A Virginia man who killed three feral cats by gassing them in the back of his vehicle was convicted on three counts of animal cruelty, but he faces no time behind bars. For each cat he killed, he was sentenced to a 12-month suspended jail sentence and a $250 fine, but animal rights activists said he deserved jail time, not just probation.
Keith Copi, the operator of a Critter Control franchise, was found guilty last week under a Virginia law that prohibits the "cruel or unnecessary" killing of any cat. Copi had been contracted by a local Richmond television station to "trap and remove" a colony of feral cats living in a parking lot behind the station. Employees at the TV station had been feeding and caring for the cats for years, but new management at the station decided it was time for the cats to go.
At the trial, Copi admitted using a gas chamber to kill the cats in the parking lot behind the station.
Copi's pest removal license has been revoked.
Animal rights activists said that they fear Copi will not take his probation sentence seriously.
"This is a serious crime and he should have received jail time," said Wendy Anderson, legal director for Alley Cat Allies a non-profit organization that works to protect feral and house cats from animal cruelty.
Anderson said under the current animal control system, "trap and remove" often means "trap and kill": "Killing of cats, by gassing, lethal injection, or decompression chambers, happens all the time all over the country. It can be a very cruel death."
Becky Robinson, president of Alley Cat Allies, said she believes this case reflects "an increasing understanding in our criminal justice system that cruelty toward cats is not tolerated in a civil society."
Cats are protected under the anti-cruelty laws of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Virginia's law sets particularly high standards with regards to treatment of stray and house cats.
Robinson said that she applauds the prosecutors on Copi's case for taking a stand, but that too often violations of anti-cruelty laws go unprosecuted: "Prosecutors who uphold the law and prosecute all cruelty cases regarding stray and feral cats deserve our thanks and support."