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The Vine: October 23, 2013

Submitted by on October 23, 2013 – 11:21 AM20 Comments

hobevine

A little background: I live in a small city in rural Ohio where the houses are fairly close to each other, and our homes are separated from the next street over by an alley that runs the length of our block.

Our neighbors on either side of us are part of what we call the "crazy cat community." There are a number of feral cats that have adopted us as home base. At my house, where many come and go under our deck, I've been feeding the cats and kittens for about two years. My neighbor does the same and they keep their garage open in the winter for the cats to have shelter from the cold. Between my neighbor and me, we've spayed and neutered about a dozen of these cats; a couple have been uncatchable but the newborn kitten population has decreased significantly over the years.

Just as an FYI, I do have four strays that I've adopted living in the house. I just can't take any more inside. And I have to point out these outdoor cats are friendly; they'll rub up against us, run out to "say hi" when we get home, etc. At this point, they're just part of the family.

Over the past couple of weeks, some of the cats have stopped coming around. We weren't too concerned — they are feral, after all, and come and go at will — until one of the strays that lives primarily next door limped home after getting shot with a pellet gun. Long story short, our neighbor across the alley has been using these cats for target practice and killing them.

We are incensed and horrified. We've reported it to the police but unfortunately have no evidence that will stand up in court, as the officers — who believe he is guilty as well — reluctantly pointed out to us. We all want to take some sort of action, but tempers are high and I don't want to a) stoop to that level; b) do anything illegal ourselves; or c) invite further violence.

Any advice, Nation? These neighbors have never been friendly, and polite conversation was greeted with grunts prior to this; now none of us want anything to do with them. But we want this illegal and reprehensible behavior to stop. I'm not sure you can help, but I appreciate you letting me vent.

Crazy Cat Lady of the Neighborhood

Dear Crazy,

Video. You need proof that this is happening; aiming a mini-cam or your computer's built-in camera at the alley for a few nights is the best way to get it. You turn that over to the cops and let them handle it. And you hope they move, because people who consider feral cats a nuisance population with no up side, to the point of shooting them? It's not going to be a "Goofus & Gallant" situation when law enforcement shows up to book them for animal cruelty, with the neighbors aw-shucksing that they'll knock it off now.

If the cops already spoke with the neighbors, and they know that you know that it's them, they may switch tactics — to poison — or try to get stealthy some other way, so for a few weeks, to the extent you can manage, put cameras on the alley and the other main places the cats congregate, and see what you find. It does seem to me like the cops could have hung them up on something else — discharge of a weapon within municipal limits/near where children live, something like that — but ask the cops what they would consider proof, and try to get it without endangering the cats (or yourselves).

I would suggest some sort of outreach to the neighbors, admitting that stray cats can cause problems — digging, fighting, all that foolishness is annoying, and I love felines, as you know, but that one horse-faced tuxedo keeps ripping up my basil and it's pissing me off — but explaining that what you and the other folks nearby do in terms of providing a home base for them actually makes them more homeable, and means fewer cats net as the years go by. But I don't think the neighbors want to hear it, and if their solution is to kill the animals, I don't think it's safe for you to go that route. So, get documentation (while praying that you don't need it), and keep an eye on the food and water supply for anything that looks hinky, or move it around/hide it so the neighbors can't tamper with it.

And good luck to you; thanks for looking out for these little varmints. Readers: any of you dealt with a similar situation?

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20 Comments »

  • Kay says:

    All in favor of shooting that jackass neighbor with a pellet gun?

    (Not that violence is ever the answer, but…)

  • Bessa says:

    If any other cats show up injured, it will be worth your while to bring them to a vet and get those injuries documented. That way if you are able to catch the jackass on tape in the future, you can also point to a history that goes back further than the taped incidents.

    Good luck!

  • Sarah says:

    Joining Kay on shooting the neighbor.

    I support evidence. Lots of video evidence. You and your good neighbors are good people, and trying to control the feral population. All this jerk is doing is hurting and killing them. And could eventually hurt someone's pet or kid.

  • Robin in Philly says:

    The only other thing I can think of would be to get in touch with any local shelters or trap-neuter-return programs, maybe even area vets. It could be that they have experience with this sort of thing and might have advice, or have seen other victims and could help build a case. At best, it would give them a heads-up in case someone else brings one of those poor kitties.

    Also, I'm with Kay. Violence is bad, but… show of hands?

  • Kerry says:

    While I don't condone the shooting of cats, feral cats are gross and I would not appreciate a pack of them living in my neighborhood. That's great that you're TNRing them, but do you really have to feed them as well?

