THE BARNSTAPLE CAT CASE
The Barnstaple Cat Case in July 1889 was well reported in the local press and sought to establish whether a cat was “property” and whether an owner could claim damages if a cat were killed or injured. But first, let’s look at a case a few months earlier where a plaintiff was dissuaded from pursuing a case against the person who had killed her cat.
CLAIM FOR A CAT. Western Gazette, May 9th, 1889
Before His Honour Judge Mackonochie. Bertha Burt, of Leigh, widow, sued Daniel Summers, [game]keeper, of Steventon, Torrington, Devon, for £3, for a cat which defendant was alleged to have shot. Mr. Trevor-Davies appeared for defendant. Plaintiff asked for the case to be adjourned, as she alleged that one of her witnesses (her niece), who saw the cat shot, was bribed to stay away that day, and she wished to summon her to appear. Mr. Trevor-Davies pointed out that the defendant was gamekeeper in the employ of the Hon. Mark Rolle, and had come from Torrington to defend the action, and would be put to considerable inconvenience in attending again. He thought he was justified in saying not a shadow of a case could made out by plaintiff. As plaintiff could not prove the killing of the cat without the assistance of the absent witness, His Honour adjourned the case; and, on the application of Mr. Trevor-Davies, made order on plaintiff to pay the costs of that day's proceedings before the next hearing.
THE CAT CASE. Western Gazette, 7th June, 1889.
At the last court, Bertha Burt, of Leigh, sued Daniel Summers, keeper, of Torrington, for £3, for a cat which defendant was alleged to have killed, and the case was adjourned for plaintiff to produce a witness. She had, however, to pay the costs of the hearing before the case could be heard again. Plaintiff did not put in an appearance when the case was first called, and Mr. Trevor-Davies (who represented the defendant) said defendant has not appeared as the plaintiff had not paid the costs of the last hearing as ordered by His Honour. At a later stage of the proceedings plaintiff appeared, and in answer to His Honour as to why she had not paid the costs of the court, she said she had not been informed by the Court what she had to pay. It was pointed out to her that she was told what she would have to pay.
His Honour: if this case is heard, and if it should happen tht the judgment should go against you, you would have to pay £4 odd.
Mr. Trevor-Davies: She has to pay that now.
His Honour: What is the value of the cat?
Plaintiff: I value the cat at a great deal more money than I put in for.
Mr. Adams (registrar’s clerk): She valued it at £3.
Plaintiff: I would rather have the cat than the money.
His Honour (to Plaintiff): You have to pay £4 before I can hear the case at all; and then, you know, it is possible you may lose it.
Plaintiff: I suppose it can be put off until the next Court.
His Honour: Oh no, it can’t be adjourned to another Court until the money is paid.
Plaintiff: I can’t pay it now, then.
Plaintiff then left the court.
Unfortunately I don’t know what the outcome of the case was. Had she won, the plaintiff would have been awarded the costs as well as the value of the cat. The lack of further reports, the suggestion of a bribed witness and the fact that the defendant reported to a titled person, suggested she was dissuaded from pursuing the case. Or perhaps the Hon. Mark Rolle gave her some money without admission of liability. The next case is more satisfying to cat owners, albeit it starts out as “cat killed by dogs, how funny!” The plaintiff is a lot better organised and has legal counsel. There was nothing amusing to the cat, and the publicity served as a warning to dog owners.
AMUSING CAT CASE AT BARNSTAPLE. IS THERE PROPERTY IN A CAT? Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 19th July 1889
At the Barnstaple County Court Tuesday, before his Honour Judge Paterson, action was brought by Mrs. Allen, a bookseller, of Boutport-street, against Mr. William Tarr, landlord of the King’s Arms Hotel, for the recovery of £6 damages, value of a cat which had been killed by dogs belonging to the defendant. On the case being called on his Honour made remark expressing doubt to an action lying Mr. W. P. Bencraft, who appeared for the plaintiff, said that in this case die dogs went into the plaintiff’s house and killed the cat, and the dogs therefore committed a trespass.
His Honour: Yes, if the owner sends the dogs in.
Mr. Bencraft: The owner of animal is liable for the injury it did. If a man keeps a vicious animal he is.
His Honour: You do not mean to say that a dog that worries a cat is a vicious animal. (Laughter.) A cat, you know, will go for a bird.
