The term “accidental cat thefts” refers to a neighbor feeding another neighbor’s cat because the cat visits. Informally a routine is set up. Is this cat theft? I don’t think it is. However, the police in the UK decided that it was. And, surprisingly, Cats Protection say that feeding a cat that wanders into your home is accidental cat theft. This is surely a mistake. ‘Theft’ requires an intention to permanently deprive another of their property. Feeding a neighbour’s cat is sharing the cat. The neighbor is not deprived of her cat.
People who feed a neighbor’s cat out of the kindness of their heart are not claiming ownership of the cat. They’re not demonstrating that they wish to own the cat. They are simply being kind to a cat who might be undernourished or who wishes to visit them because they find it pleasurable. There’s nothing criminal in the behavior of a neighbor who enjoys the company of a cat and feeds her under these circumstances. However, no doubt some people will disagree with me.
This peculiar state of affairs in describing the feeding of a neighbor’s cat as cat theft arose out of a story of a lady, Shirley Key, 79, who noticed a skinny black cat in her greenhouse. He was lethargic and clearly underfed. She fed him for more than the year. She took him to a veterinarian and forked out £200 in veterinary fees. I have written about this lady in a separate post recently and therefore won’t recite the story here. However, she was slapped with a Community Protection Notice by the police which is a formal police demand to prevent unreasonable behavior which is having a negative impact upon the local community. An extraordinary response by law enforcement.
I would like to briefly discuss the concept that when a neighbor feeds a wandering cat they have claimed ownership of the cat. When does looking after a cat on a casual, informal basis constitute ownership of that cat? It’s an interesting thought and a tricky issue because the cat has a say in the matter.
Do volunteers who are engaged in TNR programs own the feral cats in their care because they are feeding and looking after them? I would doubt that these good people consider themselves as owners of the feral cat colony. Perhaps they would describe themselves as caretakers but never as owners.
At what point do you own the cat?
There is, no doubt, a point at which caring for a stray cat might be deemed to be an acceptance that you own that cat. But it would be a difficult thing to prove if the person doing the feeding said she had no desire to own the cat. It’s about the attitude of the person as much as their behavior I would suggest. I think that a person has to do more than feed a cat and pay for veterinary fees to be seen as claiming ownership of that cat. In many parts of the word there are community cats. They are looked after by shopkeepers and residents in the community. They have no distinct owner. This set up hints at the difficulty of the concept of ‘cat ownership’.
Cats Protection say that people do occasionally adopt by accident someone else’s cat. This issue goes to the question of whether a cat can truly be owned. Legally of course they can be owned because they are treated as an inanimate object under the law but in practice it is not quite so straightforward. Often wandering cats have decided themselves to change their human companion or to share human companions. This must be a factor is deciding ownership. But it won’t have any impact on the legal situation.
The moral of the story is to beware of feeding a cat who wanders into your home. You may be risking a police visit which is intimidating and which brands you as a criminal. It would be wise to check that the cat you are feeding has an owner (microchipped?). However, it’s hard not to respond to the needs of a neglected neighborhood cat. People do it all the time and no one says they are claiming ownership.