As we reflect this week on the passing of Norman Mailer, I find myself thinking about his contemporary and acquaintance, playwright Arthur Miller, author of the acclaimed “Death of a Salesman.” I can’t help but think that if Miller, who died in 2005, had lived a bit longer, he might have written a new play entitled “Death of a Feline.” Like his previous work it would also have been a multi-layered play about apparently banal and normal events, which somehow take on an almost epic tone as they convey the prejudices, follies, and cruelties of the society they occur in.

We’ve moved from a cold, heartless society which could reflexively and accidentally grind a man into the dust to an overheated, mushy-hearted society which may systematically and deliberately grind a man into the dust for the unforgivable crime of acting like a human being. I can’t help but think that both Mailer and Miller would be all over this one.

Here are the facts, which no one disputes: James M. Stevenson, 54, founder of the Galveston Ornithological Society and famed bird enthusiast, used a .22-caliber rifle to kill, with full pre-meditation and with malice, Mama Cat, a feral cat living under a toll bridge. His reason: Mama Cat preyed upon piping plovers, endangered shorebirds, with the efficiency common to her breed. Mr. Stevenson, believing that the world is better with piping plovers than without, decided to eliminate a serious threat to their continued survival. And he did so.

And so, now Mr. Stevenson is on trial for the crime of animal cruelty, and could spend up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine if convicted.

In Texas. Where the state regularly executes morons without a qualm. In Texas, Mr. Stevenson faces serious jail time for shooting a cat to defend a bird. Mind you, this isn’t his first cat-killing, as he freely admits to killing numerous cats on his own property for similar crimes against avians.

In other words, he did exactly what human beings have done for at least 10,000 years: he killed an animal he didn’t like in defense of other animals he did like. He did no more, and no less, than what farmers, shepherds, hunters, and pet owners have done from the dawn of civilization. But, sadly for him, he did it in a civilization that no longer accepts such acts—even in its most individualistic and firearms-friendly area.

Now, it’d be one thing if Mr. Stevenson had killed a beloved pet which was simply wandering around on its own property. But, as far as he knew, he was killing a feral cat which preyed upon an endangered species. A cat which probably would have been put to death (humanely) in a shelter if it had been picked up by the very state which now tries Mr. Stevenson. The very state which extended the protection of law to the birds the cat sought to kill.

If a human had dared to do what Mama Cat did each and every day, he would have found himself prosecuted to the full extent of the law, facing probably even more jail time than Mr. Stevenson is now. Texas law and society would recognize that bird-killer as a menace whose willingness to finish off the piping plover justified their depriving him of liberty and, if he resisted arrest or attempted flight from prison, even his life.

Society reserves to itself the right to mete out justice to human beings, and rightly so. Rule of law and civilized society demand that I not be free to pursue my private vendetta against you. But Texas now seeks to extend that principle much further. Under its new animal cruelty laws, it would seem that the state now reserves to itself the right to defend animals, no longer allowing human beings to intervene freely in nature’s struggle.

So another human freedom, enshrined since the Dawn of Man, falls. And for what? To protect our ridiculously emotional and anthropocentric view of animal life. I own a cat, love it very much, and can understand just how painful it would be for my cat to be killed by another human being. But, as much as I love my cat, it is just a cat, and infinitely less valuable than any human person. If someone cruelly and needlessly shot down my cat, I would be angry, and seek justice. But if I, through my own carelessness, let my cat threaten endangered animals or the valuable property of another, shouldn’t those I’ve wronged be able to defend life or property against my cat?

Should my emotional attachment to my cat, or cats in general, be allowed to curtail the freedom of another to defend either their property or other species they value more than my cat? Once my cat leaves my property, aren’t my wishes secondary?

The Texas case has turned into a shouting match between cat-fanciers and bird-lovers. But there’s a much more important principle at stake: should the emotion of either side be allowed to dominate logic and reason? If a beloved cat is killed, it’s a tragedy, but it’s not a crime on par with murder, simple battery, or even assault.

It should not be treated as such.

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