A Nurse with a Gun

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Plovers vs Preservation

Galveston, Tex., Nov. 13 — Jurors heard opening arguments on Tuesday in the trial of a bird-watching enthusiast who fatally shot a cat that he said was stalking endangered shorebirds. The defendant, James M. Stevenson, is the founder of the Galveston Ornithological Society and leads bird-watching tours on this Gulf Coast island 60 miles southeast of Houston. If convicted on animal cruelty charges in the shooting last November, he faces up to two years in jail and a $10,000 fine.

Mr. Stevenson, 54, does not deny using a .22-caliber rifle fitted with a scope to kill the cat, which lived under the San Luis Pass toll bridge, linking Galveston to the mainland. He also admits killing many other cats on his own property, where he operates a bed and breakfast for some of the estimated 500,000 birders who come to the island every year.

In her opening statement, Paige L. Santell, a Galveston County assistant district attorney, told the jury of eight women and four men that Mr. Stevenson “shot that animal in cold blood” and that the cat died a slow and painful death “gurgling on its own blood.” She said that the cat had a name, Mama Cat, and that though the cat lived under a toll bridge, she was fed and cared for by a toll collector, John Newland. He is expected to testify.

Whether the cat was feral is the crucial point in this case. Mr. Stevenson was indicted under a state law that prohibited killing a cat “belonging to another.” Prompted by this case, the law was changed on Sept. 1 to include all cats, regardless of ownership. Ms. Santell argued that because Mr. Newland had named, fed and given the cat bedding and toys, the cat belonged to him and was not feral.

Mr. Stevenson’s lawyer, Tad Nelson, admitted in his opening statement that his client went to the San Luis Pass toll bridge with “an intent to kill.” but that he had planned to kill a wild animal that was preying on endangered piping plovers. “This man has dedicated his whole life to birds,” Mr. Nelson said, pointing at Mr. Stevenson.

The case has prompted emotional commentary on the Internet. Cat enthusiast blogs have called Mr. Stevenson a “murderous fascist” and a “diabolical monster.” Birding blogs have defended his right to dispense with a “terrible menace” and have set up funds to help pay for his defense. In an interview in a courthouse elevator during a break in the trial, Mr. Stevenson said heatedly that cat fanciers who have condemned him and sent him hateful correspondence “think birds are nothing but sticks.” “This is about wild species disappearing from your planet,” he said, adding, “I did what I had to do.”

Testimony followed from police officers and the veterinarian who performed the autopsy on Mama Cat, a white and gray tabby mix. The jurors were shown several photographs of the bloodied cat, reminiscent of an episode of “CSI: Miami.”
Pictures of the crime scene showed trays of cat food, blankets and cat toys hanging from strings under the bridge. The .22-caliber rifle Mr. Stevenson used to kill the cat along with his magazine full of Remington hollow-point bullets were also on display.

The prosecution and defense wrangled repeatedly about whether witnesses could accurately assess the cat’s state of mind. “He’s not qualified to know what the cat was feeling,” said Mr. Nelson, when a police officer, John P. Bertolino Sr., testified that the cat was in terrible pain when he arrived at the crime scene. The cat died en route to a Humane Society facility.

The trial, which is expected to take a week, had few spectators save a handful of bird lovers and cat lovers who sat on opposite sides of the courtroom. One side nodded emphatically at Ms. Santell’s arguments, and the other nodded whenever Mr. Nelson objected. “How people feel about the trial depends on who you talk to,” said Victor Lang, a local historian, adding that bird-watchers and cat fanciers obviously had the strongest views. Though others may argue passionately about whether Mr. Stevenson should be punished, Mr. Lang said he did not have strong feelings about the case. “But you see, I’m a dog person,” he said. “If he had shot a dog, then I’d be more upset.”

