Jim Stevenson is the founder of the Galveston Ornithological Society and is an avid bird lover. He also is set to stand trial this month for a felony cat murder.
A jury may decide if Stevenson acted within his rights when he shot a feral cat that was preying on a bird.
It comes down to the feral cat versus bird debate. Stevenson struggled with the question if feral cats are pets or pests.
“They see it as a choice,” said Stevenson. “Does Jim shoot the cat or not shoot the cat? But that’s not the choice,” he said. “It’s a choice of who dies, the cat or the bird. By acting or not acting, I had to choose who dies.”
The incident happened in November 2006. Stevenson drove to the beach that was 15 minutes from his house. He saw some piping plovers, which are endangered birds, sleeping. A limping cat was about to come up on the birds when Stevenson appeared, and the cat escaped into the darkness.
He went home and went on the Internet to research Galveston’s city code. The code requires pets to have tags, and all pets are prohibited on the beaches. Texas penal law made it a crime to kill animals, but only those “belonging to another.” Stevenson felt like this cat that he saw on the beach was not someone’s pet because there were no tags and it was on the beach.
The next morning, Stevenson got his .22-caliber rifle, loaded into his Ornithological Society van, and decided to go cat hunting.
He quickly spotted the same cat under the bridge. He rolled his window down, put the rifle barrel on the edge, and shot at the cat. The cat dropped from the shot, and at the same time, Stevenson said he heard “spewing of profane language” from the bridge.
The profane language came from John Newland, a toll collector. Newland ran out and screamed at Stevenson. Another toll collector called the police. Newland jumped in his truck and chased down Stevenson.
Stevenson was met by four police cars on the beach.
Newland is the main witness for the prosecution. He claims he is the owner of the cat that Stevenson killed. Under Texas law, killing someone else’s animal without permission can result in a two year prison sentence.
The state’s case depends on if they can prove the cats under the bridge are Newland’s pets.
Newland spends most of his days after his work shift ends with the feral cats under the bridge. He gives them food, and he said: “Nobody else takes care of them. I’ve got to think of them as my cats.” He buried the cat beside a pillar and marked the grave with paper flowers.
He has names for all of the cats. Newland said he doesn’t vaccinate or license the cats, and the only cats he gets spayed or neutered are the ones he can actually catch.
“They’re leery of those traps,” he said. “That’s the daddy. He’s the one I’d like to fix, but I can’t corner him. Worse than bin Laden. They’ll probably kill a bird. That’s just a cat’s instinct. But all I’m doing is feeding some homeless orphans.”
The assistant district attorney said she is certain a jury will agree that Stevenson killed Newland’s cat. She said she perceives ownership as being care, custody and control.
Stevenson’s lawyer said that people who feed pigeons can’t claim that they are their pets. But the assistant district attorney replied those people don’t always feed the same pigeons.
Stevenson’s lawyer asked how “a person like Jim Stevenson, who has based his life on the preservation of birds” can be accused of any kind of cruelty.
Newland replied: “I don’t shoot owls and hawks that kill my kittens. It doesn’t work that way. He’s got no right to go out and just shoot any creature.”
Stevenson said he has own definition of animal cruelty: “Turning a house pet loose in the wild.”
Source: Wall Street Journal