Cats can’t steal stuff not even vicariously on behalf of their owner

There’s a story today from the Daily Mail of two Siamese-like cats who “belong” to a church minister and she’s embarrassed by her cats because they are inveterate thieves according to her. They’ve even thieved a hamster from a neighbour. The hamster was not killed by her cats and survived for six months with her care before passing away.

And there’s obviously a pile of items in her home which have also been ‘stolen’ from neighbours who’ve become irritated to say the least by the habit. We see quite a lot of this on the Internet. Domestic cats being branded died-in-the-wool thieves and kleptomaniacs. It’s amusing and at the same time it can become a little annoying for those that have lost their possessions.

Cats can't be thieves as they don't have mens rea
Cats can’t be thieves as they don’t have mens rea. The words were added by me to an image created by an AI computer called DALLE E on the instructions to create a “photograph of a domestic cat with a glove in his mouth stolen from a neighbour in suburbia on a sunny day”.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

“The stuff started to get bigger, like the ballet slippers, a baby’s dress. They’re going right into people’s houses.” – Julie

That said, the possessions are often of very low value such as socks or gloves. I think, however, that the news media websites are doing the domestic cat a disservice. Domestic cats can’t be thieves. And their owner can’t be blamed for being a thief vicariously because their cat “steals” stuff.

The law of theft does not apply to animals. It only applies to humans. And even if it did apply to animals, you couldn’t convict them for theft because this particular crime has a very specific mens rea to use a Latin term which means “guilty mind”. The miscreant needs to have an intention to permanently deprive the owner of the object that they are ‘stealing’. They must have that mentality when they carry out the act of theft. If not, it isn’t theft.

The domestic cat cannot have that mentality. They don’t set out to deliberately deprive the owner of one of their possessions. Cats simply instinctively grab the object between their teeth and bring it home.

Why do they do this? It is probably an act of frustration in being unable to express their natural desires such as hunting. If it’s a female cat it might be an expression of their desire to move a kitten from one den to another. I favour the hunting analogy.

Rather than hunting a mouse they are hunting an inanimate object which they place in their mouths and bring back to their home range and perhaps play with it before becoming bored and ‘stealing’ another. In short, cats who thieve objects have a frustrated desire to hunt because they don’t have enough prey animals available to them.

It depends upon the individual cat. These events are quite rare but when they happen the news media picks up on it and almost give the impression that it happens all the time.

How does an owner stop their cats from stealing objects? It would seem that the best solution is to play with your cat a lot. Play is a hunting substitute. Play with your cat and they can express their hunting desires to their hearts content and to the point where they no longer have that desire for the remainder of the day. That would be the objective.

I can’t guarantee that it will work 100% of the time. But play is a wonderful way to interact with a domestic cat in so many ways. It doesn’t happen enough and I, for one, am guilty in that aspect of cat caregiving.

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

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