Are feral cats protected by law?

Are feral cats protected under the law? The critical factor is that it depends where you live. There is a huge variation geographically. For instance, in some countries feral cats will have no protection under the law. They can be shot and abused with impunity by abusive people. In other countries such as in the UK feral cats are almost 100% protected under the law. In the UK there are very narrow limitations which allow people to kill feral cats such as if they are harassing livestock.

Are feral cats protected by law?
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Are feral cats protected by law? Image: MikeB from Pixabay (law image) and in public domain (cat).

So, if you are asking the question, “Are feral cats protected under the law?”, you’re going to have to reflect on where you live and what the law is for your location. And here’s the rub: it might be hard to find out what the law is and whether it is properly enforced. You may have to drill down and refer to local laws. Statutes (law created by the legislature) should be readily available online in all countries and jurisdictions with easy access for all citizens. And they should be written in easily understood language. Often these objectives are not met.

The best animal welfare laws will be all-encompassing. These are umbrella laws on animal welfare in general and feral cats are brought into these laws because they are sentient beings with equal rights to other animals. It shouldn’t matter whether they are domesticated or feral. Sadly, many uneducated people regard feral cats as vermin and pests. This is a misguided, human-centric attitude.

The degree of cruelty to animals does not depend upon the species of animal. Cruelty is cruelty wherever it is and whatever the species of animal. It’s about causing unnecessary pain and distress. All animals can feel pain and therefore all animal should be protected in the same way.

A further issue which must be mentioned is that despite feral cats being protected by the law in many countries, the law is often fatally undermined by a lack of enforcement.

Sometimes you will find countries introducing animal welfare laws as a public relations exercise or that is how it looks. They desire and have a beautiful statute on the statute books for the world to see. They will say that their country has good animal welfare laws and is therefore advanced and civilised.

RELATED: Icelandic government proposes changes to the law regarding feral cats

And when you scratch the surface, you find that law enforcement does almost nothing to protect animals against abuse under the existing law. This is almost worse than having no animal welfare laws. It throws light on the attitude of the citizens of that country. Genuine animal welfare requires commitment at the top with the politicians who make the laws and at the bottom with the citizens who abide by the laws.

You can’t just enact laws and expect everything to be hunky-dory on the ground. Sometimes laws do change the attitude of citizens such as wearing a seatbelt but sometimes they are seen as hollow and next to useless.

International treaties are an example of laws that can be next to useless in my opinion. They are unenforceable. How does one country enforce an international treaty against another other than by sanctions which can be circumvented? Look at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). It is a failure as trade in live animals and their body parts in breach of this international agreement is massive and unabated.

I digress, in the best countries, feral cats are protected by law and in the worst countries they are not. There are many countries in between these extremes. The fact that animal welfare laws protecting feral cats varies so much across the planet indicates that the planet is still uncivilised and developing as a whole.

RELATED: No law against feeding feral dogs but there is a law against feeding feral cats in Lake Placid, Florida?

One of the great points of friction and causes of stress on the planet is the variable speed at which countries are developing. In certain African countries the people believe that feral cats are the embodiment of the devil. Some citizens of these countries view feral cats as people in Europe viewed feral cats in the 14th century. This indicates the difference in development.

In other countries they purposefully do not enact laws to protect feral cats because their attitude towards animals does not support an attitude which demands that they be protected. I’m thinking of China where they still round up feral cats (and domestic cats), put them in crates and put those crates on lorries and drive them to marketplaces in the south of the country where they are brutally slaughtered and eaten for some spurious and superstitious medicinal purpose such as curing arthritis.

There is no way that that country can enact laws which protect feral cats if they have that attitude towards other species.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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