The case of the Texas plover vigilante meets the plight of feral cats
Have you by chance heard of the case of the alleged feral cat shooting in Galveston, Texas? It’s a bit of a scandal since the founder of the Galveston Ornithological Society is the defendant in this high-profile animal cruelty case. His defense? The birds made me do it. Well…sort of.
As reported on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, no less, this mild-mannered, middle-aged and nerdy kind of guy (if my parents’ birding friends are in any way exemplary) hauled out a shotgun after he witnessed a feral cat attacking a pair of endangered piping plovers.
Problem is, there were no plovers around at the time of the shooting, which was witnessed by another mild-mannered kind of guy who took an instant dislike for the gun he was toting. Moreover, the man claimed that this lame, unneutered cat was his very own, since he feeds him every day. Texas ethics be damned, he claims, no person should be shooting at kitty-cats—much less people with deadly aim for their targets.
Bird guy, he swears it was the very same cat he’d been stalking after he spied it preying on the rare birds. Not only had he made sure the cat had no collar, he’d researched the law on the legality of killing feral cats (no protection in the big state—you can kill ‘em humanely ‘till the cows come home). Goes a long way to proving this man’s intent, I’d say.
Problem is, the cat-feeder says he "owns" the cat and the law prohibits killing "owned" pets. Add into the mix that the cat was on the beach when he shot it (an illegal location for cats) and you've got the makings for serious courtroom drama.
You can certainly argue that he was provoked—of that I’m sure. In case you doubt it, birders love their cats—as a group they tend to adore wildlife, indoors and out. They just can’t stand to see cats indiscriminately killing birds, much less those of the endangered variety. And I don’t blame them. Still, it doesn’t take a PhD ornithologist to know that a gunshot, even in Texas, is no way to kill a cat. Period.
Regardless of all benign intentions (as I’m sure the greater good was served with one less feral cat stalking the poor threatened plovers) an example should be made of anyone willing to employ overtly violent means of population control in a vigilante setting.
Yet I’m sure things would’ve been different had the birder killed a raccoon trying to make off with an injured Bald Eagle (shooting is OK by most folks when it comes to noxious, “rabid” wildlife species and protecting symbols of American freedom).
Hence, what I dislike most about this case is the hypocrisy involved in protecting some animals and sacrificing others with nary a thought for the reality of inter-species relations in sensitive ecosystems. We’re species-ist. We’re content to protect a wild animal (a designation for which a feral cat qualifies) that doesn’t belong in an environment, while ignoring the plight of species that may never again be seen as a result of our romantic notions of feral catdom. We treat these animals more as estranged housecats than the true reversion to destructive, introduced wildness they truly are.
Furthermore, I dislike the cat-feeder's claim to ownership. His role is more akin to feeding squirrels in a park than true ownership. After all, he hadn't ever attended to "his" cats' spay, neuter, vaccine or basic health needs.
Yet for me, this case is pretty clear-cut. We don’t shoot animals. It’s inhumane. I’ve seen enough gun damage in animals to feel pretty secure about that statement. But that’s not what this case is really about—let’s be honest, nowhere in the US do we protect our right to shoot anything like we do in Texas. It’s clear this guy’s legal case is more about our culture’s inane vision of feral cats as “kitties”—which as anyone who deals with them on a regular basis, as I do, knows that’s as far from the truth as it gets.
Sure, I’d like to see this guy tried and sentenced. But part of me knows I’d be gunning for the plovers every step of the way. More than that, I’d be gunning for our friend the ornithologist if the murder weapon had been a trap and a vet’s needle instead of a rifle. If we’re going to defy society’s ignorant approach to the disease reservoir and environmental hazard of wild cats in our midst, then we’d better be extra-careful about how we tackle the problem.
Trap, neuter and release has to be our policy. Requirements for licensing and tagging of all cats must be the mainstay of our legislative agenda. Anything less (or more) will only get us into hot water and will always run afoul of our goals in this current cultural climate.
Now that I've incurred your wrath yet again, feel free to [politely] dissent.