCA leans towards commerce – money – business…..

      I say the chief executive is the wrong person.

      Thanks for commenting Sarah. Appreciated. Your voice counts.

      It is good to look at the UK as well. The worrying thing is this: charities are often businesses and I really hate that, in one way, because they lose a lot of their charitable attitude. They have to be businesslike but not like the modern RSPCA.

      Too many charities are really an excuse of a charity.

  5. HSUS is not always the organisation running and funding shelters in the USA I have learned, despite the inclusion of the words “Humane” and “Society” in the name of the shelter, HSUS which is a multi billion dollar corporation rarely donates money to shelters. They don’t seem to like animals very much at all. Look up Humanewatch on the net.

    These small town and large town shelters are so often just killing factories. Where workers and sometimes volunteers are immune to the pain and fear of the animals they handle. There have been so many awful cases where animals are just killed by the most awful and inhumane methods imaginable as part of “routine” Some workers in these hell holes become as immune to pain and bereft of humanity as those working in slaughterhouses. Temple Grandin has interesting things to say about how people become this way when working with animals.

    In the UK the RSPCA are beyond hope. They persecute individuals who are doing the best they can for their pets – specifically those on benefits, the elderly, independent rescues and sadly too, the disabled and sick. They recklessly bypass the Crown Prosecution Service and spend millions on spurious prosecutions all in the cause of publicity.

    They ignore calls for help for animals in peril or distress and vaguely suggest changes to The Grand National that make no difference whatsoever to the horses maimed and killed during that cruel race.

    Gumtree, a particular hell for animals where idiots, animal haters and the ignorant advertise pets for sale, for fighting, free to anyone who can collect and yes, for mating, only attracted the smallest whimper from the RSPCA who came up with a limp wristed response of asking Gumtree to put “If you want to buy a puppy, try and see it with its Mother” as education for the masses using the site. This only happened after months of campaigning by individuals putting pressure on the owners of Gumtree to tidy up their act with regard to animals. The site is as bad as ever.

    Genuine animal lovers have had their lives wrecked by the RSPCA. If they think a report of suspected cruelty is worth it (fits tightly prescribed media selling points) they will turn up, press in tow and irrespective of the rights or wrongs of the case, from that moment on the owner is doomed. Local press will be publishing it as a given that the person is guilty of whatever they are accused of. Every time this happens, the RSPCA receive tens of thousands of pounds in outraged, knee jerk donations.

    Every one of their uniformed staff seems to have been trained to say in whatever case they are attending with the press “this is the worst case of animal cruelty/neglect I have ever seen”

    The RSPCA have a monopoly in training magistrates in application of the Animal Welfare Act of 2006.

    They give their “Animal Collection Officers” minimal training in animal welfare. Up until recently these workers could carry Sodium Pentobarbitol in their vans and ruthlessly administer killing injections to seized pets.

    They assume a right they do not have by wearing uniforms that mimic those of the Police, they use this to gain entry to homes where they have no right to at all. They are charity workers, nothing more. If they knock on your door, do not let them in, they have no right of entry but will often tell a person they do. Sometimes they bring the police with them, citing a potential breach of the peace.

    Their purpose of preventing cruelty has been lost long ago. Their efforts at education are now pathetic and so often only have a political motive. They could single handedly fund a subsidised spay/neuter campaign for the whole country using mobile clinics, but it’s much more fun for them to spend millions on a shiny new HQ.

    They are the biggest killers of animals in the UK and I detest them. They have lost their way, their morals and are more interested in publicity and money than any animal that has the misfortune to fall into their hands.

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