Tuesday, August 09, 2011

History of Legal Ownership of Cats

In Comm. v. Epifania, decided today, the Appeals Court outlines the history of the legal ownership of cats (and dogs) in Massachusetts, and criminal responsibility for stealing or harming them:

"At common law, cats did not receive through ownership by human beings the same legal protection provided to some other animals. Thus, as the Supreme Judicial Court explained over 140 years ago in Blair v. Forehand, 100 Mass. 136, 140 (1868), at common law, an individual could not be prosecuted for larceny of a cat (or a dog) "even in a state of domestication." There was thought to be "no absolute and valuable" property interest in such animals. Ibid. The same was not true with respect to "[b]easts which have been thoroughly tamed, and are used for burden or husbandry, or for food, such as horses, cattle and sheep" which were viewed as "property of intrinsic value." Ibid.
"Consistent with this, for 150 years, starting in 1836, § 112 and its predecessors provided criminal punishment for the wilful and malicious killing of "any horse, cattle, or other beast of another person." Pub. Stats. 1882, c. 203, § 93. See Rev. Stats. 1836, c. 126, § 39 ("any horses, cattle or other beasts of another person"); Gen. Stats. 1860, c. 161, § 80 ("any horses, cattle, or other beasts, of another person"). In 1986, in apparent recognition of a more modern view, the Legislature amended § 112, so that it now refers to the malicious killing not of "beast[s]," a limited category, but of "animal[s] of another person.""