Cats in Court

A cat looking over his shoulder

Now, there are a lot of stereotypes surrounding librarians, and one you may have heard of is our deep appreciation of (or at least healthy respect for) cats. And while I admit to breaking the mould a little by being one of the very few librarians in Great Library history to not own a cat, I can honestly say that their sassy antics and I-don’t-give-a-care je ne sais quoi give me a deep sense of joy. 

We came across this post in the blog archive, inspired by our shared love of cats. We thought it too good not to recycle. Enjoy!

Can you imagine the actions of a cat being such that they come to be presented before a court of law? It’s happened. Here are some cases in point.

Clinton v J Lyons & Co Ltd, [1912] 3 KB 198

Dog and cats vintage drawing" by The British Library is marked with CC0 1.0
A dog and two cats lying together

In this case, the plaintiff and her husband hoped to enjoy a nice cup of tea in a tea shop. She carried her Pomeranian dog. Upon arrival, the plaintiff put the dog on the floor, keeping hold of its lead. Suddenly, a cat, who was rearing kittens at the time, came out of a storeroom, sprang upon the dog and bit him. The plaintiff picked up the dog and gave him to her husband. Plaintiff brought an action against defendants claiming damages for the personal injuries sustained by her and also for the injury done to her dog. The jury found that plaintiff took her dog on the premises by permission of defendants, or with their acquiescence; that the cat, to the knowledge of defendants, had while rearing kittens a disposition to attack a dog in her neighbourhood, and a person holding a dog; that the cat attacked the dog unprovoked; that plaintiff’s injuries were the result of the cat attacking the dog; and that defendants did not in the circumstances take reasonable precautions of the safety of their customers.

The court held that a cat, when vicious towards dogs because she has kittens, did not cease to be a domestic animal and become ferae naturae; there was no evidence that the defendants, as persons of ordinary sense and prudence, had any reason to anticipate that the particular cat in question was likely to do mischief; and, therefore, the defendants were not liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.

Buckle v Holmes[1926] 2 KB 125

A kitten in front of a bowl

Mr. Buckle was a member of the National Homing Union and kept homing and racing pigeons. He also kept some poultry on his premises. He observed that some of his pigeons were disappearing, and he saw the defendant’s cat, while on his premises, carrying a pigeon in his mouth and, on another occasion, catch a bantam chicken. The plaintiff brought an action against the defendant for damage which he alleged was caused to him through the destruction by the cat of seventeen pigeons and two bantams.

The court held that a cat was for all purposes a tame animal and its owner was not liable for damage done by that cat while trespassing unless the plaintiff was able to prove that the owner had knowledge that the cat had acquired vice more than the vice of a common cat; the plaintiff had failed to do this; and, therefore, his claim must fail.

The lower court decision was appealed. The Court of Appeal held that, as it was notorious that any cat would eat a small bird, anyone who kept a cat was not liable for the consequences which followed from the ordinary nature of the cat. The plaintiff who had lost his pigeons had judgment given against him.Cats will do as cats do.

Rowland v Wright, [1909] 1 KB 963

Pet cat vintage drawing" by The British Library is marked with CC0 1.0
A cat in front of a book

The applicant in this workmen’s compensation matter was a teamster in the employ of the appellant. On January 2, 1908, Mr. Roland took his horses to the stable for their midday meal, where he then proceeded to eat his own dinner. While he was eating, a stable cat sprang at him and bit him. He was not teasing the cat in any way, nor was he feeding it on that occasion, although he had thrown bits to the cat on other occasions. The cat was not known to be especially vicious; however, the bite resulted in blood poisoning and the applicant had to have two joints of his finger amputated. The county court judge was of opinion that the accident arose out of and in the course of the employment and he made an award in favour of the applicant.

Cassandra Towers v Ryll, [1990] 6 RPR (2d) 299

A drawing of a cat sketched by a Great Library librarian

Fluffy was “declawed, slightly blind in one eye, and admittedly not a troublesome cat”. She lived with tenants reliant upon pensions who knew that their lease contained a clause prohibiting pets on the premises. Though no complaints were received regarding the cat from any of the building’s tenants, Fluffy’s presence was discovered by the applicant’s property manager. The management sent a letter to Fluffy’s owners requesting that the cat be removed or relocated. The respondents refused, claiming great emotional attachment and a lack of affordable housing. Action was brought to terminate the tenancy agreement claiming that the cat substantially interfered with the reasonable enjoyment of the premises by the landlord and the other tenants. As a result of the ruling, the tenancy of her owners was terminated.

Fluffy’s case was responsible for animal and pet amendments to landlord and tenant legislation in Ontario. Section 14 of the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006, SO 2006, c 17, voids “no pet” clauses in residential leases. However, renters must be careful that their pets do not invoke other sections of the RTA which enable landlords to apply to evict.