Domesticated Cats and The Law; Why State & Local Laws Do Not Regulate Cats?


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People select cats more so than dogs than any other household companions in the United States. Despite the popularity of these feline friends, the laws that specifically regulate cats are few and far between. An examination of the laws affecting cats, both historically and presently, are instructive.

Many people who keep cats as domesticated animals feel that it is cruel not to allow the cats to roam freely. They believe that “free roaming” cats are happier and make better companions. However, this precludes consideration for neighbors who may not want these felines defecating on their property and running amock in their gardens and flower beds. In the state of New Jersey cat owners are not required to license their pets, nor are they required to be kept on leashes or even have collars placed on their necks so that the feline may be returned to them if lost, or if hit by a car, they can be notified. This leaves city residents without any direction as to how to act should these pesky menaces invade their private property, or what’s worse become harmed. Common sense and logic says that you should try to trap or cage the animal and take it to a shelter, or if an owner can be identified, call the owner to come pick-up their cat. The only remedy that city residents are left with is to call a “Cat Rescue Program.” This program traps and cages free-roaming cats. The cats are then taken to a holding facility where they will await the spade and neutering process. After the procedure and full recovery has taken place, the cats are re-introduced to the community again. But, this doesn’t really take care of my cat problem. Different cats seem to keep infiltrating my neighborhood and my backyard garden. I get rid of one and I gain another. I personally have had a repetitive problem in my neighborhood over the past several years, as many of the residents who own cats let them roam freely without consideration to other people‘s property. These cats have destroyed my lawn furniture, my flowering foliage, my vegetable crops, and they seek shelter in my shed during the colder months leaving behind cat hair and feces.

Regarding the law historically, cats were exempt from larceny laws. This meant you could steal anyone’s cat and not get sued. This stemmed not from the disdain many claim to have for cats due to their elusive and independent nature, but rather due to their lack of commercial importance. While British common law, the legal code of the Pilgrims, made it a penalty for stealing another person’s cattle. The lawmakers felt that no such penalty was befitting for “a creature of no economic importance.” I guess if you couldn’t eat the animal, it wasn’t considered “real property” or maybe if it wasn’t big and threatening enough it wasn’t worth the courts time. But that’s okay with me because I am looking to common law and past legal precedents to guide me in my future challenge. The only thing the state of New Jersey will do, as far as cats are concerned, is to encourage their residents to put a collar on their pets with a name, phone number, and address for identification purposes, they also encourage cat owners to have their cats vaccinated against certain diseases, and also encourage pet owners to have their cats spade and neutered. But these are only encouragements and recommendations. It is hoped that contentious minded people will abide by the “honor system” of behavior and act responsibly. But this is simply not the case.

Thus, history has not endowed the United States’ various constitutional codes with many laws relating to cats. Certainly, the advent of anti-cruelty laws has been a remarkable step for the protection of both domestic and wild creatures. However, the regulation of other aspects of cat ownership has not followed suit. The majority of cat-related laws address the same concerns as dog laws; that is health and licensing. Thus there remains a wide disparity in the law regarding cats versus dogs. But why are laws affecting dogs so extensive while those dealing with cats few and far between? Again, history lends an answer:

“Acting upon the principle that there is but a qualified property in them [dogs], and that, while private interests require that the valuable ones will be protected, public interests [dictate] that the worthless shall be exterminated, they have, from time immemorial, been considered as holding their lives at the will of the legislature, and properly falling within the police powers of several states. Laws for the protection of domestic animals are regarded as having but a limited application to dogs and cats; and, regardless of statute, a ferocious dog is looked upon as hostis humani generis, and as having no right to his life which man is bound to respect.”

So, in future consideration, any destruction of my personal property will be viewed as a hostile act imposed upon me by my mindless neighbors, who, without any consideration to others, release their domesticated cats to the mercy of the neighborhood. Since cats remain unregulated, I will view any future acts to invade or destroy personal property as an act of war.

In considering the highlighted paragraph above which address why many states have “dog codes” but leave cats unregulated, seems to be do primarily because cats are seen as “less threatening“ and “less valuable” creatures. Cats, by virtue of their general overall size and jaw strength, were not seen as a threat to civilized society in light of our historical archive. But with the promise of no regulations comes the possibility of individual action. If a home owner is left with no remedy by their local municipality or state, they may by all means take matters into their own hands to protect their property.

Remember the key to a happy ending is responsible pet ownership which can be achieved through proper immunization and sterilization of feline companions. Laws, whether state or local, can only operate at the reactionary level; owners must take proactive measures.


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