In a landmark Delaware court ruling this summer, informed by the expert testimony of Alley Cat Allies President and Founder Becky Robinson, two caregivers escaped eviction from their home for the compassionate act of feeding community cats.
The caregivers’ lease permits their landlord to promulgate certain rules, and one such new rule attempted to restrict tenants from feeding local cats through threat of eviction. However, when the issue was brought before the Court, it declared this rule unenforceable and void after being “presented with significant evidence…that [Trap-Neuter-Return] programs work” and because the rule was in opposition to public policy to protect TNR advocates.
The decision sets an important state precedent for the defense of community cats and those who dedicate their time, money, and energy to care for them.
“There has been an entrenched mindset for hundreds of years that we can do whatever we please to animals if we don’t want them somewhere,” Becky said. “But people have to understand that there will never be a world with no cats. Banning the feeding of community cats will not simply make them go away. The only effective approach is to manage the population through a Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program—and feeding is a critical component of that plan.”
Going to Court to Protect Cats and Caregivers
Becky was called upon to provide her expertise after the cats’ caregivers first took their landlord to court in early 2019 for serving them the eviction notice. The eviction was on the grounds that the caregivers had violated the new lease rule, which prohibited the feeding of stray animals and labelled any who fed one as “responsible for that animal.”
The rule failed to recognize that cats have lived in the area for decades, and that over 125 cats were spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and eartipped through a local TNR program. The program was carried out with the participation of the threatened caregivers, among other tenants.
In the Delaware Justice of the Peace Court for Sussex County, Becky testified to the critical nature of such TNR programs to manage community cat populations effectively, and to the important role of feeding. Without feeding and the observation of cats that feeding affords, she explained, a TNR program will only achieve short-term success.
Becky further testified that stopping the feeding is counterproductive, as the cats do not disappear, but rather become more visible as they roam to find food.
Justice and Common Sense Prevailed
After a long two-year legal battle, Becky’s testimony had a significant impact on the Court’s decision to rule in favor of the caregivers and recognize the importance of TNR programs. The Court concluded that the landlord’s ban on feeding community cats was unenforceable in this case, as it is “unreasonable for the community owner to want and benefit from all the immediate positives of [a TNR program], but eliminate the possibility of long-term success of it by its rule against feeding.”
The Court also concluded that assigning ownership of community cats to caregivers is in opposition to Delaware’s existing public policy.
The key aspect of the Court’s opinion reads as follows:
“The Court is presented with significant evidence, both generally and in the present instance, that TNR programs work. Further, the General Assembly has weighed in on this issue, making Spay/Neuter Fund monies available to persons engaged in these programs. That body has also clearly indicated that those who undertake these programs are not to be considered the ‘owner’ of these cats. The community’s rule regarding ‘responsibility’ of those who feed feral or wild animals is in direct opposition to this public policy. For this reason, that portion of the rule is declared null and void.”
Crowther, the caregivers’ attorney, affirmed that Becky was “instrumental” to the court proceedings.
“The court came to rely extensively on Becky’s expertise about the importance of feeding cats in the management of cat populations through TNR,” Crowther said. “That is ultimately what drove their decision.”
Now the cats’ caregivers no longer face eviction for simply taking compassionate action. In addition, the court’s ruling could have a significant, positive impact on the outcome of similar cases in Delaware.
Know YOUR Rights
Compassion is not a crime, and good Samaritans should not be punished for improving their community by caring for community cats.
To protect cats and the people who care for them, Alley Cat Allies provides essential resources to empower caregivers to know their rights and advocate for humane laws where they live.