In the UK, a cat owner has a legal duty to provide a suitable environment for her cat. This is quite a tough aspect of British law based on what I describe below. It is the duty of a cat owner to ensure her cat’s welfare meets certain standards and a cat owner commits an offence if she does not take steps which are reasonable under the circumstances to ensure that her cat is provided with a suitable environment in which to live.
The big question is, what is a suitable environment? A domestic cat will live in someone’s home and from time to time go outside into a garden or further afield. The only environment that a person can control will be the inside of the house. It is not considered illegal to let a cat outside even if outside the home is very busy with traffic and other hazards.
However, it is potentially illegal for a cat owner to live in a home that is dirty and untidy. I say potentially because untidiness and dirtiness is a very elastic concept. What is untidy for one person is tidy and acceptable for another. So how do you decide what is a suitable environment for a cat? Also, it is next to impossible to enforce this aspect of British law because what happens behind closed doors is often a secret.
However, in one recent, high profile case, a lady was prosecuted because the police and the RSPCA, who forced their way into her home, described the living conditions as unsuitable with regards to the welfare of a cat and referred to strong smells, clutter and filth in statements to the court. Note: (a) Rather than obtaining a warrant from the magistrates court the police forced their way in under an inappropriate piece of legislation which was created as a means to capture fugitives and not the humble domestic cat. The legislation was Section 17 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act – (b) she was also prosecuted for other alleged, cat related offences, all of which were dropped.
The lady in question admitted that she did not have any skills in cleaning and tidying up. This is a slightly peculiar excuse but this lady is described as being vulnerable. She is a concerned and decent cat caretaker, nonetheless, based on what I have read.
What is remarkable about this case is that she was taken to court on the basis that her house was dirty and cluttered which was assessed by the RSPCA as an unsuitable environment for her cats. Personally, I find that surprising because clutter in no way affects a cat’s welfare and neither does some dirt if we are referring to a house. Obviously, if a cat is living in a small enclosure or a cage and the cage is filthy and wet with faeces in the cage etc. then that would be highly unsuitable but in this instance we are referring to someone’s home and measuring the level of cleanliness etc. with respect human standards and I wonder whether this is applicable.
There must be hundreds of thousands of people living in cluttered and dirty homes who care for cats to a reasonable standard. In fact, you could argue that if a person is too houseproud it is unsuited to the domestic cat. Sarah Hartwell has a website which she has called “messy beast”. She decided on that name for an obvious reason.
With respect to this lady, the prosecution against her was dropped because of a lack of evidence but of course she had been through a kind of hell in the meantime and so had her cats who had been taken away from her. A “lack of evidence” is a euphemism for a screw up.
As it happens, rather than prosecuting her it was decided that a veterinarian would vouch for her cats to make sure that they were all right and somebody cleaned up her house. That was the solution. Many people would say that that it was a far better solution compared to a rather mean and nasty prosecution.
This story once again has links to what some people would say is an overzealous RSPCA who are too keen on prosecuting people in the criminal courts. There has been a surge of prosecutions by the RSPCA and people are asking questions why.
The lady’s barrister in court proceedings said:
“Julie needed a charitable arm around her shoulder but instead got the police and RSPCA forcing their way into her home. The Independent Police Complaints Commission should look at this matter very seriously.”
It is ironic that Julie (her surname is Nadain) donated every month to the RSPCA for 30 years! For a person on a tight budget it was very generous of this lady to donate money to the RSPCA and it indicates to me that she likes animals. A person who likes animals will in general care for them well and I believe that that simple fact should have been noted.
A lot of people think that the RSPCA is being led by the wrong person. Apparently, as I recall, the chief executive is standing down some time in the not too distant future.