A newspaper journalist questioned why cat owners are not made responsible for the wild birds killed by their cat. There is a huge amount of discussion on the predation of birds by domestic cats and how to stop it. There is very little discussion on whether it is a good idea to make cat owners responsible under the law. This indicates to me that governments instinctively feel that it would be unworkable to try and do it.
If cat-lovers really care about animals they should face up to what their pets do (Telegraph Journalist)
It is illegal to shoot the majority of wild birds in the UK but there are exceptions (source: RSPB). What I’m saying here is that it is illegal for people to kill birds and therefore why isn’t it illegal when their cats kill birds? Cats are owned by people and you could argue that they are acting on behalf of their owner. Or their owner negligently lets them kill birds and therefore the owner is vicariously responsible. This is a very good argument. There is a big difference between how the law treats dogs and cats.
Historically, the voting public and their governments have allowed cats a lot of freedom. The default position is to allow cats to roam freely and do as they please. This is changing as we all know. There’s more cat confinement and a real concern about feline predation but the historical context is important. It still has a bearing on the law relating to domestic cat ownership. We are in a transition period. Things are changing but this historical freedom of movement affects current legislation.
Dogs versus cats
When a dog attacks a person the owner of that dog is responsible. And people accept it. If there are two people walking down a sidewalk, one with a cat on a lead and the other with a dog on a lead, and both animals jump up and attack a passerby, you could strongly argue that on both occasions the owner of the companion animal is responsible. But are they responsible under the law?
In the UK, and I suspect in most other countries, all owners are responsible for their dogs and under UK legislation it is illegal for a dog to the “out-of-control” which means when they bite or attack someone. The law is clear.
With respect to cats, the law is far less clear. In the USA, for example, including California, they often have strict liability laws concerning dog attacks but cats are treated differently. Liability laws regarding cat attacks on people are not as strict. So, if in the example above, you are attacked by a cat, you might have to show that the owner knew that their cat was dangerous if you wanted to sue for compensation. There is no overarching law about “dangerous cats” as there is in the UK about “dangerous dogs”.
The point that I am making is that the law treats cats and dogs differently with respect to attacks on people. Cats are given more leeway. And in any case, they are less dangerous than dogs although cat bites can cause real harm if neglected. And also, there are far more dog bites on people than cat bites on people therefore a law is required. But this leniency towards cats seems to extend into their predatory behaviour.
A root cause as to why cat owners are not responsible for their cats’ predation on birds is because it is considered by lawmakers to be natural behaviour. It is the natural world. We allow nature to take its course. We don’t want to interfere with it.
So, it is a different scenario when a cat attacks a bird and kills it compared to when a cat attacks a person and bites them. In the law treats these situations differently. Also, an underlying issue here is the fact that humans value human life as more important than animal life.
If a dog attacked a bird the dog owner would not be vicariously liable. Perhaps this is the central issue. Humankind does not value wildlife highly enough to protect it from cat and dog attacks. Individuals may have a case for compensation but there’s no statutory law to protect wildlife from attacks by companion animals as I understand it in most countries.
Endangerment of bird species
And another issue with respect to cats attacking birds, is that there is no evidence, despite the huge number of studies, that such attacks threaten the survivability of anyone bird species. There is an impact on bird numbers clearly but these attacks don’t make bird species endangered. Therefore, there is a lack of urgency to deal with them under the law.
The point I’m making is that if domestic cat attacks on birds were so severe that bird species were endangered solely because of cat attacks then there is no doubt in my mind that laws would be created which made owners responsible. Or there would be some other way to protect birds by for example confining cats to the home. This is happening at the moment and is a better way of protecting birds rather than making a person personally liable.
There is another argument too. A lot of predations of birds by domestic cats occurs out of sight. We have no idea where is happening and when it’s happening. It’s impossible to enforce a law which makes a person responsible for their cat’s bird kills. Such a law would be unenforceable and unworkable. That alone is a very strong reason for not making people responsible.
The same journalist says that a lot of cat owners are animal lovers. True. But he questions whether a person can be an animal lover and accept the killing of animals by their cat. I disagree because it is natural for predators to kill animals and we have to accept it. Although it can be difficult for some cat owners.
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