The thought of owing a rusty-spotted cat is quite popular judging by the Google searches:
The answer depends on where you are and I am referring to the country or the state in the USA. In the UK, it is legal to own a rusty-spotted cat. You don’t need a licence to own a rusty-spotted cat in the UK, which greatly surprises me, because it is an exception to the list of dangerous wild animals as set out in the schedule to The Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 (Modification) (No.2) Order 2007 (a ‘statutory instrument’). Note: I have amended this section on May 7, 2022 having noticed that this cat is ‘excepted’ from the list of designated dangerous wild animals.
The reason must be because of its size. It is probably considered to be no more dangerous than a domestic cat. However, this diminutive cat has the mind of a lion 😎. I have some doubts about the drafting of this statutory instrument so please check with the local authority. I would suggest that this statutory instrument is badly drafted and there are errors in it but I don’t know the history behind it.
The rusty-spotted cat would, however, continue to be protected once owned under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.
Moral dimension and conservation
However, there is also the moral dimension which I’ll get out of the way. I know it is boring but it is necessary to touch on this. Arguably, it is immoral to own a rusty-spotted cat as a pet because this is a wild cat species. It is the smallest species of wild cat and probably the smallest cat on the planet which is why people who’d normally adopt a domestic cat might want to adopt this little feline. It is exotic, special and very cute looking but its behaviour is not cute.
This cat is not domesticated and it should be allowed to live peaceably in its habitat in the wild. To try and own one as a domestic cat is both foolhardy and wrong. It is also quite possibly doomed to failure. It is reputed to be a fierce fighter. It is small but if you listened to it screaming in your living room, you’d probably be scared shitless or your wife or child would. Or you’d better get a gallon of enzyme cleaner to get rid of the smell of pee sprayed all over your favourite carpet or sofa when it marks territory.
Then there are the conservation issues. In the wild, the population of this species is declining because of human activities. If you buy one, where did it come from? The wild? A zoo? Someone stole a cub from their mother? None of it is good and it’s bad for conservation.
To recap: morally, ethically and practically it is not a good idea to own one. But is it illegal?
If you live in the USA and I believe most people interested in owning this cat are Americans, you’ll have to check the laws of the state where you live.
I won’t go through every state here as it is impractical. And the regulations are often not straightforward. You’ll need to check out each state and perhaps phone the relevant department.
However, I’ll provide some examples. Let’s take Michigan. There are no restrictions on owning a rusty-spotted cat. What about New Hampshire? All wild cat species are controlled and you can only possess one under a state exhibitor permit. Alabama, for instance, say that ‘there are no licenses or permits required for ownership of exotic animals’. I have checked and the rusty-spotted cat does not require a license. Indiana issue permits for one year for wild cat species. In Virginia a citizen of that state will require a permit to own any wild cat species as a pet. In Georgia you will need a permit to own a wild cat species including the rusty-spotted cat. Without a permit it is illegal to own this cat.
California is the same as the UK (in respect of most wild cat species); you’ll need a license to own and look after a wild cat. Rusty-spotted cats are legal in California provided you have a permit under 14 CCR § 671. Importation, Transportation and Possession of Live Restricted Animals. You’ll find a document on permits at § 671.1.
“§ 671. Importation, Transportation and Possession of Live Restricted Animals. (a) It shall be unlawful to import, transport, or possess live animals restricted in subsection (c) below except under permit issued by the department. Permits may be issued by the department as specified herein and for purposes designated in Section 671.1 subject to the conditions and restrictions designated by the department. — Family Felidae-All species (W) except: a. Acinonyx jubatus (cheetahs)-(D) b. Domestic cats and hybrids of domestic cats are not restricted.”
As for Florida, the rusty-spotted cat is, on my research, classified as Class III Wildlife. In other words, it is not classified as Class I, Class II, Conditional or Prohibited. My Understanding of Class III wildlife in Florida, is that it is not regulated by the state and “possession, sale, or exhibition of such animals is not authorized under any Captive Wildlife permit/license”. That is a poor explanation. Does it mean that rusty-spotted cats are not authorised for possession or does it mean that you don’t need any authorisation to own a rusty- spotted cat in Florida? I take it to mean the latter. Please telephone the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to be sure.
In the state of Washington, they have a mishmash of laws pertaining to the importation and keeping of wild animals. The predominant one concerns “potentially dangerous wild animals”. You can’t keep them. The rusty-spotted cat is NOT listed as one of these dangerous wild animals according to the administrators of that state. And therefore, on my understanding of this mashed up legal situation, it is legal to keep a rusty-spotted cat in that state. But please check. I have a page on Washington state which you can access by clicking this link. The page concerns servals but the same rules apply to rusty-spotted cats.
I suggest that you use Google to search for the relevant state’s Fish and Game department or the department concerned with wildlife or agriculture. You’ll find the answer there with a bit of luck. Don’t expect the research to be quick and easy.
If you are finding it difficult, please leave a comment and a question and I’ll answer it.
Having researched the legality of ownership of wild cat species generally over many years, but having not researched this particular matter in relation to mainland Europe (44 countries), my gut feeling is that in northern Europe you will find restrictions on ownership of the rusty-spotted cat or outright prohibitions, whereas in Eastern Europe you will probably find much slacker laws allowing ownership either because it’s legal or because there is a lack of enforcement of animal protection laws. I would expect the southern European countries to have reasonable laws against ownership but this needs to be researched and they’ll be less effective than in the northern European states (probably).
SOME MORE ON THE RUSTY-SPOTTED CAT: