To outsiders “PA” means the state of Pennsylvania, USA. I have answered the question “off paper” by which I mean through research rather than relying on first hand experiences. If anyone can add first hand experience (excluding trolls such as Woodsman001) I’d be happy to publish their comment.
The answer to the question in the title lies in the overlap of the following issues:
- Statutory law regarding animal cruelty in Pennsylvania (5511)
- Hunting regulations in the state
- Pest control in the state
- Control of ‘nuisance animals’
Regarding killing, Pennsylvania’s animal cruelty laws concern domestic or zoo animals. Regarding abuse the law concerns people who are caring for animals. Therefore, in respect of a true feral cat, which is a wild cat, the animal cruelty laws of this state are irrelevant it seems to me except for volunteers doing TNR work (this may be important). The statutory law covers the killing of domestic animals. Shooting a domestic animal will often kill him/her.
Because the animal cruelty laws of the state do not cover true feral cats, on the face of it, it would be legal to shoot a feral cat in this state. However, as I have stated several times before, how is a shooter able to distinguish between a feral, stray or domestic cat? And let’s be clear, many feral cats are semi-domesticated. Would that or should that place them under the protection of the law? Therefore on a practical level it is highly unwise and should not be attempted. A person shooting a cat that he thought was feral could well end up in the criminal and civil courts expending a pile of money on his defense and still find himself in jail and massively out of pocket.
The forum huntingpa.com (a hunting website) backs up what I have stated. It states that “owned and loose, stray, and feral; killing them is against the law”.
You might expect that the hunting regulations and pest control regulations of Pennsylvania refer to feral cats specifically allowing them to be culled or exterminated at will by the citizens of the state. However, I can find no reference to feral cats in the law regarding hunting in this state therefore it cannot be said that shooters have permission under hunting regulations. The reason is the impossibility of distinguishing feral from domestic.
As for pests, a Pennsylvania state website (extension.psu.edu) refers to invasive species. They say they can be pests. They list them. The feral cat is not on the list. Therefore feral cats are neither invasive species nor pests as listed by the authorities in this state and therefore cannot be dealt with under this heading.
As for nuisance animals, feral cats could fall under this heading. The extension.psu.edu website states that “shooting live ammunition, whether to frighten or kill, has limited application. Generally, live ammunition may only be fired during hunting season or under permit”. Therefore we have to fall back on hunting regs referred to above. And once again there is always the overriding issue of distinguishing feral from domestic.
Exceptionally rarely a person may have to kill a cat, either domestic or feral, who is attacking them. They may shoot the cat and therefore under the circumstances they may raise the defence in court that they shot the cat in self defence. This would be unfortunate because whenever a cat attacks somebody it is, in my opinion, the person’s fault unless the cat has rabies.
Feral cats are not protected by the state’s animal cruelty laws but domestic cats are. Domestic cats go outside sometimes. Most times, you can’t tell the difference between domestic and feral cats at a distance or even close up for that matter. I say this even though feral cats do have tipped ears sometimes (the left ear is partially amputated to indicate that the cat has been through a TNR program). Because it is often impossible to distinguish with certainty domestic from feral cat it is impossible to shoot them without the real possibility of committing a crime under the animal welfare laws and under laws relating to criminal damage as the target may well be someone’s domestic cat companion.
The law on shooting feral cats needs clearing up in my view. It is too vague. It leaves the door open to people who like to hunt feral cats.