The question is relatively simple but the answer is horrendously complicated. The answer should be simple but it is not I can assure people of that. The issue probably turns on whether a domestic cat trespassing upon a neighbour’s property could be described as a “nuisance animal”. There are laws in Washington state regarding “nuisance wildlife“. But domestic cats aren’t wildlife and therefore I would suggest that these laws don’t apply to domestic cats. Nuisance animals can be trapped but as I’ve said the whole tenor of these rules applies to wildlife.
Important note: people who dislike cats and who firmly believe that they have the right to trap and/or kill a domestic cat on their property need to state the entire law and precedents to support any criticisms or arguments they wish to present in a comment. Otherwise don’t bother.
On one web page (khq.com) it states that SCRAPS (Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service) say it is not illegal to trap or bait cats in the state of Washington especially if the cat is on your property but are they correct? They were referring to domestic cats (note: it is legal to trap bobcats for instance). I went to a forum where a cat owner living in the state complained about his cats being trapped and all the respondents to his question said that he was at fault because he allowed his domestic cats to wander onto somebody else’s property. And they quoted some law but they did not quote the entirety of the law. I can’t find all the statues that relate to this matter and perhaps they don’t exist because the law is confusing.
There is a Washington state statute RCW 9.08.070 which refers to pet animals and the taking, concealing, injuring or killing of them. It says that it is illegal to confine a pet. That seems to refer to trapping pet cats but one person on this forum that I refer to says that this rule does not apply to domestic cats wandered onto other people’s property. Confused?
Indeed, an attorney in Seattle states that this part of the state’s law does not clearly relate to domestic cats trespassing onto other people’s property and being trapped. He says you have to look at the nuisance codes and refer to the intent and methods of the person doing the trapping. He does not provide a clear answer and he’s an attorney working in Washington state so you can see how complicated this matter is. I feel very strongly that the complications come about because the law has not been drafted clearly and has difficulty applying itself to domestic cats for various reasons one of which is that there are a whole range of cats from domestic to fully feral and it is very difficult to distinguish between them before you trap them.
Is worth noting that there are copious laws on hunting and trapping in Washington state. They are strictly applied and it is very easy to make a mistake and if you do you could be committing a crime. The rules apply to the sort of trap you use and whether you are trapping on private or public property. The trapping laws do not distinguish between public and private property. Therefore, it cannot be said that just because a domestic cat is on someone else’s private property that the owner of the property can do as he or she wishes. The property owner must still comply with all the trapping laws of the state.
There is a further complication namely that cities also have their own laws regarding trapping and these may clash with state laws. It really is complicated. Unlawful trapping is a misdemeanour criminal charge. People dealing with “nuisance animal problems” need to be extremely careful to avoid making a mistake in running foul of the criminal law.
There is a case on the Internet which is on all fours with this particular problem. It concerns a cat called Turbo. The cat lives in Seattle, Washington state. The story was reported in the Seattle Times. Turbo wandered onto a neighbour’s property. The landowner trapped the cat. She believed that she was complying with the city laws. She called the police after she had trapped Turbo. The owner of the cat complained. The police chief, David Stern, and Mayor Gary Haakenson said that the city attorney was studying city codes to determine the legality of the cat’s capture. They didn’t know the answer and these are the three top people in the city who should know the answer right away!
Further, the lady who trapped the cat said that she was told to let the cat loose and return him to his owners or wait until animal control could come and collect the cat. She kept the cat in the trap in her garage and fed him. He injured himself trying to get out of the trap. There lies another problem because a cat trapper could expose himself to a charge of criminal damage because let’s remind ourselves that cats are treated as personal possessions like any other inanimate object under the law. At the end of the day the cat was taken to a shelter and I presume returned to his owner.
Therefore, this whole trapping incident did not benefit anybody and simply created a lot of friction and hurt the cat slightly. A City Council committee was set up to discuss the city’s cat policies. Clearly they were unclear themselves. Two committee members said that they didn’t have much experience with cats!
One of the city councillors said: “I’m a little bit worried about the practical aspects of how you keep a cat in your yard”.
Approval in advance
Despite the confusion, we are told that Seattle is a city with a clearly defined policy on trapping nuisance cats. Apparently, each case of trapping must be approved in advance by the director of the Seattle Animal Shelter. This information comes from the enforcement supervisor And Graves.
Further, is worth mentioning that domestic cats are considered nuisances when they scratch cars or damage vegetable gardens. If a cat kills wildlife they cannot be considered to be nuisance cats. If a cat wanders through someone’s property they can’t be considered to be a nuisance. If the cat pees and defecates on the owner’s garden that might be a nuisance. But you can see the dangers.
Some cities or municipalities in Washington state prohibit pets of any kind from “running at large”. But these are obviously city laws not statewide laws and so they complicate the matter in our quest to get to the bottom of whether it is illegal to trap domestic cats in Washington state.
I’m going to have to try and come to a conclusion. People have strong views on this topic. People who dislike cats and have strong opinions about cats wandered onto their property will say with complete conviction and certainty that it is illegal for domestic cats to wander onto their property and that they are fully entitled to trap cats. But they can never support their argument with reference to the full law. I have not seen it. Their strong opinions are taking them away from a solid legal argument.
There are heavy practical issues as well even if it is legal to trap domestic cats in Washington state. Can you be sure that you are using the right trap? Can you be sure that the cat will remain uninjured? Can you do it in winter and at night when the trapped cat may become very cold and ill as a result or even die? What do you do after you have trapped the cat? You take the cat to the shelter where they identify the cat and give him or her back to the owner. What’s the point?
I have to add that there are some potential criminal issues. If you trap someone else’s cat and take that cat away to some other place, is this not theft? Domestic cats are possessions just like any other possession in the household. Trapping and taking away a domestic cat is like taking someone else’s bike or car in the driveway. If you do it you are exposing yourself to potential criminal behaviour. There are also remedies in the civil law of tort which I won’t go into here because it will further complicate what is already a complicated matter.
My impression having researched the matter is that as the law is confusing and uncertain and as you will find it difficult to obtain clarity on the legality of trapping domestic cats in Washington state it is best not to do it unless you get approval first from the local authority and/or police chief in writing and that you check fully all the laws and regulations relating to trapping in the state and the city. Beware it can go wrong.