Feeding abandoned, domesticated cats is “harboring a stray animal” and a crime

In Chesapeake, perhaps in all of the state of Virginia (the story is not clear), it is a crime to feed abandoned cats and find them good homes. The crime is peculiar and hardly fits the activity.

Debbie a cat rescuer
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

Debbie Manzione was charged with “harboring a stray animal for more than 14 days” because she was trying to go the right thing. She wanted to behave humanely towards stray cats who were quite domesticated (see video) and then rehome them when possible.  She had rescued 20 cats by using a network of supportive friends.  She was doing something that is even better than TNR. She was rehoming cats directly. She paid to have some of them to be spayed and neutered.

She was feeding the cats near Chesapeake Square Mall. That may be the important bit of information. I suspect that the mall’s owners wanted Debbie to stop because they felt that her activities would encourage more cats to come around.

The case against Debbie was dismissed on the basis that she agreed to stop. In the video she is talking outside the General District Court on Thursday 28th Jan 2016.

Debbie says that it breaks her heart to stop because she knows the cats will suffer from winter and summer temperatures and conditions.

It seems in the state of Virginia (or the county if the law is at county level or indeed the city) that when a  person feeds an unowned cat that person is deemed to become the cat’s owner and as a consequence is harboring the cat. The word harboring’ under this law must mean to look after or to care for the cat. That’s my interpretation of this case.

The crime is low level: a level four misdemeanor which is probably the most minor of crimes. The punishment on conviction would have been a small fine. However, it is still a crime and I find that the law has been used in a peculiar way in this instance.

No one is looking after and rehoming the cats so what is happening to them or what has happened to them? Has the city made a mistake in stopping someone from removing stray cats from the street? What will happen to the cats? Will they be rounded up (they are not feral, Debbie says) and killed? It just seems bizarre to me.

Primary source: Case dismissed against woman…

8 thoughts on “Feeding abandoned, domesticated cats is “harboring a stray animal” and a crime”

  1. So if a resident takes in a stray cat and keeps it inside, is that harboring? This law sounds like it was designed to be flexible so Law enforcement can use it hotter they feel.

  2. Although this Chesapeake law is a little extreme, I think that thousands of U.S. counties enforce some version of it. In my county, any person feeding stray or feral cats that are not part of a registered TNR program will be titled as the “oWner”. From there, it snowballs… Pet owners are required to have their cats routinely vaccinated and those cats are not to be free-roaming EVER.
    There are positive and negative aspects to this. The negative is that the feeder may not be able to afford to vaccinate nor be equipped to bring cats into her home, especially if they are feral. If she doesn’t comply, she may well face hefty fines and eventual incarceration should the matter go to court. The positive aspect would be that it may force “lax caretakers” to register their cats/colony with a TNR program. The cost for vaccinations and neutering would be minimal. Plus, registered colony cats are permitted to be fed and free-roaming.
    As an aside, there are several Florida counties that have made it a crime to give handouts to a homeless person in public.

  3. Amazing they have stupid laws like this when they can’t exercise any gun control even though people are dying every day from attacks. Gee, Debbie having a kind heart is what, unlawful? I took one in a week ago after feeding him awhile. Gus is so sweet…I’m keeping him!

    • My feelings exactly Chuck. It seems upside down to me. The way I see it, she was doing some good. Yes, there was a danger that people who want to abandon their cats would get to know what she was doing and then dump their cats where she was feeding them. That is always a possibility. The way to tackle that is to tighten up cat ownership to make sure more cat owners act responsibly. That is a difficult one but I believe the authorities have to do something.

  4. Just once I would like to see the story of an abandoned cat and the former owner tracked down and given the FB social medial hide scrubbing they deserve.

  5. It’s either severely outdated or the work of car haters who cannot remain unbiased once they have power. Maybe both.

    Sending prayers to Debbie and those cats. She needs bigger names behind her to help her. Surely she’s not the only one trying to help cats.

    • Thanks Jennifer. I have similar thoughts. I just don’t get it unless its businesses who forced this prosecution through because they are the sorts of people who want to eradicate stray cats.


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