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Mistrial In Jim Stevenson Cat Killing Case

This just in: the judge declared a mistrial in the case involving the birder who admitting shooting a cat he felt was feral and threatening a population of endangered piping plovers.

I think stupidity was exhibited on all sides of this case. The Birder in Question could have found other options besides blatantly shooting the cat. He could have been more discreet in killing it, he could have live trapped them and dropped them at a no kill shelter, he could have talked with bridge workers to find a solution to remove the cats and protect the plovers. He just took matters into his own hands, somewhat vigilante style.

The big issue was whether or not the cat in question was feral. In Texas it’s legal to shoot and kill a feral cat, but not legal to shoot and kill a pet cat. A toll-booth employee, John Newland argued that he “owned” all the cats around the bridge because he put food out for them and toys. However, he never paid for the cats and never brought them inside his home. Newland also mentioned in one of his many interviews that he had noticed at least 10 cats that had been shot dead around the area–call me crazy, but as a responsible pet owner, if you see pets being killed in your area–you protect your pet, you bring them inside. Why isn’t he being brought up on charges for encouraging non native/invasive predators around endangered species?

And the media seems more interested in portraying the whole thing as bird lovers vs cat lovers. It’s more interesting to them to tell the story about some wacky bird watcher went so over the edge in his love for birds that he bought a gun and killed a cat.

Even though it appears the The Birder in Question is avoiding jail time and a fine, I can’t imagine what his legal fees will be from this–possibly more than the fine. I don’t know if this really did anything to further the cause of protecting birds from feral cats.

13 comments to Mistrial In Jim Stevenson Cat Killing Case

  • Anonymous

    I think it is outrageous that Texas allows the shooting of any cat. That said, Bringing a feral cat indoors isn’t easy. A friend adopted one and keeping it from escaping was impossible.

  • April

    It is NOT impossible to bring a truly feral cat into the house, but it’s certainly not easy. It just takes a lot of time, and patience. Eventually, they learn to trust you and become good housecats, though they do remain a bit skittish, in my experience.

    I have 8 cats..4 of them were truly feral, i.e., they were bred and born outside, and lived wild until they were at least 2 years of age, when we trapped them and took them in. In one case it took about 14 months before the cat would allow us to touch it. Missus is now the most affectionate cat in the house.

    It can be done, it just takes patience. We have a small room(our den, and my DH’s office, LOL!) where we’d isolate new cats..and we’d sit in that room, and read books out loud, so the cats would get used to human voices and movement. Once they “graduate” to the house, we have trained them to stay away from doors when people are coming in or out…we just make loud stomping, and “monster” noises when we’re coming or going. When the doors open..they run the opposite direction.

    My former ferals show absolutely no desire to go outside.

    The guy who dispatched these cats is a jerk..there were other ways to deal with the problem. I realise if you have feral domestic animals preying on native endangered species, it requires some extreme measures..but..there were other ways to deal with the problem.

    In general, and IMO..a bird is not worth more than a cat, a cat is not worth more than a bird. They are equals..except in the “endangered animal” category.

  • drew

    April, its not a question of a bird being worth more than a cat. It comes down to removing one cat (predatory non-native species) or letting it stay and kill 5, 10 or maybe more birds (native, endangered). In this case, inaction is the worse crime of any action. A cat is a indoor pet, and one that is outdoors is neglected and needs to be taken to a shelter.

    I applaud you for adopting feral cats, that really takes dedication.

    drew @ Nemesis Bird

  • Anonymous

    Trapping ferals is sometimes not that easy. I have spent the last 2years trapping the ferals in our neighborhood. The kittens were easy to trap and I’d take them to the shelters. The adults I trapped, I have them “fixed” and re-released, but if you have a smart cat, they watch and will not go near the trap. It took me two years to trap the momma of all of them. I’m now down to three fixed adults that sorta live on my porch. I couldn’t risk bringing any of the adults in the house because of my house rabbit, Rudy. Now that he passed-away I’ve been considering bringing the young female in.

