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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