This is not only an ugly story, but also one that many people are incapable of analyzing dispassionately, or even rationally. I’m going to try.
Michael Puerling is a landlord…some would call him a slum lord…in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. A tenant in the upper unit of his property had adopted a black and brown stray cat, which she named Sage. Puerling told the woman she couldn’t keep a cat, so she evicted the feline, which eventually took up residence in the vacant lower unit. Puerling discovered the cat had after it had been making itself at home for months, tearing up furniture and generally making the apartment a giant litter box. According to the landlord, he opened the doors and windows and tried to get Sage to leave, but the cat hid under the kitchen sink. Then Puerling tried to remove the cat by hand…not a good idea, as any cat owner could have told him. When he couldn’t grab the scruff of Sage’s neck, he yanked the cat out by his tail, with the predictable result–the cat went crazy, and attacked him.
So Puerling bashed the Sage’s head in by swinging him by his tail against a slab of concrete outside.
A neighborhood boy, 11-years-old, witnessed the execution, and reported it to police. Puerling was charged with felony animal abuse, and pleaded guilty to three misdemeanors. He apologized in court and said he would accept any sentence. I think it is fair to say that he didn’t expect the sentence he got, for the judge didn’t just throw the book at him, but the entire library.
Circuit Judge David Hansher doubled the sentence recommended by the prosecutor, and sent him to jail for six months, saying, “It’s abhorrent and repulsive what you did. I’d rather have an armed robber in front of me than someone like you….The cat is a living human animal and doesn’t deserve to be basically murdered, which is what happened in this case.” In addition to the jail time, Puerling will have an additional 9 months hanging over his head if he violates terms of a two-year probation, which includes not keeping a pet and staying away from other people’s pets.
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz:
Was the judge’s sentence fair?
A brief perusal of the comments to the story on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel website shows what controversial territory this is. A sample:
COMMENT: “Cats eradicate native species. If people “love” their cats they would keep them in the house or get them declawed at the minimum.
The thing this guy did wrong was his method….”
REPLY: “I HOPE AND PRAY one day very soon that you suffer and die very painfully with your thought process on innocent animals. It should be the careless owners (humans? that are blamed and threatened for causing the problem in the first place!!”
REPLY: “Cats are not innocent by any definition of the word. The sparrows, blue jays, moles, rabbits, etc that they kill for fun ARE innocent.
Do you “HOPE AND PRAY one day soon that cats suffer and die very painfully with their ACTUAL KILLING of innocent animals?”
COMMENT: “…He was either too stupid, too lazy, or both to remove the animal the right way. What kind of idiot grabs a stray cat and what did he think was going to happen? The cheap sob could’ve called animal control….If he’d have let the tenant keep the cat this would have never happened. The guy has anger/temper issues and I guarantee you this isn’t the first time he’s been violent. Animals feel pain the same as humans so anyone who is ok with what happened or thinks it’s funny shouldn’t have kids or a spouse because they have no empathy or ability to understand other living things and will never be able to maintain a stable relationship.
“I hope he gets raped in prison.”
There appear to be three kinds of people: those with what my wife calls “the animal gene,” who empathize, sympathize and love animals, often to excess; those whose reaction to someone having to put her dog down is, whether they express it or not, “Big deal. It’s just a dog!”…and those who think the first group is a little strange and that the second group consists of potential serial killers. The challenge with the Wisconsin case is to find some mode of analysis that gets the animal worshipers, the “animal deaths aren’t worth getting upset over” crowd and the middle group to agree on what is fair, and I don’t think it can be done. The groups don’t share the same assumptions, and never will.
I’m in the middle group, though much closer to the animal worshipers than the other extreme. As I write this, Rugby, my sweet Jack Russell terrier, is asleep by my keyboard. Nevertheless, I think the judge’s sentence is unfair, and can’t be defended rationally.
The landlord was guilty of animal cruelty, and deserved punishment, but he did not torture the cat for fun, nor set out to hurt it. After several months living outside, Sage qualified as a feral cat, not a pet, and they shoot feral cats, because they are essentially small, but still dangerous, tigers. Puerling had a little tiger by the tail, and it was biting and scratching him: he reacted angrily and violently, but in self-defense. It doesn’t make him a danger to the community, or even to other cats.
Of course he was wrong. He should have called Animal Control. It is appropriate for the justice system to send a clear message that his conduct was cruel and irresponsible, and a stiff fine along with a reasonable suspended sentence would do the job. But six months in jail and probation? I think that’s irrational in a country where we poison mice and rats without a thought, gas thousands of stray dogs every day, shoot deer, moose and elk, eat slaughtered pigs, chickens, cattle and lambs, confine intelligent primates in glass cages and make intelligent aquatic mammals do tricks at Sea World, put elephants in the circus, and generally pick and choose which creatures have special immunity from human mistreatment according to arbitrary standards of cuteness and sentimentality.
I think the judge’s use of the term “human animal” is instructive but batty, and that his sentence is clearly unfair and out of proportion to the crime.
I now await the assault of PETA members.