Can I kill a cat if it poops in my yard?

My kids like to play and there's a cat that visits every night.

Published May 25, 2006 11:03AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I'm having a problem with a cat. At least I assume it's a cat since I've never actually seen it. The cat uses my yard and garden as its toilet. This, by itself is not a serious matter; I clean detritus out of my yard regularly as a matter of course. The real problem is that my young children, who love to play in the yard and putter in the garden, always run afoul of the cat's mess if I haven't cleaned it up first. So, every morning I must police my yard and garden for signs of the cat's nightly visit and clean up after it. Oftentimes, I must be away from home on business and there is no one to perform this duty. So my kids stay inside or go outside and get fouled.

Recently, I've been considering a solution to this problem. A permanent solution. I'm not a cat hater. I've had and enjoyed several cats as pets. I don't wish upon this cat any painful punishment or cruel revenge. I don't know whose cat it is, whether it even has a home and is loved or is left to its own devices. I simply want it to disappear and can certainly arrange it. I was raised in a semi-rural environment where we had livestock, which we even played with and petted, but which also eventually were slaughtered and eaten. Killing animals that we had raised seemed perfectly natural and was the practical conclusion to the endeavor. When our pet dogs or cats were seriously ill, grievously injured or simply became too numerous, we shed our tears and then sent them to their reward without the services of a veterinarian or animal shelter. This solution to my cat problem seems perfectly reasonable to me, akin to the fate dealt to gophers, rats and other living nuisances. On the other hand, I realize a cat's difference; people increasingly put great store in their pets, considering them to be family members in every regard. What I consider to be a reasonable solution will surely be considered an immoral crime by others.

I've tried many other alternatives. There are pages and pages of recommendations on using this type of fruit peel or that type of noxious repellent, many that are little better than the mess left by the cat, and none of which has had any effect. There are even sophisticated fences and motion-activated sprinklers that I can't bring myself to consider due to the time and cost alone. I might even attempt to find the owners, confront them with the problem and ask them to find some solution, under the assumption that they bear primary responsibility for managing the waste of their own pets, not me. I imagine, though, that what is so hateful to me is considered unavoidable and uncontrollable cat nature to the owner, who would thereafter brand me as a cat-hating lunatic.

With my solution, no one need be the wiser. Only I would know what really happened and personally I am comfortable with the proceedings. The owners certainly would be sad to lose their pet, and I would regret that, but it would be a mystery as far as they were concerned, just as if the cat were hit by a car, fell from a tree or ate some poisonous plant; all risks that they currently tolerate anyway to indulge the nature of their free-ranging cat. It doesn't seem that bad to me. Expressing that feeling to others, however, generates expressions of shock and horror, and a certainty in the mind of the hearer that I am some kind of sadistic psychopath. I'm not sadistic about it at all. It all sounds quite reasonable to me. I don't feel like a psychopath. So the question is, first, am I a psychopath? Secondly, what do I do about the cat?

Night Soiled

Dear Night Soiled,

What a funny name.

First: No, you're not a psychopath. You're just out of step with our quickly advancing sensitivities and sympathies toward animals. People in rural and semi-rural areas have different customs about killing animals. Perhaps you're not sufficiently indoctrinated yet with the customs of our current urban and suburban zeitgeist.

So: No, you can't shoot the cat. That's not allowed. Sorry. You can't shoot the cat or poison the cat or catch the cat in a bag and beat the cat to death or strangle the cat or drown the cat. It just isn't done. We are moving, ethically speaking, toward greater acceptance of animals as beings with inalienable rights, and this in my view is a generally positive development.

So what do you do about the cat? Get a dog. Dogs chase cats out of yards. It's fun to watch. It's fun for the dog. Children love it. Maybe you have rats and the cat likes the rats. The dog might make the rats go away too. And even if the cat does keep coming in the yard from time to time just for the sport of it, he will probably not feel sufficiently relaxed enough to do his business in your yard. Animals, as you have probably observed, like to be reasonably sure they will not be interrupted. They like a little peace and quiet, just like humans do, except they don't generally read the newspaper and smoke.

Don't get a dog that will eat the cat. That would be gross. Just get a dog that will chase the cat.

Your kids will love you for it, and you might even come to like the dog a little yourself. At least you will know that the dog is doing a useful job.

Oh, darn. Then you would have to clean up after the dog. I forgot about that. It's not the cat, but the poop. Hmmm.

Well, sorry. Thought I had a good idea there. But if it's poop you're trying to eliminate, that's not the way to do it.

Why is the cat shitting in your yard? At any rate, you're not alone.

OK, if you can't get a dog, then I think I like the idea of the motion-detector activated sprinkler. Yes, it requires some work and some expense. And maybe that isn't fair. And maybe you should find the owner of the cat. And all of this is a pain in the ass. And people should be better and more responsible. And a man shouldn't have to clean cat shit out of his yard.

But such is life. You will be a better, kinder person if you take the better, kinder approach.

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