Mr. Bencraft: Yes, and a dog will go for a cat. There was a case here once of an action for a cat getting amongst pigeons and killing them, and the owner was sued for damages.
His Honour: That is a strange case.
Mr. Bencraft: I can show you that these dogs are in the habit of running after cats and killing them, and that they have killed more than one cat before. I shall prove one of the dogs is a vicious animal, and that the owner knew it to be so. The cat was in the shop quietly lying down, when the dogs rushed in to it, got it into the road, and killed it. That is doing damage to the plaintiff’s property.
Mr. Ffinch (who appeared for the defendant): You must show that the cat is property.
His Honour : You have not got a case for that I see.
Mr. Bencraft: Dogs that acquire the habit of killing cats will do it readily. There are dogs which are notorious cat killers, and the owners would not be liable at all if I have no case.
His Honour: In common law a cat is not an article of property.
Mr. Ffinch said that was so, as hares, wild rabbits, cats, etc. could not distrained upon.
Mr. Bencraft: A cat is not a subject of larceny perhaps.
Mr. Ffinch: You cannot eat cats.
His Honour : They did during the siege of Paris. (Laughter.)
Mr. Ffinch ; Yes, but they do not generally.
Mr. Bencraft proceeded to quote the Act dealing with animals kept in a state of confinement or for any domestic purpose, such as cats.
Mr. Ffiinch : What is the purpose?
Mr. Bencraft: Kept tor the purpose of killing mice. (Laughter.)
His Honour: Cats are not attached persons, but to places.
Mr. Bencraft: That might be applied to an infant in arms. If you change houses the infant won’t go, it must be taken.
Mr. Ffinch: But a cat goes back again, and infant cannot.
Mr. Bencraft; Whittington sold his cat, and be found it a valuable investment.
His Honour: That is a very doubtful story. (Laughter.)
Mr. Ffinch: The dogs did no more than other dogs do.
His Honour then allowed evidence to be called. The plaintiff deposed that three greyhounds, belonging to Mr. Tarr, deliberately rushed into her shop and worried her cat. It ran into the street, where they followed and killed it. A man in the employ of Mr. Tarr was in a trap with another dog, but did not attempt to call the dogs off. The cat was a Persian, for which she bad been offered £6.
In cross-examination, the plaintiff said she had never had any complaint of her cat worrying dogs.
The evidence as to the killing of the cat was corroborated by Ellen Lake and William Lake. William Pooley deposed that Mrs. Thornby's cat had its leg injured, and he believed Mr. Tarr’s dogs did it. Mrs. Brailey said her cat was killed she believed by the defendant’s dogs, and in the evening of that day she saw Mr. and he offered her compensation another cat, but that was after Mrs. Allen's cat had been killed.
His Honour said the plaintiff had no case, and must dismiss it.
Mr. Bencraft: I am sorry to have occupied your time then, sir.
THE ‘‘AMUSING CAT CASE” AT BARNSTAPLE. Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 22nd July 1889
To the Editor of the Devon and Exeter Daily Gazette. Sir,
I am afraid l am dull of apprehension. The fact that three dogs ran into a shop, drove thence and worried to death a valuable Persian cat that was quietly sunning itself in window, seems to me to lack some elements of true humour, especially from the point of view of the cat. The lawyers and the learned Judge were very funny when the owner of the cat sought to recover damages from the owner of the dogs, and the learned Judge decided that there was no case, as a cat is not “property,” and dismissed the parties concerned without expressing his gratitude to the owner of the dogs for affording the Court such rare entertainment.
Two things suggest themselves. First, the question and answer. “Is this law? Aye, marry, ‘tis it, Crowner's quest law;” and, secondly, the unwisdom of all that waste of valuable pity that the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty Animals is bestowing upon the homeless London cats, whose owners - beg pardon, entertainers - turn them into the squares.to starve, when they leave London to enjoy themselves in the summer. These people are to be prosecuted by the S.P.C.A.. For the poor cats are as sensitive to pain as Shylock, and since “man has sought the cat’s society, and not the cat man’s,” he has a duty towards the poor animal, whom he made as dependent on himself as a canary in a cage. The Barnstaple cats and the London cats are not ”on all fours,” and there is screw loose somewhere.