    I grew up with cats, and I love them. But I'm a birder as well. Cats have a real impact on songbird populations. They belong indoors. They are not a native outdoor species in North America. I know I'm not going to change anyone's mind here, and again, shooting them is extreme, but these are wild animals that don't belong to anyone. Like raccoons. That's how this dude is thinking about them, as wild animals who don't belong to anyone. Because that's what they are.

  • Kristin says:

    OP, I did a bit of research and unfortunately, Ohio's cruelty laws only cover pets. So you may wish to make your neighbors aware that these are your cats and they live outside – that makes anything they do against the law. Sadly it also makes you liable if the cats do any "damage" but that's unlikely with ferals. I live in DC and we have a feral colony in our alley, which helps keep the rodent population down and out of our homes, so we treat them pretty well.

    You can file a report with the Humane Society of the US – they have been working for years to improve cruelty laws in Ohio and can put your neighbors on a watch list for cruelty.

    I'm so sorry this is happening to animals that you've cared for, but regardless of what others have said here, feral cats can be a valuable part of a community and your caring for them and getting them spayed and neutered is amazing. Thank you.

  • Bubbles says:

    We had an issue where I'm pertty sure one of our neighbors down the street put out poison for our feral cat population. Unfortunately, one of the victims was a sweet tom that had basically become my outside kitty. If they're shooting the kitties, I'm pretty sure they're just … well, let's keep this family friendly and call them jerks instead of what I'm actually thinking. Maybe offer to pick up some … what is it? There's a large predator urine that's supposed to help keep cats out of gardens and such where they're not wanted. It seems like if they're using them for target practice, they may not be entirely interested in losing their targets.
    And yes, cats do have an impact on the bird population, but there are better ways to deal with that than shooting feral cats on sight.

  • anon says:

    I agree with Kerry. Feral cats are terrible, absolutely terrible, for native fauna. Songbirds, small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles through predation, and larger animals (e.g., California sea otter) that die due to toxoplasmosis in the water supply thanks to cat feces. While I completely agree that shooting them is not the humane way to control the population, I have to beg that you stop feeding them and instead start trapping them. Please consider the health of your local environment and try to take a less feline-centric viewpoint.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Please consider the health of your local environment and try to take a less feline-centric viewpoint.

    We all agree the neighbors shouldn't be using them for target practice; let's stick to what the LW asked, which was about stopping that. Thanks.

  • Erin in SLC says:

    I'm an urban colony caretaker as well. They aren't "gross" — if properly cared for, they can indeed be a handy form of pest control. As for songbird populations, they face more danger from human activity than from natural predation. Killing feral cats only stokes overbreeding among survivors; you get a vicious circle that won't happen if you neuter them.

    Also, the only way to reliably TNR them IS to feed them. If you starve them, they'll go elsewhere in search of food, and you can't TNR them.

    To the OP: I'm so sorry you've had to deal with this. If I weren't all the way over in Podunk Utah…

    Alley Cat Allies is a good resource as well and they have info on humane deterrents. Kristin's advice above is the best I've seen, otherwise.

  • Mingles' Mommy says:

    My god, that's horrifying!!! I go into a fury thinking about animal abuse. I'm so sorry that's happening.

    In the meantime, I'm not sure this is helpful, but there's a biker group called Rescue Ink that seems to have been highly successful in getting out the message that animal abuse is not tolerated. I think they're based in NYC, but maybe they have a chapter in your neck of the woods.

    Also: what about publicizing this on Facebook or something like that? I'm not saying you should put this scumbag-slimebucket-pathetic waste of space's name out there (legal questions arise, of course), but I feel like other groups have been successful in creating awareness and generating support this way. Just look at the recent story in the news about the woman who posted the angry Craigslist ad regarding the wounded pit bull who showed up on her doorstep. That ad generated so much interest that the local animal hospital received tens of thousand of dollars in donations for the dog's care. "Mama Jade" has now had surgery for breast cancer and is beginning what looks to be like a happy, healthy new phase of life.

    I hope you'll keep us posted…

  • Allison says:

    Your state's cruelty laws may only cover pets, but it's worth checking whether feeding feral cats is sufficient to make the local authorities consider them your pets. In some jurisdictions, if you feed it, you buy it.

    I absolutely second the idea to bring the wounded animal(s) to a vet if you can trap them. A vet can write you up an official report on the likely nature of the injuries, and their word can be very convincing to DAs in terms of having enough evidence to bring charges. (Disclaimer: am vet student, had seminar on how to deal with animal abuse this week.)

    Also, it's worth checking with your local humane society to see if they have a program that matches feral cats with local farms/barns that may need mousers. I know you love these guys and like having them around, but if you can find a place for them in the country where they will be safe and valued for their killing skillz, that might be best for them until you deal with Mr. Shooty Bang Bang.

