If my cat attacks someone, am I criminally responsible?

The answer to the question will depend on where you live because each country has their own animal and general criminal laws. However, I would expect that what I say here will apply to all developed countries. In developing countries, the law is likely to be more slipshod.

Laws on cat ownership Brisbane and City of Gold Coast
Image: Pixabay (modified).
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

In the UK, the country’s lawmakers believe that domestic cats are not dangerous to people in comparison to domestic dogs who can cause great harm. Based on that starting point, there is no criminal law which states that if your cat attacks somebody and genuinely harms them that you are criminally responsible. In other words, the police will be disinterested in you if your cat attacks a neighbour. A couple of coppers won’t be knocking on your door. Although they might have a word with you on an informal basis.

This is underpinned by the fact that domestic cats still have a right to roam in the UK. There are no duties imposed upon cat owners such as is the case for dog owners under, for example, the Dangerous Dogs Act. That I think pretty well answers the question.

Example

A story from Worthing, UK, highlights the issue. The Argus reports that a woman, Mercy Tidey-Groom, was walking her dog past the home of a town councillor, Richard Nowak. The man’s cat leapt at her legs and attacked her. Judging by the photographs she was quite badly scratched. She struggled to escape and eventually managed to do so with the help of one of her shoes which she took off and presumably used as a weapon.

Mercy and one of her wounds
Mercy and one of her wounds. Photo: The Argus.

She went to her doctor and received a tetanus jab and antibiotics. She said that she was left traumatised. She and her husband, Nigel, contacted the police and were told that they can’t do anything. When contacted by The Argus a police spokesperson said: “Although we understand the attack may have been distressing at the time, the report would not be treated as a criminal matter. The owner of a cat is not subject to the same laws as dog owners and an owner cannot be held criminally accountable for the actions of a cat.”

Civil law

There is obviously a difference between civil and criminal law. Although Mercy Tidey-Groom can’t do anything under the criminal law she could seek compensation from Richard Nowak in civil law. She could sue him in damages for negligence in failing to keep his cat under control (failing to take reasonable care), which resulted in her injuries. It would be unlikely to succeed. There are two other possibilities under these circumstances: suing under the Occupiers’ Liability Acts and/or in trespass.

I would be very, very surprised if she did this because the amount of trouble you have to go through to sue someone in the civil courts is a huge barrier to beginning a court case like this unless you really have to. And the outcome is uncertain. Then there is the expense. It is just not a goer.

One of those things

You have to treat this sort of event as ‘one of those things’ which happen from time to time. Nowak said that his cat is charming and nice but he apparently admitted or implied that his cat can be defensive. And that is the cause of the problem. It seems that his cat was defending territory. It is unusual for a domestic cat to be that aggressive in defending territory but it can happen. This is a male cat and therefore this was not an example of a female defending her kittens. It just seems to be a territorial matter. No doubt Mercy will steer well clear next time she takes her dog for a walk!

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