We are all of us, I think, fond of our dumb pets, and the more helpless they are, the more indignant we are at their ill-treatment. The sentiment of pity is wholly a Christian virtue, and “He prayeth best who loveth best, Both man and bird and beast.”
I think therefore that the S.P.C A. is right about the poor cats, and that the ‘‘ laughter” and “amusement” that arose from the rare treat of hearing that three dogs worried a poor cat to death lacks some of the elements of gentleness and virtue, and the law that dismisses the case is bad law.
I am, sir, etc., E. C. S.
THE LATE AMUSING CAT CASE AT BARNSTAPLE. Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 14th August 1889
[With added commentary for the layman]
Some time ago we reported what was described as an a-“mews”-ing cat case heard at the Barnstaple County Court before his Honour Judge Paterson. Briefly the facts were that Mrs. Allen, bookseller, of Boutport-street, Barnstaple, had a valuable Persian cat sitting in her shop when three greyhounds, belonging to Mr. William Tarr, of the King’s Arms Hotel, Barnstaple, entered the shop. They worried the cat, which ran into the roadway, to where the dogs followed it and inflicted such injuries that it died. The case was dismissed by his Honour. Yesterday, Mr. A.F. Seldon, on the part of the plaintiff, applied for a new trial, first on the ground that his Honour was wrong in holding that the plaintiff had no property in a cat; second, that the verdict was contrary to the evidence, and third, that the plaintiff had discovered fresh evidence which he was unable to obtain at the last trial.
His Honour asked Mr. Seldon to conilne himself to the last point. Mr. Seldon said the latter not a ground upon which it was usual to grant a new trial, but he submitted that this was a case in which the evidence would warrant it. The nature of the fresh evidence was evidence bringing home to the defendant knowledge that his dogs had similarly attacks and killed a cat on a previous occasion and had worried smaller dogs. His Honour asked Mr. Seldon why he did not bring forward the evidence at the trial. Mr. Seldon said it was because plaintiff was not aware of it. It only came to her knowledge after the case had been made public in the newspapers. This he (Mr. Seldon) thought would be abundant evidence to show the mischievous tendency of the dogs, and would throw upon the defendant the onus of controlling the dogs.
His Honour said the other grounds were futile and would have been disposed of quickly. What he wanted to know was if Mr. Seldon had any authority to show that supposing there was knowledge the Act would apply. His Honour remarked that while he said at the last Court there was no property in a cat, he still thought there might be in some cases. But the decision in the case was that the plaintiff failed altogether to prove the knowledge of the character the dog before the accident occurred. He need not have made that remark at all about property in a cat. He did not say it was wrong, but it was irrelevant. Mr. Seldon admitted that had no case if scienter were not proved.
[Scienter means intent or knowledge of wrongdoing – does the offending party know the "wrongness" of an act or event before committing it? In this case the wrongdoer would be the owner of the dog if he is liable for their actions.
Much of the following discussion is about whether a cat is “property,” and this includes a discussion on whether a cat-owner would be liable for his/her cat killing someone else’s cage-bird (a caged animal being legally defined as property). If the cat is proved to be property then the dog-owner is liable for damage to the cat-owner’s property (the cat). This is important because much of English law is case law and depends on precedent set in previous trials.]
His Honour said the only evidence of scienter was after the accident to the cat. The case could not under any circumstances be said to wrongly decided upon that evidence. Mr. Seldon said his Honour did not take that piece of evidence. His Honour said it was a strange thing that not only the reporters and himself, but Mr. Bencraft, never noticed it. The plaintiff must have thought she gave the evidence. Mr. Seldon said she was still prepared to say it, and they would see if the defendant was prepared to deny it.
His Honour said what he wanted to know was supposing Mr. Seldon succeeded in proving scienter could he show the Act would apply. Mr, Seldon said yes. He had authority for showing that Blackstone’s Commentaries by Stevenson dealt with animals and divided them into two classes, one being a tame and the other of wild disposition. In those which were tame it was admitted he might have property, but in the wild animals the case was different. They were not subject to absolute property while living, but under certain circumstances man might be invested with a qualifying or special property in them. His Honour said what he wanted to know was if Mr. Seldon had any authority to show that a man was liable for injury committed by his dog, not by his authority, but by his dog of his own will. Mr. Seldon said he wanted first to establish that a man might have property, qualified or otherwise, in a cat. He might get qualified property in an animal which was wild, and a property of that description was protected while it lasted by law, so that an action would be against any man who detained any such animal, or who unlawfully destroyed it. He might get a qualified property in animal which was originally wild, but which became domestic or had been reclaimed from its wild condition.
