The law on cat killing in the UK has not changed for over 100 years and longer. I was idly browsing through Our Cats and all about them by Harrison Weir. The book was published in 1889. On page 207 is a section entitled: THE LAW ON CAT KILLING. I can quote bits of it as it is in the public domain after all this time. It refers to ‘Addison on Torts’. This is a well known law book edited or authored by Mr Addison, I presume. “Tort” is a legal term meaning a civil wrong such as trespass (as opposed to a crime).
“It is clearly laid down in ‘Addison on Torts,’ that a person is not justified in killing his neighbour’s cat, or dog, which he finds on his land, unless the animal is in the act of doing some injurious act which can only be prevented by its slaughter”
The book also refers to an old case called Townsend v. Watken. That case states that if a person sets a trap for a fox and that trap kills a cat, the person who set the trap is liable for the cat’s death even if the cat should not have been on the person’s land. There is no mention of criminal law in Mr Weir’s book.
Today, however, deliberately killing a cat, unless it is under exceptional circumstances, is a crime.
The RSPCA in 2012, on their website make it clear that cats are protected by the law and it is a criminal offence to trap, injure and kill them. It does not matter if the cat is “trespassing” on someone’s land.
The RSPCA do not want the law changed. They say there is no evidence that cats have an impact on bird populations that warrant a change to law to curb their roaming.
Personally, I am very sensitive to other people’s rights and wishes. Some people positively detest having cats on their land. They might not detest cats but when they wander into their garden they become upset about peeing and defecating in their flower beds.
Cat caretakers do owe a duty towards other people to respect their rights and wishes. Cat caretakers have a similar duty towards their cats. It is therefore a balancing act between what are often competing objectives. Common sense must prevail.
The same common sense and respect needs to be given by people who don’t want cats in their garden. They should remind themselves that if they hurt or kill a cat it is probably someone’s much loved companion. It does not matter how annoyed you become.
In the UK a person killing a cat will be prosecuted for a criminal act under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Peter Johnstone became fed up when a neighbour’s cat regularly wandered into his garden. His wife had a phobia about cats. He was worried that she might get an infection from the cat as she had recently been to hospital for an operation. In short, he had some decent reasons for being upset.
He caught the cat, pushed it into some plastic bags, weighed the bags down with bricks and threw the cat into a canal. The cat drowned. He was caught, charged, tried and convicted. He was jailed for 4 months and banned from keeping animals for 25 years. As he was 57 years old at the time that was for the rest of his life, effectively.
I know things can be quite different in other countries, including North America but my research indicates that there are many similarities to the UK in America. The sadistic stories of the notorious “Woodsman” testify to some differences together with the story of the sheriff who took pot shots at roaming cats oblivious to the possibility that the cat belonged to someone. Although, the USA does have good animal protection laws and a concern for animal welfare. It is just that sometimes in some places it is not enforced properly. The UK has problems of enforcement too.
Note to Woodsman: don’t leave a comment.
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