Murderous Ornithologist or Just Protective Bird-Lover? Texas Man on Trial for Shooting Cat to Save Bird

Jim Stevenson is facing two years in prison for shooting a cat that he said was stalking an endangered bird in a case that contains a fascinating question of what constitutes a “pet.” J Stevenson, founder of the Galveston Ornithological Society, shot the cat near the San Luis Bridge Pass in the Galveston area. Under Texas law, it is a crime to kill a domesticated animals without the permission of the owner. The question therefore is whether this cat was a pet.

Stevenson and fellow bird lovers insist that the cat was one of many feral animals wiping out birds. The prosecutors, however, have a novel argument. They insist that the cat was essentially adopted by a toll bridge worker who fed it, gave it toys and named it Mama Cat. That made her a pet and made the killing a crime. Of course, thousands of citizens feed feral or wild animals. At what point do they become pets? It is a distinction that could have significant ramifications since a person could conceivably be liable for injuries caused by their constructive pets. What is Mama Cat bit someone without shots or killed someone’s pet bird? With ownership comes obligations under state and common law. There are many people who feed deer which results in the expansion of the population and the concentration of animals in particular areas. Are they liable for the animals?

The prosecutors in the Texas case insist that this was a cruel death and that the cat suffered for nearly 40 minutes after Stevenson shot it in the back with a .22-caliber rifle, severing its spine. Stevenson’s lawyer insist that the bridge “is a revolving door for cats. Dozens and dozens of cats go through there and disappear. They’re getting run over … they’re getting killed by coyotes. It’s no life for a cat out there.”

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2 thoughts on “Murderous Ornithologist or Just Protective Bird-Lover? Texas Man on Trial for Shooting Cat to Save Bird”

  1. There should be a moderate middle position on this. Feral cats should have a right to live, but they should be trapped humanely and neutered before returned to the alley. A group such as Ally Cat Allies has a TNR trap neuter return program, which would allow shots for feral cats.

    If the cats were threatening birds, they should be trapped humanely. The can be adopted if less than a year old, and relocated to other areas if they threaten endangered species. There can be humane euthanasia. There is no excuse for shooting, which is dangerous to other humans as well as cruel to the cats. There is simply no place for indiscriminate shooting in a populated area like a toll bridge.

    On the other hand, I doubt if this offense should be a felony. It seems more like a misdemeanor to me.

    I have friends who are avid birders and have six cats in their farmhouse. There is little conflict. The feral cats are at a severe handicap when stalking birds, since the birds can fly and the cats cannot. The prime targets of the cats are rodents.

    Beware these so-called crusades against cats. They were burned at the stake as witch’s familiars by ingorant people in the Middle Ages, but we now know that cats were an effective weapon against the rats which acted as the vector for the black plague. Cats are an effective deterrent to rodents in urban areas.

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