Should Pet Owners Be Responsible for the Actions of Their Cat?

A journalist writing for the Telegraph newspaper, Pete Wedderburn, asks the above question and it is a good question. It opens up a lot of sub-questions in my opinion and it certainly opens up what could be a big discussion about the responsibilities of cat owners towards society and the community in which they live.

Outside cat in search of food?
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Outside cat in search of food?

The point that the journalist is getting at is that outdoor cats – free roaming cats – are allowed to get away with almost anything, he says. They can trespass upon another person’s property and dig up the garden. They can pee in the flower bed et cetera, et cetera. The same cannot be said about dogs. Dog owners are responsible for the actions of their dogs because dogs are more dangerous to humans than cats.

A person cannot be sued for the trespass and ‘bad’ behaviour of his cat. This is frustrating for people who do not have cats and who do not like cats entering their garden. There is an argument then that cat owners should be more responsible for their cat’s behaviour.

The truth is that cat owners are to a certain extent responsible for the actions of their cat. If a neighbour tells a cat owner that he does not like his neighbour’s cat coming into his garden, the neighbour has a duty to do something about it. A cat owner does have responsibility for the actions of his/her cat, in a general sense, but the owner is not responsible for the everyday behaviour and specific actions of their cat unless, as mentioned, it has consequences which upsets people towards whom the cat owner has a responsibility to act reasonably.

I do tend to agree with this journalist in that it is not good enough sometimes for a cat owner to simply say, “Sorry, but it is not my fault”, when somebody complains about her cat.

It’s a matter of balance and finding a compromise. A lot of people think that cats should be subject to the same sort of restrictions as dogs and, for example, be kept inside for their safety and to protect against wildlife predation. There is a gradual shift towards the acceptance of indoor cats in non-USA countries, I would suggest.

There is, though, a culture, especially in Europe which says that a cat should be allowed to express, freely, his natural desires and instincts. This is a wonderful starting point but despite the law (in most places) allowing it, there is a responsibility upon the owner to take action if in expressing his natural desires and instincts her cat’s actions upset others other than with respect to wildlife predation. There is only one thing a cat owner can do to prevent wildlife predation: keep their cat inside and that mentality is a long way off in Europe.

If all cat owners took responsibility for certain actions of their cat when they are troublesome to others then it would lead, in my opinion, to less animosity against the domestic cat and it would probably lead to less cat abuse by others. I’m referring to the countless instances of people poisoning cats with antifreeze or mothballs et cetera. It is very hard to track down these people and it is obviously illegal to do this but often this illegal behaviour is born out of frustration because these cat poisoners don’t like cats but they have no recourse to the law so they take matters into their own hands in the most violent manner as a last resort sometimes. Although, we know that some people simply enjoy hurting cats but that is another story.

As usual it is all about compromise and finding a middle path. Cat owners should not feel totally free from taking responsibility for the actions of their cat. It is not as straightforward as that.

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.
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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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4 Responses

  1. Michael, I think you covered this topic with several intelligent points.

    Although cats are not as dangerous to humans as dogs are, free roaming cats can cause damage to flower gardens, fight with other cats, or chase/catch birds. The worse part of having a free roaming cat is the risk of retaliation from neighbors with poison, trapping, shooting, or being hit by a vehicle.

    Allowing a cat to follow it’s instinctive behavior means accepting the risks. I’m unable to do that for my own peace of mind, and the awareness of my limited financial ability to care for an injured cat.
    So, it’s a balance of emotion and practicality.

  2. kevin roche says:

    As far as a cats safety goes, i have to agree with cat “owners” needing to take responsibility for their cats actions..but that is where i draw the line..i have been threatened by neighbors dogs many times and i have also stepped in dog poo countless times !!! Cats are more elusive than dogs…i have never had a problem with a free roaming cat and i never had to clean cat poo off of my shoe..

  3. Serbella says:

    I say yes.

  4. Irish Cornaire says:

    I say aye because there is no difference when it comes to owners being responsible for their dogs actions IMO.

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