Is it legal to shoot feral cats in Florida?
Florida Cruelty to Animals Statutes makes it a misdemeanour of the first degree usually punishable by a fine of not more than $5,000 to shoot a feral cat unless allowed under hunting laws1 but it is impractical to distinguish between domestic and feral at a distance and therefore hunting laws would not protect a shooter in Florida. As for ‘pests’ and their control, feral cats are not listed as pests in this state2. This is my considered interpretation of the law of Florida.
This does not mean that the law is automatically upheld by law enforcement. But a lack of enforcement should not be interpreted as a lack of law. It is probably fair to say that feral cats are from time to time shot by hunters in Florida and they get away with it. They’d say it is legal. It is not.
Chapter 828 of the Florida Cruelty to Animals Statutes covers animal cruelty. “Animal” includes “every living dumb creature”. I dislike the use of the word “dumb” (to mean without a voice, which is clearly incorrect). It is an old fashioned phrase but it is clear that is covers all animals. There are no exceptions and certainly feral cats are not excepted.
Moving forward to 828.12 (1) it is clear that the killing of animals is a minor crime (misdemeanor) as stated above. Note: shooting a feral cat might not kill him/her. If not it is still a crime as the cat will be unnecessarily mutilated (see below).
The only exception is the killing of animals by veterinarians. Vets “licensed to practice in the state shall be held harmless from either criminal or civil liability for any decisions made or services rendered under the provisions of this section”. This is a common sense and necessary exception.
Sections 828.055 and 828.073 deals with euthanasia of animals and the use of specified drugs. This section is not relevant to feral cats. There are other sections, all of which are irrelevant to this discussion.
There is nothing in the entirety of these statutes which allows feral cats to be shot.
There will be a common sense defense in court to shooting a feral cat. If a feral cat attacks someone and bites and scratches the person they might shoot the cat dead. I’d have thought that the defense would be successful if proven notwithstanding that the person would be at fault because there is never a need to be that close to a feral cat unless the person is involved in TNR.
Here is the relevant section verbatim:
Misdemeanor Animal Cruelty – § 828.12(1)
(1) A person who unnecessarily overloads, overdrives, torments, deprives of necessary sustenance or shelter, or unnecessarily mutilates, or kills any animal, or causes the same to be done, or carries in or upon any vehicle, or otherwise, any animal in a cruel or inhumane manner, is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or by a fine of not more than $ 5,000, or both.
The truth is that the animal welfare laws of Florida will be similar to those of the majority of the other fifty states of America. I have written several articles on this topic in reference to other states with the same or very similar conclusions. California is probably the most concerned with animal welfare followed by New York state. An overriding issue regarding feral cats which protects them from shooters is that you cannot be sure at a distance if a cat is feral, stray or domestic wandering outside. Therefore you have to bundle all three types of cat together. If a shooter killed a domestic cat the consequences would be graver as the crime would also fall under criminal damage statutes.
Note: 1 – I can’t find any reference to feral cats in the hunting regulations of Florida. I don’t believe that they have been considered. If this is the case it is because all cats (except bobcats) are out of bounds for hunters because as mentioned domestic, stray and feral cats merge…
Update: Today, 1st March 2018 I telephoned the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission whose remit is to deal with hunting and the person I spoke to agreed that there is nothing within their jurisdiction that refers to feral cats and shooting feral cats. She would refer the matter to the local Humane Society. My question to her was ‘can you shoot feral cats in Florida?’. As you can see she was unable to answer the question because feral cats do not fall within their remit. In which case they cannot be regarded as an animal to be hunted. She agreed that it would be difficult if not impossible to distinguish between a feral cat and a domestic cat which must obviously preclude the hunting of feral cats.
Note: 2 – If I am wrong on the pests statement then please leave a comment.