Webinar presenter David Rosengard answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Understanding Wildlife Animal Cruelty. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: Do states ever count feral cats as an invasive species instead of a domestic animal?
David Rosengard: So, the feral cat question is really good, states are all over the place on this. I’m not aware of a state off the top of my head. That classifies feral cats as invasive, but there are a lot of states that classify them differently than companion cats, and the part of the difficulty, of course, is that for the layperson, it’s not immediately apparent whether a cat outdoors is a feral cat or a companion cat that someone is letting wander around outside. And so, that disclarity is something that defendants and cruelty cases will sometimes use to their benefit. If they have something lethal or interests to a cat outdoors, it also can make it difficult for people who are interested in preserving other wildlife from those cats to figure out how to deal with the cats. We know that cats outdoors with their feral or just cats that go in and outdoors have dramatic impacts on local bird populations. And so, the best models that I’m aware of to deal with that largely seem to focus on legal regimes that can distinguish owned cats from feral cats, that encourage people to keep the cats they own indoors and, with feral cats, encourage different methods of raising their populations. So, trap neuter return is one of the most frequent where feral cat colony’s identified. The animals are captured, spayed, and neutered, and put back. Because feral cat populations tend to self-regulate to a certain degree, if you have an existing feral cat colony, the amount of new kitten’s will slow down, and so, unless you can catch all the feral cats in a certain area, the best way typically we find to slow the population growth is to maintain a colony but keep them from breeding. And, I know there are communities that have had some success with that and specifically success with building laws that address those cats and distinguish them from owned cats and then encourage owned cats to be kept indoors.
Audience Question: In the case of a non-targeted animal getting caught in a trap, especially if it is an endangered species, does the trapper have a right to claim ownership, or can a citizen intervene to release the animal if a wildlife agency is not available to provide an immediate response?
David Rosengard: This is a really good question. And I may, I may have to keep this one on tap for some of my law students in the future. So, there are a few different issues here. One is, practically, of course, identifying the animal will stipulate that this is an easily identifiable endangered animal. In that case, odds are the trapper doesn’t have lawful authority trap that animal. Your ability to trap endangered animals is remarkably there. I’ve tried to think of what sort of argument the citizen responded. I suppose they could raise a lesser of two evils defense. They could argue that because the trap was not lawful. There was no property interest in that trap. This is going to be my answer for the purposes of the webinar, I don’t want to give a legal advice and I particularly don’t want to give you legal advice that leads to you to a tort claim vis-a-vis a trapper. So, my advice would be get your local wildlife agency out and get them out there to render a verdict. Because they should also be providing care to that endangered animal. My suspicion is the way this works out is the trapper doesn’t have a lawful interest in having that animal, and therefore, at the end of the day, the animal needs to be rehabilitated and returned to the wild. It’s probably least disruptive legally for that to be done by an accredited appropriate agency and also, therefore, if the animal, to get the care that animal needs.
Audience Question: When talking about animal fighting, mammals and avian life is considered protected. Is there anything in the works to protect reptiles or fish from animal fighting or cruelty?
David Rosengard: Mammals and birds are definitely protected at the federal level. And generally, at the state level, they are as well. I’m not aware of anything at the federal level to expand that fighting provision to other animals. There may be some states that have more expansive fighting law and I would need to go to my own website, I would have to go to the ALDF website and pull up our 50 State Compendium of Laws and see exactly where that fall right now to refresh my memory. I’ve got one of my colleagues just who’s listening and just messaged me to say that there are in fact states that protect fish and reptiles? Thank you. That was Kathleen Wood our staff attorney who refreshes our compendium every year. And so, the answer is at the state level, we see some examples of that. Those examples should make it easier for other states to adopt those laws because you can point to states to have that and say, “Ah look. It’s working out just fine there.” Federally, I think it’s a matter of just getting enough impetuous behind the change. I think the reason, one of the reasons why it’s largely been relegated to mammals and birds is historically those are the animals most often fought in North America. Also, people tend to have more warm feelings towards dogs and birds than they do towards reptiles and fish. But we know reptiles and fish suffer the same way when they’re forced to fight each other to the death. I would like to see that as well as expanded, to protect them as well.
Audience Question: Absolutely. I did want to share going back to that trapping question, Dr. Jay Tischendorf, he’s one of our presenters, an amazing presenter, an amazing veterinarian. Does a lot of work with wildlife. He shared that endangered species are federally protected. Any handling, even to save, might lead to trouble unless one has official permits. It is generally illegal at the state level for people to mess with the legal trappers’ traps and sets. And so, in trying to help the animal, one could end up in legal trouble. So, thank you very much, Steve, for sharing that.
David Rosengard: That’s a great point. Those take provisions in the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Those are again, remarkably broad. So even if you’re trying to help the animal, anything you’re doing to interfere with an animal that’s protected under those kinds of laws is potentially criminal. Again, the best plan is to get the appropriate agency to respond.
Audience Question: Do you know any of the final outcomes from the Kill ‘Em All Boyz. She mentioned that there is one last man, and Eddy Dills who served 60 days in jail, but was pursuing lawsuits against a bunch of agencies and not-for-profits involved, didn’t know if you had any kind of update, or how that ended up being concluded?
David Rosengard: Sure, so I’m not aware that Mr. Dills was successful in any of those lawsuits. So, my impression is that we’ve got a few recidivists in the Kill ‘Em All Boyz that a few of them have popped up in subsequent poaching rings. In terms of case outcomes from the original litigation, the original criminal charges there, that’s all been resolved. So those resulted in, you know, the various sentences that they’ve got. I, specifically, for Dills, I don’t think that he got any to the width as lawsuits. The people who came back poaching, there, there’ll be back for the Court on wildlife charges. And again, I’m, I’ve continued to reach out and encourage people to cook cruelty charges in place because it’s an unfortunate and cruel way for those animals to go.