At what point am I legally responsible for feral animals on my property?

I live in a fairly dense suburban neighborhood. There are a lot of feral cats around, but one in particular pretty much never leaves my property.

He’s a little yellow cat, he recognizes my wife and I, he comes down the pathway to greet us when we come home (that’s really cute!), but is careful to never be close enough for us to touch him. One of his ears is notched so he’s likely been fixed. We feed him, I bought him a bed that I put on the front porch that he sleeps in, I cut a hole in an old ice cooler that he can live in during winter, and we even gave him a name, “Oscar.”

To any stranger, he would appear to be “our” cat.

Are we legally responsible for him? Like if he were to injure some kid, or someone’s pet, or catch rabies and run amok about the neighborhood or something?

If you are feeding him he’s your cat. There may not be any legal requirements for owning a cat where you live though. Generally there is no requirement to license, leash or otherwise constrain, or provide shots for cats. There may be some limit to the number of any kind of animal you keep on your property or in your house. You might be civilly liable for any damage or harm caused by your cat. You may not be allowed to feed feral animals in your locality.

You answered your own question here.

In Pennsylvania (I think this varies by state) by feeding a cat you are responsible for it.

I would expect home insurance to cover anything it might do.

Sounds like an abandoned cat … and you’ve been adopted as his new pets. He’s still nervous around you is all, shouldn’t take long to “reel him in” as it were. There’s a rather short time period in a cat’s kittenhood where they can be socialized to human company. If that opportunity is missed, the cat will always be afraid of humans. So most likely this cat was someone’s pet and just got dumped … I can see why he’s a little shy still.

Rabies vax is a good idea, that is one thing humans can get … and it’s pretty ugly when they do.

Congratulations on starting your journey as a Crazy Cat Lady.

Yeah, if that cat kills the neighbor’s chicken it’s worth it to file a claim for $3.

We had a dog attack our chickens years ago. We knew the dog was owned by a guy who lived around 1/4 mile away. I approached his landlord about the $350 vet bill. Landlord reimbursed us and evicted (didn’t renew month to month lease) the tenant/dog owner.

He was a very nice guy. Take it to court and you might only get the value of your chicken, which isn’t much. Was the dog licensed?

The real question here is do YOU want a cat or not. If you feed it and take care of it by providing a sleeping area then I think it’s your cat, whether that was your intention or not. If you don’t want the responsibility of the cat for you can live trap it and take it to the humane society or whatever group takes in stray animals. However if you do decide to ‘keep’ it you should have it checked by a vet for any issues, and make sure it gets any necessary vaccinations and neutering.

Stray animals don’t always make good pets and this cat may be skiddish its entire life. Having a pet that doesn’t trust you and won’t let you near it doesn’t make for the best human-animal relationship IMO.

We had a cat like that where we used to live. An adult (barely) cat showed up at our door with five tiny kittens following her. We put out food and water,band fed them from them in. They stayed their distance, and little by little the other kittens disappeared until it was just the mother and one kitten. My daughter trapped them, took them to a get where they were spayed and vaccinated, and brought them back. The mother never forgave us and promptly adopted our next door neighbor, but the kitten still came to our door.

We would see her, she would run about ten feet away, we would put the food out, and once we closed the door she would come and eat. As the years went on she would get closer and closer to us, and within six years we had a little house built on the patio for her to sleep in when it was cold, and she was coming in the house when it was really cold or rainy.

She would never be an inside cat, but she enjoyed spending the evenings with us.

We had to move a couple of years ago. Luckily I had a friend with a farm who had about ten cats who lived in her barns, and she took her, where she is now living.

We have two cats. I believe what initially attracted this cat to our house was our cats sitting in the windows (we keep them inside). Oscar is a “talker,” as is one of our cats, and they “talk” to each other through the screen.

I agree with the consensus: assume it’s your cat insofar as you might be liable for a cat.

However my brother’s family once saw on their local neighborhood association’s website a message from a guy asking if a cat was anybody else’s, or otherwise he’d claim it. It showed the cat lounging in the guy’s living room…my brother’s indoor/outdoor cat, not even a ‘feral cat’. Or IOW any cat you let outside could also be somebody else’s ‘feral cat’.

No, the dog wasn’t licensed and the lease was technically “no pets”.

The landlord was and remains a friend of ours.

And you are incorrect about the value of the hen being “not much”. Pennsylvania Dog Law has a system for reimbursement for dog destruction of farm animals. We would have been able to file a claim with the state and, aided by receipts showing cost of feed, veterinary care, etc we could have done better than just $350.

Thanks for fighting my ignorance.

I’ve been taking care of a feral cat colony for two years. (Not by choice. They arrived on their own after a former “neighbor” moved away, leaving the colony to fend for themselves and my yard ended up being a sanctuary for them. A little water and food left out by me and it went from there.) I built a food shelter for them where they are fed twice a day. Almost all of them are hands on, meaning they come up to me, I can pick them up, hold them and pet them, … within limits. (It’s taken two years to get this far.) All have been spayed/neutered and vaccinated against rabies and distemper. They have several sleeping quarters I made from ice chests filled with straw (although in summer they just hang out in the back yard at night).

Are they “mine?” About as much as they trust and accept me. Are they always in the backyard 24/7? Nope. Under local laws I have a legal responsibility to care for them, but any liability if they damage or hurt someone remains murky.

Will I abandon them? Not a chance.

Heh, I was faced with what could have been an interesting case if I let it get to that point.

A tree growing in my yard had a white- (or bald-) faced hornet’s nest growing in it. The nest hung directly above the sidewalk where our driveway crossed it. We became aware of it when my wife got stung - she was just standing there. I knew there had to be a nest nearby, and finally spotted it (it was well hidden in the foliage).

Obviously, the nest was growing and would continue to do so over the summer - and as it grew, the hornets were becoming both more numerous and aggressive. It was clear they were starting to tag anyone walking on the sidewalk as ‘too close’.

Would I be responsible if they swarmed over someone? They could kill someone who was allergic; and of the nest got really big, do a lot of damage even to people who aren’t.

It’s a moot point because I got rid of the nest promptly - but what if I didn’t do anything?

Points against me being responsible - the nest was actually hanging over city property. The nest was clearly ‘wild creatures’ I had not put them there.

Points in favor of me being responsible - I knew about the hazard; there is no reasonable way of anyone else, like the city, to know about it. The tree was growing in my yard.

Just curious- what local law makes you responsible to care for them ? Did you become responsible just because they moved onto your property and would you be responsible for any another animals that moved onto your property, like a colony of squirrels? Or do you just mean that since you are feeding them and built a shelter for them , etc , the law considers them yours just as much as any wild kitten that you “adopted” and brought into your house would be ?