Police in Minneapolis are awaiting an autopsy to determine if Thomas James Hart, 23, is a killer. It is an all-too-familiar story: boy meets girl, girl dumps boy, boy drowns ferret. The whodunit will turn on the whether the victim has water in the lungs — evidence that Hart drowned him in a bowl of water. The problem is that the victim is a ferret.
Hart was breaking up with his girlfriend and planning to move out of their apartment. He had gone to a bar with her and her friend when he left in a huff — objecting that they were just having a “girl’s night.” According to the girlfriend, he went home alone. When she arrived with her friend, she says that Hart chased away the friend with a knife. The girlfriend also fled. She told police that he then said
“Yeah, Yeah, I killed the ferret.”
Police found a telltale crime scene: the ferret’s water bowl was lying on the floor and not in its case and a couch cushion was soaked. The corpus delicti was discovered behind some wood.
Faced with the evidence, Hart screamed “I didn’t kill that ferret! I opened the front door and just let it go!”
Now the question of rodenticide rests with the coroner. Hart is being charged with felony animal cruelty charges.
The girlfriend could also sue for intentional infliction of emotional distress. It is disturbingly common for pets to be killed or taken in retaliation of breaking up (here and here and here and here and here and ). The Restatement (2nd) of Torts, section 46, states:
One who by extreme and outrageous conduct intentionally or recklessly causes severe emotional distress to another is subject to liability for such emotional distress, and if bodily harm to the other results from it, for such bodily harm.
This would satisfy the standard if the ferret did not commit suicide. I am pretty sure a defective water bowl is out for a product liability claim.
What is clear is that if the autopsy shows drowning or other foul play, Hart is another example of someone who needs to be put away for the safety of the community. There remains a small but alarming percentage of society who seem to move easily from anger at other people to expressing that anger toward animals. What is lacking is any sense of compassion or mercy — making these individuals inherently dangerous for anyone in society.