Saturday, November 17, 2007

A cat shooting in Texas

Now that I have your attention, let me state for the record: I would never shoot a cat in one of my books (and certainly never in real life). I may have multiple human victims in my mysteries, but all my cats have happy endings (and if I ruin some of the suspense for readers by saying that, so be it. I don't like reading books in which animals are harmed, and as a reader, I'd want to know that.)

But there's a case in Texas that has been on my mind, and those of animal lovers everywhere. In brief, a bird lover, seeking to protect the endangered piping plover, shot a cat he saw hunting the plovers. He was charged with animal cruelty. Cat lovers have been outraged – and so have bird lovers, who say that the animals we have introduced into the environment (i.e., cats that roam free) are threatening birds and other elements of the delicate native ecosystem. As much as I am pro-feline, I have to admit it's a complicated issue. This story is particularly of interest to me because this conflict – animal welfare (i.e., the pro-cat side) vs. animal rights (often the folks on the side of native species, and sometimes anti-domestic animal) – is at the core of my soon-to-be-released mystery, Cries and Whiskers.

Today, this particular tragedy may be at an end. Yesterday, a judge announced a mistrial, after the jury declared that it was "hopelessly deadlocked," according to this story in The New York Times. One big legal issue in the case was the question of whether or not the cat, which lived beneath a toll bridge, was "owned." According to an outdated Texas law, only "owned" animals – that is, not ferals – are protected under state animal cruelty laws. Ferals, that is, genetically domestic animals such as cats, dogs, pigs, etc., that have been abandoned by their owners, lost, or simply bred and colonized in the wild, are not. The feline victim in Texas had lived under the bridge, i.e., "outdoors," but had been given food and toys by the caretaker of the bridge.

The outcome may be as good as was possible in one way: The uproar about the case has caused Texas to change its animal cruelty law, removing the requirement that a cat be "owned" in order to be protected by law. And while nothing will bring that poor grey-and-white tabby back, or console the toll-bridge caretaker who fed, played with, and clearly loved him, at least Texas has taken a smart legal step. And maybe brought an important debate to light.

My take is that a reasonable truce is possible. For our beloved pets' own safety, as well as for that of their prey, I'd rather all cats be kept in happy, safe, and loving homes. I also hope that abandoned and lost pets can be rescued, and replaced into loving homes. But I also believe in, and support, TNR – trap, neuter, return – of feral cats. Truly feral cats, which have never known human love, usually cannot be made into happy housepets. The best resolution, therefore, seems to be to keep them disease free (trapped ferals are given shots), fed, and also neutered, so that their numbers don't increase. Of course, some people think differently. They see letting cats out as part of their contract with these little tigers, and they take the death of their prey as part of nature's deal. And, of course, as long as people keep dumping pets, letting unwanted cats and dogs loose so they can "fend for themselves," the problem won't disappear. And cases like this one in Texas will keep happening.

What do you think? Do you keep your cats in or let them out? How would you have ruled, had you been on that jury? Can you come up with a better resolution?

* * *
On another note, entirely, I guestblogged over at Writers Plot, today, talking about the the role of our pets in our lives – and why we love the pets we do. Thanks to the marvelous mystery writers who keep this blog going for the opportunity!


Kay said...

Well, I live in Texas and had not heard about this. However, in some parts, people are way protective of birds and then there are those that want to shoot every bird (or let the cats have them). Me, I just believe that if you have a cat, it should stay inside. Our last cat (and it will be our last) was put down this summer. She was not that old but she was a house cat that pretty much always acted like a feral cat. She was not affectionate. She did not cuddle or allow you to touch her. She got to where she would attack me and bite and we finally decided enough was enough. Her behavior would not change and she was completely paranoid. I sorta miss her but not really so much. At least I don't have to carry a spray bottle with me to the bathroom at night (she would leap out and attack my bare feet and I would have to spray her). I hate that people abandon animals and feel they should all be spayed or neutered.

Clea Simon said...

I'm with you, Kay: spay and neuter!
But I hope that sometime down the road, you'll try cats again. Ferals can't help being unfriendly. They think they're wild animals. But there are thousands of kittens and cats that have known human kindness, but then been abandoned. Visit a shelter and you'll find one that's right for you, loving, and ever so grateful for a second chance!

Literary Feline said...

I guess I can see both sides of the argument in the Texas case, but wasn't there something else he could have done to scare the cat away? Did he have to kill it?

My cat is an indoor cat. He actually was living out on his own when I found him, living in a parking lot behind my then work place. Surprisingly, he's made a great indoor cat. He still wants to go out now and then, and sometimes I break the rules and let him into our fenced backyard under the strictest of supervision, but other than that, he has settled into indoor living just fine.

I remember when I first took him to the vet to have him neutered, the vet and vet techs were all very stern that he not be allowed outdoors. They still give me the third degree when I take him in all these years later for check ups (they don't like that I let him sometimes outside even with me standing right over him). I wouldn't dare let him freely roam anyway since I live in a city on a busy street, and it's a neighborhood full of dogs. He holds his own just fine with my dog (they're best friends), but I don't trust other dogs to be so friendly with him.

I am definitely in favor of spaying and neutering cats as well as dogs.

Clea Simon said...

I know, LF! You'd think he'd have tried something else first - like belling the cat. Ah well.

Good for you for taking that cat indoors – not only are you saving the local birds, you're giving your kitty a longer, healthier life. I find that as long as you keep your kitty occupied – short, intense play sessions are just right for these little hunters – they're content to live indoors, and occasionally stare out a window and dream.

Caroline said...

I saw that article and was horrified. Why'd he have to kill it? It makes no sense.

caryn said...

I keep our cats in. We always have except for one cat we had that was born a barn cat and the fact is he was nearly impossible to keep in.
I don't see how anyone can justify killing a cat for acting instinctively. Cats hunt. That's a fact of life. I'm sorry for the bird people-I'ma bird watcher too, but how in the world can you kill a cat for doning what it's born to do?

Clea Simon said...

Caryn - I'm with you 100 percent!! The argument that some of the "animal rights" folks make is that the birds are native species, while the feral cats are an "invasive" species - a species that we humans brought into the environment. That's why they believe they should be eliminated.

I don't agree with that - but that's the argument! (That's why I think the best compromise is to keep our cats indoors -- and away from the natural ecosystem!)