  • Bitts says:

    While I agree with Kerry and anon on the principle of feral cats, I think another approach you could take is to address the issue with the neighbor by *providing* him with humane traps. They will feel as though they are "eliminating the pesky varmints" and as long as the trapped cats are turned over to you or to an Animal Control officer, the cats will be treated appropriately. Usually the only way you can get those humane traps is through your local Animal Control, so they would be keeping tabs on the cats your neighbor catches, also. Everybody wins — no more cats are harmed, and your neighbor sees a reduction in the cat population due to his/her (appropriate) actions.

    FWIW, my parents' neighbors feed the feral cat colony that lives in their neighborhood. In their township, that is also illegal and the neighbors have been cited several times. The only legal way to address feral cats there is to trap them for SNR.

  • Sherry says:

    I doubt that getting the neighbor traps is going to work. I'm guessing that these are the kind of folks that would regard trapping as too much work. They frankly also probably enjoy shooting the cats. To some people, cats are repugnant. If one dies, they don't care.

    Talk to the police. See what they say about getting video evidence. If you get it, will they accept it? Are these folks likely to be charged with anything? What would the penalty be if convicted? If you go that route, you've just upped the ante on neighborhood tension, so be prepared for blowback.

    I second getting in touch with Alley Cat Allies for advice and other ideas. They are a great resource. Also, talk to local animal groups. The group I work with has some members who do TNR on the side, and we've had some luck advertizing and placing some of the cats from the colony in homes. Your local groups might be able to help do the same.

  • M. Nightingale says:

    Could you turn the outdoor cats over to a shelter? It would remove them from the immediate danger. Simultaneously do the rest of the documenting, watching and protecting for the cats you can't catch. Give yourself some more space to think and act.

    I wouldn't go talk to the neighbors, nor try and involve them in a trapping program. If they're at the point they're shooting the cats, they're too far gone, and I think you'd endanger yourself by engaging with them.

  • Cij says:

    This feels like another reason we should have more gun control laws.

    I may have been watching too much CSI, but if a vet takes a pellet out of a cat, can someone to a ballistics test on the pellet/gun?

    I encourage the idea of cameras, and taking the injured ones to the vet, and letting other neighbors know about this problem-if there are kids around, they might inadvertantly get hit by a stray pellet.

    Also, do you think there are any no kill shelters you can take some of the more domesticated cats?

  • M says:

    Finding another, safer place for the cats to live is the priority here. At least the friendlier ones that can be caught. I realize it's a challenge, but it's the best option. Cameras may help with arrests but won't prevent the cats being harmed.
    Tap into your social circle. If there isn't an official program for placing cats in barns or something, see if a rural friend will be open to having cat neighbors. If possible, you could offer to put up a shed for shelter at a healthy distance from human living quarters.

    There isn't likely to be a way to win in this situation, so try to get out of it as much as possible.

  • JC says:

    @Cij

    Pellet guns and BB guns (and other air rifles) are not considered firearms in a legal sense because they do not use explosives to propel the ammunition. Even if stricter federal gun control were passed, those kinds of guns would never be covered. Having grown up on the PA/OH border, I'd also be really surprised if there were ordinances against firing an air rifle on one's own property, unless they have proof that they're trying to do harm to an animal (that somebody cares about) or a person.

    As far as ballistics, that's also a no. These guns have smooth bores, so there will be no marks from rifling or anything else. The projectiles are tiny (no fingerprints), propelled by air, and generally have no distinguishing features (unless they're buying expensive, "performance" rounds, and even then…). Even if they could do tests, nobody would pay for them.

    (I read a fascinating article in The New Yorker a while back, when CSI mania was really starting to take off, about CSI vs. actual crime labs. Long story short, the tests are generally real, but no one would ever pay for them for any case other than the assassination of a head of state, and stuff like, "We found a 0.05 mm piece of blue thread at the crime scene and then potentially matched it to a knit hat that might be owned by the accused, as you can see in this image enhancement of a security photo taken in the dark from 1000 yards away 3 years ago…" would never be admitted in court as real evidence.)

    Long story short, only good, clear video footage is likely to work in this case.

  • Deb aka Crazy Cat Lady says:

    Thanks to all who commented. As with anything, many of the suggestions offered are not applicable to our situation, and I do appreciate all of the ideas. To update, we did install a camera to monitor the back of our garage/alley area, the latest batch of kittens (6) plus their mama, and potential papa have been neutered, and we are constantly searching for adoptive homes. Over the last two or so years, we've placed 12 (including two this past month) with friends, family and vetted strangers. Tempers have settled, the neighbors are aware we're all on alert and life in the neighborhood goes on. Our best to all of you!

  • Mingles' Mommy says:

    @Deb – that's great news!!!! All the best to you!!!

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