Prosecutor Discusses Feral Cat Case

The Texas attorney speaks about the case of the bird-watcher who killed a feral cat.

Posted: January 9 2008 2 a.m. EDT

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Jim Stevenson openly admitted he shot a feral cat with a .22 caliber rifle because he believed it was going to kill an endangered bird. The prominent bird-watcher was charged with animal cruelty, which sparked heated debates between bird-watchers and cat-lovers alike.

At the heart of the case was whether or not the cat was owned. When Stevenson shot the cat on Nov. 8, 2006, Texas’ animal cruelty law only applied if the animal belonged to someone. A toll booth employee, John Newland, stated that he cared for the cat, providing the stray with bedding, food and toys.

Jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict in Stevenson’s November trial. The judge declared a mistrial, and the district attorney opted not to retry the case. Paige Lynne Santell, the assistant district attorney who prosecuted Stevenson, provided insight into the case in an interview with Alley Cat Allies, a nonprofit organization that aims to raise awareness about feral cat populations.

“[Newland] cried when even discussing this matter. He cried on the scene when the officers came,” Santell said. “He was highly emotional because he has feelings invested here.”  

Since the incident, cruelty laws were strengthened to make it illegal to kill feral cats and stray dogs. The law took effect Sept. 1, 2007 — before Stevenson’s trial began, but after the incident occurred.

“I think that this law helps people like John Newland because it protects the animals that they care so much about. I’m very, very, very proud of the work we did on this,” Santell said. “And people have asked me, would I do this again, and you bet, because, I mean, I’m proud of the work we did …We played a part in getting that law developed and changed. And I think it’s important.”

In a related case, Newland is set to appear in court Monday on a misdemeanor charge of keeping too many animals, according to the Galveston County (Texas) Daily News. He is accused of feeding 15 to 20 cats; the city prohibits residents from keeping more than four cats or dogs.

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Reader Comments

Jules    Pittsburgh, PA

6/19/2008 8:05:47 AM

I think its a disgrace, that man should of been charged for killing that feral cat. Even living breathing animal has a right to live. I myself have had 15 ferals spayed or neutered, and have rescued 3 litters of kittens (5 of which we bottle fed, and all 5 got homes). I now only have 4 cats that I take care of. My neighbor had all of the rest trapped and killed by the city. My heart was broken. People have to understand, killing them is not the answer, we have to stop them from having kittens. Thanks for listening.

Sheryl    Casa Grande, AZ

1/9/2008 9:10:06 AM

Sounds like the city wants it both ways. They said that the law did not apply in this case because Newland did not actually own the cats, but they are trying to try him for owning too many cats!

Bob    Syracuse, NY

1/9/2008 6:49:29 AM

This was a good article. There are too many cat haters out there who would kill every cat if they could. Kudos to Newland for feeding and providing shelter for the feral cats. What would the idiot do about birds of prey including our national the Bald Eagle? They kill birds too! It's a matter of nature. There wouldn't be any feral cats if people would only spay or neuter their unwanted cats before they dump them.

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