Feral Fray In Utah

At the start of this year’s state legislative season, the Colbert Report singled out a Utah bill by Rep. Curtis Oda, R-Clearfield, for raising the bar on legislative lunacy. Oda’s bill, HB 210, would allow people to kill cats, dogs, and other animals believed to be feral, through shooting, blows to the head, or decapitation. Never mind if people’s pets get caught in the crossfire because a neighbor believes them to be unowned. It’s basically a free pass for the killing of any animal, and Utah could become a legal training ground for people who want to get their start in animal cruelty.

It looked like this bad idea had been put to sleep, but Oda’s bill had nine lives. A House committee rightfully stripped the bill of its feral-killing provisions, but then Oda was able to restore much of the legislation—this time only allowing the rampant killing to occur in unincorporated areas of counties where hunting is not prohibited—on the House floor. The House passed HB 210 by a vote of 44-28, and it’s now pending in the Senate.

Several lawmakers have spoken out against this putrid policy. Minority Assistant Whip Brian King, D-Salt Lake, pointed out that the bill encourages people who want to “satisfy their own perverse sense” by torturing animals for fun, and House Minority Leader Dave Litvack, D-Salt Lake, called it “an embarrassment” to the state of Utah.

There’s now a real threat that this measure will become the law of the unincorporated land, and would represent a major step backward at a time when there are more effective methods than ever to address the management of feral animals by humane means. Trap-neuter-return programs, for example, can bring communities together to improve the health and quality of life for feral cats and prevent more from being born into this dangerous and difficult existence.

Rather than bring people together to solve problems, however, the Oda bill would likely turn neighbor against neighbor. People could shoot each other’s pets at will in neighborhood disputes as long as they can claim they had a “reasonable” belief that the animal was feral. And as Stephen Colbert asked, “Who better to decide what’s reasonable than someone willing to club a collarless cat to death?”