[Now they look at whether the offence occurred on the plaintiff’s property or on the street. In this case, where did the offence begin? It began on her property and, therefore, cat could be considered property. At that time, it was not established whether a straying cat was property or was treated (in law) as a wild animal.]
His Honour said the difficulty was the liability of the owner of the dog. Where was he bound to keep that dog from going away and doing anything except by statute? Mr Seldon quoted the case of Reed and Edwards, in the Law Journal Reports, New Series, vol 24. The head note stated that defendant knowing that certain of his dogs were accustomed to hunt for game, and also knowing the plaintiff preserved game, he was negligent in not controlling his dog. Defendant knew of the vice of the dog in that direction, and allowed the dog to be large near the wood. His Honour said there was nothing there about preserving a cat. The quoted was a question of the game laws. The case certainly had some bearing on it. Mr. Seldon said game only remained the property of the proprietor so long as it remained on his land, and game were wild animals. In this case the cat was on the land, so to speak, of the plaintiff before it was killed.
Mr Ffinch: But it came out into the street, and was killed in the street.
His Honour: Still, the dogs went into the house.
Mr. Ffinch : And the cat came out to the the road.
His Honour: They worried the cat and frightened the cat out. There was no tree up which it could get, and therefore it got into mischief.
Mr. Seldon thought the case applied to the present case.
His Honour: What appeared to be decided there was that there was a duty of the owner of the dog to restrain it.
Mr. Seldon: Yes; the owner knowing of its mischievous propensities there was a duty cast upon him to restrain it. So long as a man keeps his cat in his own house it is his own property. The cat has become domesticated by gradual use that it is reclaimed from its original wild state, and man has qualified property ii it in the same way as in a horse or any other animal used for domestic purpose. When it was in a wild state man had no property in it so long as it was not under control.
His Honour: Of course a man has property in any animal in its cage. He has property in a bird in it cage, but what about a cat getting at the cage and killing the bird.
Mr. Seldon said there came in the question of control.
His Honour: That is what I say. You must keep under control the animal. Any cat would kill a bird if it could get at it?
Mr. Seldon: Then the owner of the cat must keep the cat under proper control.
His Honour: But would he be liable if the cat escaped his control and went and killed his neighbour's bird that unfortunately happened to be hung out in such a way that the cat could get at it?
Mr. Seldon: If the owner does that he is guilty of negligence himself, but if I have a bird in a cage in my own house and a neighbour’s cat comes in and kill, it that is another thing.
[We now get onto a discussion of trespass and negligence. Animals might stray, but if they commit an offence on another person’s land, has the offence of trespass been committed? Should the owner restrain the animal so it can’t stray or commit trespass? Wild animals can’t commit trespass, but owned animals can. In the case of negligence, did the plaintiff put his property at risk of damage?]
His Honour : The cat would commit a trespass then, but in this case the cat was also in the house of the owner, but the door was open and the dog could get it. You say yourself he would negligent if he hung a cage up where the cat could get it, but here the cat was in the open shop. Do you say that an action would lie against the owner of cat for not having kept it in and locked it up, say at night, when all cats will go caterwauling (laughter) - and may go out and kill their neighbour’s birds ?
Mr. Seldon ; The proposition, I think, is a sound one.
His Honour : Are you prepared to say an action would lie against the owner of a cat because the cat escaped and killed a bird?
Mr. Seidon: I submit so
His Honour: You will have great difficulty then in showing in this care that you are bound to keep in the dog and not the cat.
Mr- Seldon again referred to the case he had quoted. His Honour said there were those ugly Game Laws in Mr. Seldon’s way. He knew what they would do for the sake of preserving game. He must look carefully into the case quoted. His Honour asked Mr. Ffinch what he would do if there evidence to show scienter. Mr. Ffinch, who represented the defendant, said of course the evidence of the plaintiff herself could be no ground for new trial. As to the cat being under control in this care, the door was wide open and that would show contributory negligence of the plaintiff, the same as if a canary’s cage were hang where the cat could get at it. The cat was kept in a place where the dog could get at it. The evidence, too, must show absolute personal knowledge of the defendant himself that a particular dog had, in the words of the Act, “a peculiarly malicious disposition” for killing cats. Three dogs went into this shop, the cat ran out and received injuries and died. They must identify the very dog that killed the cat and must show that it that it was that same dog that had killed a cat before.
