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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