Kate Murphy, New York Times

I'm not a cat person. I don't care for their aloofness, and their dander causes my nose to run. My family sometimes hear feral cats fighting underneath our home. That being said, I do not think shooting and killing cats is a good means to a solution to this problem. The cat may have owners. The cat may have someone grieving for it's absence. It's really not a question of humane treatment of cats, or of preserving plovers. It's a question of respecting our fellow man. It's a question of knowing the laws that govern us and following them. Mr. Stevenson assumed the cat, which he describes on the website for the Galveston Ornithological Society as being uncatchable, "lame" and "hunting endangered Piping Plovers" did not have an owner. He was wrong. The cat had someone who cared for her, someone who will miss her. That's about as close to an "owner" as any cat will ever tolerate. Most cats are uncatchable. Catching a cat is near impossible. They are, however trappable, especially hungry, lame cats.

The respectful means of dealing with a feral cat is to live trap it. Then try to ascertain whether it has an owner. If none can be found, take the animal to a shelter where it can be euthanized or given a home. If you cannot afford a live trap (about $45 to $60), then contact your local shelter. They will be happy to loan you one.

To me, this is not about plovers, cats or brotherly love really. It's about keeping gun owners from looking like jackasses in mug shots and preserving our right to keep and bear arms. Thanks a lot Mr. Stevenson. I have no sympathy.

Feral Cat Assistance Program

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

The case is somewhat funny(if this would be a dark humor movie). But I agree if someone want to kill animals, even if he have somewhat legit purpose he better follow the law. Plus killing someone's cat on purpose isn't a funny thing, at all.


11:21 AM  
Blogger Regolith said...

I'll start this out with saying that I'm not a cat lover or a bird watcher.

The fact of the matter is, that if you choose to own an animal, you are responsible for it. This means that it's your duty to make sure that your pet doesn't do such things as destroy other people's property or hunt endangered species.

If this were a dog that the owner had callously let run free that was pulling down and harassing deer or livestock, would you have the same sentiments?

This cat was literally threatening this guy's lively hood, not to mention threatening to destroy members of an endangered species.
Cats that are allowed to run loose are an extreme hazard to indigenous fauna.

Cat owners should be expected to keep their animals under control just as a dog owner should. Quite frankly,I think this guy did the right thing.

12:30 AM  
Anonymous Dion said...

I am glad mt tax dollars are being well spent taking this to court.

5:51 AM  
Anonymous Kristopher said...

It was still a feral cat. You don't get to let your pets live on public right of ways, and still call them pets.

And yet, if the cat was cage trapped, and then drowned, euthed, or shot by a person with a trappers license, the police could have done nothing much about it.

Yea ... he should have had his ducks in a row if he was going to make it his mission to kill feral cats.

A proper trapper would not have allowed critter to crawl off like that, or just left it to die.

You trap it, you kill it. If you can't learn to kill cleanly, then get out of the business.

5:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a cat lover, and I generally don't support shooting feral cats, but the gentleman claiming to "own" the feral cat reminds me of a situation in Hawaii with feral pigs. The state wanted to thin out the destructive little critters, and several homeowners on Maui objected saying they treated them as pets and therefore they were "owned" and couldn't be hunted. The state simply said that they would publish the dates of the hunts, and anybody that didn't want their pet pigs shot should keep them penned up on those days or make sure they were wearing bright collars so they wouldn't be hunted by mistake. Not surprisingly, the "owners" no longer had a case, and the hunt went on as scheduled.

2:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm in the strange position of my wife owning 3 cats, which i really like, but I hate cats in general.

Lead poisoning is natural causes for a species, that if it had scales not fur, we would have eradicated centuries ago...

I heard of a guy a few years ago who hated cats and was trapping them in his garden. A nosy cat owning neighbour had found his cat trap and reported him. he was due to be prosecuted.

His household insurance covered legal insurance, and they put him in touch with an old judge who hates cats (the original call to the old judge was 2AM, as the guy was on night shift).

The old judge advised him and recommended him a good (cat hating) barrister.

The guy got off, as the woman had tresspased to find the trap, her evidence had therefore been obtained by illegal means and was therefore in admissable. In a subsequent case the guy actually obtained damages and costs from the woman for her tresspass.

Happy trapping

5:37 AM  

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