His Honour said Mr. Seldon must show that anyone of the three dogs had previously killed a cat, because in the second case they acted jointly. Mr. Ffinch said one dog might have gone for the cat end the others followed innocently (laughter.) His Honour said he could not conceive how an owner of dogs could possibly be liable because he had not kept it locked up, simply because it went after cats. The case quoted was where a dog went after game, and was kept in the vicinity of the game without being restrained from going after the game. Mr. Finch quoted Anderson v. Titmas to show that the fresh evidence to warrant a new trial must be so conclusive as to really carry a verdict with it. It was laid down in order to stop applications of that sort. His Honour said there was a doubt in his mind, and he was not aware of any case in which a new trial had been granted without the names of the witnesses being set down. Mr. Seldon said his Honour had done so in the Bideford Court. His Honour said he would take time to consider the application for a new trial
THE BARNSTAPLE CAT CASE. North Devon Journal, 29th August 1889
Mr. Harrison Weir, the president of the National Cat Club, writes long letter to "Small Pets" with reference to the cat ease recently heard the Barnstaple Court. He finds fault with the decision of the learned Judge, but evidently wrote in ignorance of the fact that His Honour has still under consideration application for new trial.
THE BARNSTAPLE CAT CASE. Exeter Flying Post, 15th October 1889
The Barnstaple cat case again came before the County Court Judge (Judge Paterson) today, in an application for a new trial by reason of additional evidence. The case was one in which three greyhounds, belonging to Mr. Tarr, of the King's Arms Hotel, entered the shop of Mrs. Allen, bookseller, and worried a valuable Persian cat, driving it out into the street, and inflicting on it injuries from which it died. She claimed £6, but the Judge non-suited the plaintiff. An application for a new trial was heard, and his Honour said he had considered the case quoted by Mr. Seldon of Reed v. Edwards. That was a case of game. A farmer kept a dog adjoining a game preserve, and he had been cautioned as to the dog trespassing and killing the game. He knew of the vicious character of the dog, and did not keep it under proper control. There was no property in game when not on the ground of the owner, but while it is on the land there was sufficient possessory property in the owner of the land to entitle him to it. That would be the same with the cat. This cat was in the open shop, and the dogs went in and inflicted the damage; but then, the plaintiff must show that the dogs to the knowledge of the defendant had been in the habit of going on premises of other persons of their own account and killing or injuring cats If he could do that, and thus bring it within the case quoted, he would grant a new trial.
APPLICATION FOR A NEW TRIAL. Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 16th October 1889; Western Times, 16th October 1889
At the Barnstaple County Court yesterday his Honour Judge Paterson gave his decision in the application for new trial in the well-known cat case, in which Mrs. Allen, bookseller, of Boutport-street, claimed £6 damage from Mr. William Tarr, of the King’s Arms Hotel, Barnstaple, by reason of his greyhounds having killed a valuable Persian cat belonging to her. His Honour said he had looked to the authority of Reed v Edwards quoted by Mr. Seldon, who appeared for the plaintiff. It was not only reported in 34 Law Journal, but in 17 Common Bench Reports. It was very fully reported. All the authorities were cited which could possibly be found on the subject by the learned counsel on both sides. He had not been able to go beyond that, and that had guided him in what was going to say.
The action was tried before him in the July Court. The plaintiff failed before him to show that any knowledge on the part of the defendant that his dog, which had killed this cat, had any vicious propensities for killing cats. That was admitted. Mr. applied at the last Court set aside the non-suit, and for a new trial upon the ground of fresh evidence which had come to the knowledge of the plaintiff after the trial in consequence of the case being reported in the newspapers. The information obtained seemed to be that the three hounds, or one of them, was of a vicious character, and that it was within the knowledge of the defendant that the dog had committed injuries of a similar kind before. At that time his Honour asked, if he granted a new trial, was there a possibility of showing that the defendant would be liable, he not being aware of any statute showing that a cat was an animal in which a person could have property. There was no property in common law in either dog or a cat. He believed it had been enacted that for stealing a dog there was that property for which the owner could prosecute for the theft. There was larceny by statute. There was no larceny at common law for stealing a cat and there was no property in a cat. But Mr. Seldon called his attention to Reed v. Edwards, which was certainly a peculiar ease bearing upon it. That was a case of game, in which there was no property when they were not on the ground of the owner of the ground. That showed satisfactorily to him that while the game was on the land there was possessory property in the owner of that land to entitle him to it. If game were shot and killed off the land he had no right, but if shot and killed on the land it was his. [The basis of laws against poaching.]
