I explain why it is illegal (and impractical) to shoot feral cats in Wisconsin. My assessment of the situation is in stark contrast to the assessment of hunters and trappers who like to kill feral cats anyway possible. For example, one such person made the following comment:
“It is perfectly legal to do so [kill a cat], someone’s pet or not. Nuisance-animal, pest-control, depredation-control, and invasive-species laws supersede ALL other animal-protection laws. Even an endangered Florida Panther can be legally shot to death if it is threatening the well-being of you or your own animals. Just be certain that you shoot to kill or use any other of the legally agreed-upon methods under which hunting and trapping is allowed. Shoot to maim is illegal and falls under animal-cruelty laws. But a dead cat is a legal cat…….” (feral cat hunter/killer)
This person even says that you can shoot someone’s pet if that pet is a nuisance animal or a pest and an invasive species because the laws governing these issues supersede all other animal welfare laws. He does go on to say, though, that shooting to maim a feral cat is illegal as it would fall under the animal welfare laws. You have to shoot to kill cleanly; this is his argument (I think he got this point from me!). Obviously, I disagree with everything he says.
NOTICE: I HAVE TELEPHONED THE WISCONSIN DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES (88-936-7463) AND, THE PERSON I SPOKE TO, ELIZABETH, CONFIRMED THAT IT IS ILLEGAL TO HUNT AND SHOOT FERAL CATS IN THE STATE. THAT IS DEFINITIVE AND FINAL. MY ASSESSMENT BELOW WAS MADE BEFORE I CONTACTED THE DEPARTMENT SO IT NOW PROVIDES SOME EXTRA INFORMATION. I ALSO CONTACTED KAREN (USING INSTANT MESSAGING) AND SHE SAID THE SAME THING.
Umbrella Animal Welfare Law
As mentioned in a previous article, the general, umbrella law, regarding animal cruelty in Wisconsin is governed by the Wisconsin Cruelty to Animals Statute – Chapter 951. This law covers all animals meaning every living warm blooded creature except human beings, reptiles or amphibians. Cruelty is defined in a common sense way: causing unnecessary and excessive pain or suffering or unjustifiable injury or death.
This statute does not include any exemptions or exceptions with respect to feral cats. It does not say that the Act does not apply to feral cats. Therefore feral cats are included in the Act as an animal protected by it.
Therefore, I have to ask if the feral cat can legally be shot under any other statutes or regulations in Wisconsin? Well, firstly, the feral cat is not listed as one of the invasive species in Wisconsin. Therefore it cannot be said that a person can shoot feral cats because they are considered to be an invasive species in that state.
Therefore so far we have to say that it is illegal to shoot feral cats. We then have to discuss the question as to whether a hunter is being cruel when he shoots a feral cat dead. As mentioned above, if a feral cat is doing nothing in particular, not attacking anybody but just minding his business then shooting that feral cat would be an unjustifiable death and therefore in breach of Wisconsin animal welfare statutes under Ch 951.
As to whether it is possible to shoot a feral cat without causing the cat pain, you would have to ask an expert that but in my opinion it is impossible to do this. In addition it is impossible at a distance to shoot a feral cat so accurately that the cat is killed instantly without any pain. Therefore the hunter causes unnecessary and excessive pain to the feral cat and therefore the hunter’s actions once again are in violation of the animal welfare/protection laws of Wisconsin.
In the comment above you can see that the hunter believes that when a cat, whether someone’s pet or a feral cat, is a nuisance animal he/she can be shot dead legally. This has to be incorrect. I think the hunters are getting mixed up with the laws governing predation on livestock by predators such as the mountain lion. However, the Wisconsin Department of natural resources say that wild cougars probably disappeared from the state by about 1910.
The concept that feral cats are pests and nuisance animals is untenable. Firstly, you cannot tell the difference between a domestic cat, stray cat or a feral cat particularly at a reasonable distance. A stray cat might be a domestic cat owned by somebody and if you shoot him/her you are committing criminal damage (another crime) and violating the animal welfare/protection acts of Wisconsin. Domestic cats are allowed to be outside in Wisconsin. A domestic cat cannot commit trespass or nuisance.
To the best of my knowledge, feral cats are not considered to be pests in Wisconsin. The reason is probably because, as mentioned, you cannot tell the difference between feral cats and domestic cats in many situations and therefore it makes any law defining feral cats as pests and nuisance animals unworkable. I visited a couple of pest control businesses in Wisconsin and neither listed feral cats as pests.
The Wisconsin Small Game Hunting Regulations 2017
These are lengthy but the core text states that unprotected species means “all other wild mammals not specifically mentioned…..” – unprotected species can be hunted with a license.
Feral cats are not mentioned as unprotected. The feral cat is often a feral domestic cat. They are often semi-feral and frequently tame and domesticated. They are not wild mammals. They are often not born in the wild but in homes. It is impossible to describe feral cats as wild mammals in the conventional sense. Therefore they are not unprotected species under these regulations. Therefore they are not animals that can be hunted under these regulations. In addition how does a hunter identify a feral cat over a domestic cat? Impossible at a distance. Therefore a hunter could kill a person’s cat. This would be a crime.
About 15 years ago, Wisconsin came up with a controversial proposal to allow hunters to kill feral cats. It gathered some support but it did not get off the ground. The state’s Department of Natural Resources said that 51 counties supported the proposal and 20 rejected it with a no-vote in one county. Congress was obliged to consider the proposal to get it passed into law. This did not happen. The reason was almost certainly because the concept is unworkable, impractical and unenforceable. It would have meant hunters shooting domestic cats, someone’s cat companion which is a crime obviously.
The fact that this proposal was put forward and was rejected also supports the argument that there is no specific law, today, in Wisconsin which allows hunters to shoot feral cats. I have covered all the other options above. Therefore I can say with some confidence that it is illegal to shoot dead a feral cat in Wisconsin unless it occurs under exceptional and particular circumstances; for example due the person’s fault a feral cat attacks the person which is highly unusual. Under these circumstances I suspect the person could legally shoot dead the feral cat.
How do they get away with shooting feral cats?
The reason why these hunters get away with shooting feral cats is because law enforcement are disinterested in prosecuting such cases. The feral cat shooters know this and therefore they continue doing it. They then find a way to justify it as you can see from the comment above but they are misleading the public. They can mislead some of the public because the law is complicated and tiresome. People don’t want to read it.
I am open to correction and amendment quite obviously but it is impossible to refute the conclusion. However, feral cat hunters/trappers must be polite and support their argument with chapter and verse references to the law. You won’t be able to.