What's A Feral Worth?
A few weeks ago I was unfortunate enough to witness an event that is all too common in cities across the civilized world today. The difference was that in this case, it was intentional.
I was walking to my oldest son's apartment, which is a few blocks from where I live. It was just before spring, and the weather had finally warmed to the point where the promise of summer was more than a distant hope. I was going to baby-sit my grandchildren, Kaitlynn and Kirsten, while my son and daughter-in-law were at work. On the way, about a block in front of me, I saw a gray and white cat, dirty, obviously feral, one that I had seen before in the neighborhood. He lived too far from my house to take advantage of the feeder in my backyard, and from all indications had the typical hard life that all ferals share.
Imagine, if you will, how difficult life is for the typical feral. No access to fresh water. Scrounging through garbage, or hunting prey, for food. Constantly on edge in fear of predators - not just dogs and other wild animals, but also the most dangerous predator of them all, man. Avoiding the pitfalls of traffic, and continuously being chased away from whatever momentary place of respite it can find. It is not a life that those of us who have cats in our home can begin to imagine. The sheer energy expended for the poor creature to stay alive is exhausting to think about.
This feral was just one more in the neighborhood. We have to safety traps in the back yard of our home in order to capture ferals. Once in the trap, they are taken to the veterinarian, given a tranquilizer, examined, given their shots, spayed or neutered (unless so far along in their pregnancy that this is not a viable option) and then taken to a feral colony and released. (This is the TNR program that is recommended by Alley Cat Allies and other feral organizations.) Maybe, if he had been given the chance, he would have been one of the fortunate ones that got caught, neutered and released to a safe haven for the ferals where there are feeding and watering centers, plenty of shelters and other ferals for company. He never got the chance.
There was a car in the street, about a block away, coming toward me. The feral was trying, for what may have been the thousandth time, to cross a busy intersection. He driver of the car saw the cat, and then displayed the most cruel and intentional act of violence that I have ever witnessed against an animal. He deliberately swerved his car over the centerline of the street and hit the cat. The cat howled in a pitiful voice as the shock and blood loss began to take his life from him. I was still ahead of the car, near the intersection of the street I live on and the street I had to walk down, and for some reason that I will never be able to explain I stepped in front of his car.
Before I explain what happened next, I must take a moment to tell you that what I did was wrong. Not because I was defending the cat or trying to punish his executioner, but because I took a risk that no one, especially in today's society, should ever take. The proper thing for me to have done was to get the license plate number of the car and a description of the driver in my head to file a police report. What I did instead was mindless, dangerous and foolhardy.
The driver had to come to a stop at the sign, and he probably didn't think that hitting a human being was the same as killing a cat. He stopped his car and started cursing at me. I cursed back, and pounded my fist on the hood of his car. He got out of his car to attempt to persuade me to stop. (If he had had a weapon, it may have been at this point where I would be talking about getting shot, or knifed, or hit with a tire iron. I was fortunate.) His method of persuasion was to attempt to hit me in the face with his right fist.
I used to be a security guard and bouncer at several dance clubs here in the area. I did this work for over fourteen years, and became very good at it. When he started to punch me, I punched back, which caused what police later described as an altercation in the middle of the street. Several cars behind the young man who drove over the cat were not able to get around us as we exchanged blows, and one of the drivers used his cell phone to call police to the scene.
I have a great compassion for the animals I try to care for, and I showed none of it in my treatment of the man who had killed one of them. I didn't stop hitting him until the first police officer was on the scene. It took several minutes, and two police cruisers, to get the situation under control. The young man - he was about twenty - demanded that an E.M.T. squad be dispatched to the scene so that his injuries could be attended to, and I later found that I had successfully broken his nose for him.
Eventually, I was allowed, in the presence of a police officer, to go and examine the cat that had been the cause of all the commotion. I found him near the curb, still alive, desperately clinging to life though he had no chance of living. I was given one of those yellow emergency blankets that police units carry, and was eventually able to pick up the cat and wrap him in it. The cat's rear end was smashed from the wheels of the car, and he was deep in shock. I received a few scratches while cradling him, but I convinced the police officer - a woman I had dealt with in the past on various matters - to take me to my veterinarian and euthanize the cat. The officer and I returned to the scene of the crime after the veterinarian performed the act, and then refused to charge me for the procedure.
I was almost charged with assault over the matter, but the police convinced the young man that the charge wouldn't stick because I was making a citizen's arrest on a charge of animal cruelty. After filing a report, and several talks with the County Attorney (the local equivalent of a District Attorney) I was able to persuade them that a charge of animal cruelty be filed. In a few short days from now, the man will have his trial.
I wrote a Victim Impact Statement in which I said that the true victim of this crime - the cat - has no voice. I tried to impress upon the CA and the judge who would read the document that this was a crime that needed to be punished to the full extent of the law. I asked that the defendant be given extensive probation, psychological counseling and community service. I also asked that he be made to pay restitution to the veterinarian who euthanized the cat without charge and given a fine under the laws of this state. I will attend the trial, and try to be there to object if those recommendations are not followed.
But what price do you put on the life of a feral cat? How do you place a cost on the crime that was committed? Why didn't I recommend jail time for the offender?
I still walk down the street where the crime occurred. I still think about the impact that stranger had on my life, and the life of the feral that was just trying to survive in the mean streets. And I wonder what I can do to save more of them, and know the answer is not forthcoming.
The following is an excerpt from the Victim Impact Statement that I filed:
The purpose of this statement is to insure that the defendant does receive appropriate punishment, and to ask the court that psychological examinations be performed on the defendant. There is a proven link between animal abuse and violent crimes, and this crime may be an indication of things yet to come from this defendant. Proper psychological counseling will insure that the defendant is treated for his problems and is therefore less likely to repeat this crime, and perhaps prevent other violent crimes from the defendant in the future.
Finally, there is one thing I ask the Court not to do, and that is give the defendant time served, a monetary fine and sweep this incident under the rug. There are laws on the books against animal cruelty, and this is a case of animal abuse resulting in death. Without punishment, the defendant will escape consequences from the commission of a crime, and will possibly think that he can commit it again in the future. It is the recommendation of this witness that the defendant be forced to pay restitution to the vet who performed the euthanasia, to undergo a period of psychological examination, to be placed on extended probation and be given a lengthy sentence of community service.
Click here to read about the Trial and Sentencing