Utah legislation would permit shooting feral animals

Published: Saturday, Jan. 15 2011 10:11 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah lawmaker wants to change the state's animal cruelty law to make it legal to shoot and kill feral animals. But the proposal is not sitting well with animal advocates.

Officials with the Humane Society of Utah say the bill, sponsored by Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, is "cruel and archaic" and question its intent.

It changes the state's animal cruelty statute so that it does not prohibit "the humane shooting or killing of an animal if the person doing the shooting or killing has a reasonable belief that the animal is a feral animal."

The questions arise in defining "reasonable belief" and how people can tell if an animal is feral.

"The public is not trained to determine what a feral animal is," said Humane Society Executive Director Gene Baierschmidt. "By appearance it may not be feral. For a cat, if it's not nice, it may just be an old cat."

Baierschmidt's concern is letting people essentially go vigilante on animals at large.

"There's going to be situations where people could be killing people's pets and not even realizing it," he said. "It just gives a lot of leeway and opens the door for a lot of abuse to take place."

Baierschmidt says there are professionals that handle this job and it's better to leave it to them.

Putting a number on the feral cat population is difficult.  Salt Lake County Animal Services estimates 20 to 25 percent of the 16,000 cats that enter Utah shelters each year may be feral.

It usually comes down to an assessment of behavior.

Utah wouldn't be the first state to look at letting its residents put down feral animals. Most notably in 2005, many Wisconsin residents got behind a proposal to hunt feral cats but the plan ultimately died.

Calls to Oda on Friday were not returned.

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