How lawyers think

The legalities of a simple game of ‘cat and mouse’

By A.J. Wagner

Maybe Tom from 'Tom and Jerry' should consider getting a lawyer.

Maybe Tom from 'Tom and Jerry' should consider getting a lawyer. Photo courtesy of cartoon network.

Back when I was in law school, my wife and I went on a retreat for married couples. We were in the midst of an exercise where we were to exchange feelings on a subject. First we wrote about some issue, not necessarily about us, that was troubling us. Then we exchanged notebooks so that we might address our feelings on the issue described by our spouse.
I couldn’t do it. My view of her problem was totally analytical and devoid of feeling. I saw the problem and immediately set out to solve it even though that was not what I was instructed to do. I identified the problem, outlined possible causes and then possible solutions.

This was not a male response. It was a lawyer’s response.

Lawyers are trained to identify legal issues and then to seek the appropriate legal response to those issues. Let me give you an example. A few years ago, I wrote a small pamphlet of poems about pets to raise money for the Humane Society. After writing one of the poems I found myself trying to identify the legal issues presented in the rhyme.
First, the problem poem:


Rat Chat
I had a chat
With my neighbor’s cat
‘Bout the disappearance
Of my pet rat.

Replied the cat,
“When you said, ‘Scat!’
Your rat was gone.
Two seconds flat!”

I said, “But Cat,
Look at that,
Your belly is twice
What it used to be at!

“When I said, ‘Scat!’
It was not to the rat.
It was ‘cause you were someplace
You shouldn’t be at.

“As a matter of fact
It was ‘cause you had sat
Next to the cage
Of my darling pet rat.

“So, Kitty Cat,
How about that?
Now you must tell me
Where is my rat?”

Then said the cat
Who had gotten so fat,

Now, some issues:
• What is my neighbor’s liability for the death of my pet rat?
• Can my neighbor be made to pay for my mental anguish?
• Can my neighbor be charged with animal cruelty?
• Can the cat be confined for killing my rat?
• Can the cat get the death penalty for being a dangerous animal?

First thing to note is that this is a cat. There are special laws for dogs running at large and especially vicious dogs. There is also a special law as to farm animals such as horses, mules, cattle, sheep, goats, swine or geese. None of these, if they have an owner, are permitted to run at large. These rules do not apply to cats.

But, as a general rule, an owner of a cat may be liable for the killing of a pet rat if the owner of the rat can show that the owner of the cat was negligent in letting the cat roam at large.

It may be necessary to show the cat has previously killed other pets while running the streets.

Once liability is established, a court or jury may consider damages. Unless the rat’s owner can prove some kind of traumatically induced neurosis, psychosis, chronic depression or phobia and prove the killing of the rat was the cause of these mental issues, there will be no recovery of damages for emotional distress.

The owner of a cat that kills another’s pet may be charged with cruelty, but not likely. The state would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the owner willfully and maliciously caused the cat to kill the rat. It is not likely a prosecutor’s office would spend time, money and effort to pursue such a difficult charge.

The cat will not likely be confined by any governmental authority, but the owner of the cat should be sure to confine it to avoid any future liability.

The owner of the rat is permitted to kill the cat while the cat is trespassing on his property. Should he do so, he would have to pay the owner of the cat for the value of the cat less the value of his rat within 15 days or deposit money with the court should values be in dispute.

That’s how lawyers are trained to think (sorry, Sweetie). Identify the issues, seek answers and provide a disclaimer (see below), because each of these issues are very fact-sensitive and can vary from city to city and state to state.

If you want to find out more about the Humane Society of Dayton go to

Disclaimer: The content herein is for entertainment and information only. Do not use this as a legal consultation. Every situation has different nuances that can affect the outcome and laws change without notice. If you’re in a situation that calls for legal advice, get a lawyer. You represent yourself at your own risk. The author, the Dayton City Paper and its affiliates shall have no liability stemming from your use of the information contained herein.

A.J. Wagner is an attorney with the law firm of Flanagan, Lieberman, Hoffman and Swaim at 15 W. Fourth St. in Dayton. A.J. and his firm would be glad to help you with all of your legal needs. You can reach Gretta’s owner at (937) 223-5200 or at

A.J. Wagner is an attorney with the law firm of Flanagan, Lieberman, Hoffman and Swaim at 15 W. Fourth Street in Dayton. A.J. and his firm would be glad to help you with all of your legal needs. You can reach A.J. at (937) 223-5200 or at

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