He could not distinguish between that and the cat or any other animal in which there would be no property except when on the land [of its “owner”.]. Therefore, the cat being as, it was here, on the premises of the plaintiff, while the cat was there the plaintiff had, according to that decision, sufficient possessory property to complain of the injury to her property. But that brought the case to this - that the action really was an action for trespass for wrongly entering upon land or property of plaintiff and doing damage there, part of the damage being killing cat, or game or bird, or other property, which, while on the land or premises of the party complaining, that party has sufficient possessory property to complain of that injury to her property, and that was therefore an injury to the property.
In this case the plaintiff kept a shop - an open shop. The cat was in the shop and the greyhounds entered the shop and hunted the cat out of the shop, and so caused the injury. They wrongfully entered upon the premises and hunted it out. It was undoubted law that owner of dogs who entered upon the land of another committed no trespass by his dogs going there unless directed them to go, unless urged them on. The defendant was not present on this occasion, but his man was in the street holding another greyhound, and there was no evidence whatever that he sent the dogs in. They went against his will, therefore the question was as to the liability of the owner of a dog for not sufficiently keeping it under his control as to prevent its entering upon the land or premises of another and doing damage. That would raise a very wide question, a question which he saw the Court of Common Pleas - a very strong Court, Justice Wills being one of them - after hearing all the arguments of the case, and taking time to consider it, and writing out the judgment, abstained from string any decision as to the owner of dog being bound to keep it under control so as to be liable for the trespass of that dog on the land of another, in the same way as a person was bound to take care that his ox or sheep did not trespass on the land of others.
In the case of Reed v. Edwards the dog would hunt game on his own account. It was kept by a farmer on land adjoining the land of the plaintiff on which there was game preserved. The gamekeepers of the plaintiff had found the dog before doing injury, and had gone and complained to the owner of the dog about the very [dog in question] going upon that land and doing injury. The defendant, knowing the dog was a bad character, allowed it to be at large in the neighbourhood of the plaintiff’s wood, in which there was game, so that the entry of the dog into the wood and the destruction of game was the natural and immediate result of the animal's peculiar and mischievous disposition, which his owner knew and did not control. That was a very peculiar case. Now if the plaintiff in this case could show that any of those greyhounds was of that disposition as was mentioned in the case quoted to go and hunt cats, for instance, on its own account, not merely as dogs always would, but committed trespass on other people’s premises - if that could be shown, and that the defendant knew it, thought then that the case would be brought within the application, and a new trial ought to be granted. He therefore should leave it to Mr. Seldon to consider that and if he thought right he might have a new rule [verdict] upon a new trial. If he thought not, the rule would be refused and without costs, because he thought the defendant might have done something in the way of making an offer to plaintiff. He could not enforce it. The defendant had had costs open his non-suit [both parties had to pay their own costs for a non-suit], and he did not think he should be inclined to extend that privilege.
Mr. Peldon : You grant me a new trial, then?
is Honour: If you bring it within that case [Reed v. Edwards].
[Nothing more is reported. His Honour hinted that there was already an out-of-court settlement on offer to Mrs. Allen. It is likely that Mr. Tarr, knowing that his dogs had more than once killed other people’s pets, settled out of court rather than risk losing the case and having to pay the value of the cat plus court costs. ]
This is an interesting and important account because the media reported it in depth and reported the discussion of whether a cat was “property.” Although it appears to have been settled out of court, the publicity may have served as a warning to dog-owners. The judge was very fair – he had to challenge Mr. Seldon on both statute and case law to see if the case would stand up in court or just be a costly waste of time to the plaintiff. He decided it would stand up in court. Nowadays, cats are considered property and owners can sue over theft and damage, plus there are various animal cruelty laws in force as well.