The question in the title, asked on the Internet, must refer to both New York City and the State of New York. The answer is that only under certain very restrictive conditions is it legal to shoot feral cats in either the state or the city of New York. I discuss it in detail below.
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
If you want to find a definitive answer from the ‘horses mouth’ as to whether it is legal to shoot feral cats in NY, I would advise visitors to telephone the above department with respect to state laws on hunting and the shooting feral cats and of course the same advice would apply to New York City. For wildlife questions: 518-402-8920.
In this instance I have no need to telephone the department because I am fortunate enough to have the research of the ASPCA, the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals and the New York City Feral Cat Initiative to hand.
Feral cats are not wildlife
In New York State, feral cats are not considered to be wildlife. In conjunction with domestic cats they are deemed to be companion animals under section 350 of New York’s Agriculture and Markets Law. They are therefore protected by statute as set out in sections 353 and 353-a. When you think about it is common sense to regard feral cats as companion animals because (1) often feral cats are domesticated cats turned feral and (2) you can’t tell the difference between a feral cat and a domestic cat at a distance and therefore the law can’t allow people to take pot shots at them.
This is a standard animal cruelty section. You see these terms used in countless other statutes throughout America. In terms of shooting feral cats the relevant part of this section is that if a person mutilates or kills a wild or tame animal, whether belonging to himself or another person, he is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.
This concerns aggravated cruelty to animals. It is a step up from section 353. Aggravated cruelty to animals takes place when the perpetrator intends to cause extreme physical pain or his actions are carried out in an especially depraved or sadistic manner. Arguably, shooting a feral cat falls into the former description but of course it will depend upon the findings of a trial as to whether the perpetrator had the correct mentality (mens rea) for a conviction of aggravated cruelty to animals.
It is worth mentioning at this time that it is also a crime under section 360 of New York’s Agriculture and Markets Law to poison or attempt to poison a cat. It doesn’t matter if the cat is domesticated or feral. Such an act may constitute aggravated cruelty to animals as mentioned above under section 353 above. Under section 362 it is a crime to injure cats by willfully throwing, dropping or placing substances in public places such as highways or streets. Such substances might be glass and metal et cetera.
As for pest control contractors they are prohibited from trapping and killing feral cats in New York City. This follows on from the statement at the top of the page in which feral cats are treated as companion animals with respect to the law. However….
Humane destruction of cats under specific circumstances
New York law does allow the killing of cats under specific, narrow circumstances. Licensed hunters, police officers and environmental conservation officers are permitted to kill cats if they are hunting or killing any protected wild bird or have a dead bird or any protected species in their possession. In addition, if a rabies alert is in place animal control officers, health officers and police officers can seize any cat found at large.
Trapping cats at large in public places
The law does not prohibit somebody trapping or hiring a contractor to trap cats which appear to be unowned and at large provided they bring the cat to Animal Care and Control.
This does not include entering upon someone’s property to trap cats because that would be trespass unless you have permission. In addition it is likely that you would be trapping someone’s pet and therefore it would be theft. If the cat was destroyed it would also be criminal damage or the US equivalent of such a crime. In short it is very problematic to trap cats on someone else’s property.
If you are trapping feral cats on your property and somebody removes the traps then, on the face of it, they have committed theft (the ASPCA describe it as petit larceny) if the property is valued at less than $1000. In addition there there is the civil action of trespass. In the US there is the crime of “criminal trespass” as well.
Other US states
On this website there are a number of pages on the same subject with reference to different US States. You can search for these pages by using the search facility in the right-hand column of this website. You should start the search using the following words: ‘is it legal to shoot feral cats…..’ followed by the name of the state.
Note: laws change. I believe the information is correct at the date of this article.