  • Anonymous

    Please don’t re-release the cats you trap….please leave them at the Humane Society. Cats are estimated to kill 100s of millions to a billion birds each year in North America. Every feral cat you keep alive is adding to this problem.

    Cats indoors!

  • dguzman

    Boy, this topic really generates the comments!

    I think your closing sentence really brings it home, though, Sharon–how much did this whole furor really do to help the cause against feral cats/cats outdoors? Not much, I’d bet, and all those legal fees could’ve gone to fund more efforts at sheltering ferals instead of into lawyers’ pockets. It’s a shame the whole thing happened, and I agree that his “vigilante”-style actions were not the wisest course of action.

  • Birdfreak

    I agree that this debate got blown way out of proportion because like on most issues, the media takes the route that draws the most attention.

    Jim Stevenson has done a lot for the state of Texas in regards to birds and birding so it is a cheap shot to disregard his efforts on one action (even though it was a somewhat drastic, yet legal action).

    In regards to his legal fees, he didn’t shoot the cat so he could spend a bunch of money on lawyers for a false crime… you can’t really compare the expense to what he could’ve done for conservation…

    What he did accomplish was expose the amazing fire of debate that feral cats and birds unleashes.

    I hope they bring up charges for the toll-booth operator for the crimes he committed.

  • Laura

    I like birds. And I like cats. Shooting either is disgusting. But getting all high and mighty against the cat lovers with statistics on how many birds they kill is pretty silly. It’s nature. Populations ebb and flow (even in urban areas) for many reasons. If you have cats that are outside, get them fixed to stop the increase in unwanted pets. And if you have birdfeeders, put them high up and in a clearing so the birds can fly away if a cat is watching them.

  • Laura Erickson

    Domestic cats, even feral ones, killing birds is NOT “nature.” Domestic cats are essentially an arm of human beings–they were brought here by us, released to the wild by us, and usually subsidized by us. When they kill birds, WE’RE responsible.

    Individual cats may have the same essential life force and value as individual birds. But individual cats kill huge numbers of birds, and humans who protect these feral cats from natural forces such as disease and starvation tip the scale away from what’s natural and directly contribute to the losses of both individual birds and whole populations.

    There’s no win-win answer to the cat debate. But there are a LOT of lose-lose answers. As long as people subsidize cats, I’m glad there are at least a few people working to tip the scale to protect birds.

  • Dan Cooper

    I just read on the Texas birding listserve that an attempt was made on Jim Stevenson’s life at his home. He was injured by flying glass but not killed. He’s in hiding.

    Prosecuting the toll worker (or whatever agency owns the bridge) for “take” on the plover is an interesting idea. Sounds like the guy is intentionally maintaining a feral cat colony adjacent to an endangered species breeding area.

  • Beatrice Ware

    It is not legal to shoot cats in Texas. This crime of animal cruelty carried a higher penalty than shooting a .22 with hollow point bullets from a public roadway next to a public beach. (Only a misdemeanor) Every story or blog that I have seen is full of misinformation, and starts with the assumption that this non witnessed cat vs bird situation really happened. The investigation of this so called shooting attempt at jim stevenson’s life was called off due to inconsistencies in his story, and his refusal to have his own hands tested for gun powder residue. The cat that was “gut shot” and suffered considerably was a dumped pet cat. All of these cats were dumped and being fed by a decent, and compassionate man. There is so much more to the story.

  • birdchick

    One could argue that watching a cat–which is a non native predator in the United States ripping apart an unsuspecting bird is just as cruel way to die.

    So, according to Beatrice the bridge worker is a “decent, and compassionate man” for feeding the feral cats…what about the endangered birds that are being killed by those same cats he’s feeding? Isn’t that kinda cruel to allow an invasive, non native predator to kill them off?

    And at the time of the shooting it was legal to shoot feral cats in Texas not domestic–that was the big question in the case. Were the cats feral or pets?

  • Anonymous

    Oh grow up. There are more feral cats than domestic now and it is not realistic to think spay/neuter and release. They DO endanger wildlife populations and such game populations as turkey and quail. Why don’t you guys take in a few feral hogs while you’re at it. They seem pretty plentiful too and no one is feeding the poor things.