Question:

A woman on our block is quite a nuisance to all the neighbors. She owns about 20 cats and about five dogs.

The dogs are not such a problem, aside from the occasional noise – which doesn’t disturb us much, although it does bother her next-door neighbors – and they are locked in her garden all day. She is out during the day and returns in the evenings.

The problem is the cats. These cats roam the street freely, making a mess in all of our gardens and scaring the kids on a daily basis. They often turn up in someone’s apartment by jumping through the windows.

In short, they are a daily menace. Their owner has a reputation for always being willing to take in an unwanted cat, and therefore people bring strays to her. Each night she also leaves food for them around the garbage bins in the street so that they eat less garbage, but they mainly eat in her house.

We (a few neighbors) badgered the municipality to do something about the problem. They visited her, reprimanded her, told her that she was allowed only two dogs and four cats in her house, but did nothing to follow up.

Furthermore, when people complained to her in the past, her response was, “Well, you have your children and these [cats and dogs] are my children.” This comment left some of these people with the feeling that we are not dealing with someone entirely rational and therefore they have been reluctant to press for a resolution to the problem out of fear for their own kids.

There are medical issues involved: One girl on the block suffered a skin infection for about a month or more, which the doctors said was a result of her proximity to these cats and their mess in her garden. Another neighbor’s daughter has been suffering from an undiagnosed fatigue ailment for the past month and a half; for a while the doctors thought it was due to the cats, and although this was subsequently found not to be the case, they believed that even the smell of cats or cat urine can cause this ailment.

My question is what are we allowed to do.

  1. May I poison the cats by putting poison in my own garden? Do I have to be concerned about tza’ar ba’alei chaim (not to mention potential danger to my own family as a result)?
  2. I also thought of catching them and sending them to a pound, relocating them or even killing them. Is that prohibited since I would be destroying someone else’s possessions?

The question is: What are we allowed to do in such a situation to rid ourselves of these cats?

Answer:

If the woman has not collared the cats, it is likely she does not own them and you may do one of the things you suggested. ((אף אם עשתה מעשה קנין כהגבהה או משיכה מ’מ לא נתכוונה לקנות. וכן חצרה לא קנתה לה אם אינה רוצה לקנות. ))

Even if she does own them, the stray cats have no real market value. No one will pay even a small amount of money for them. Therefore, my rebbi, Horav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, ruled that despite their subjective value to the owner since she cares for them, there is no halachic restriction on stealing or damaging her possessions. You can put out poison for them (which is a gerama and may cause them to die) or even remove them from your yard or from public property and relocate or destroy them.

Damaging someone’s property that is worth less than a peruta is prohibited if it has at least some value that will eventually add up to a peruta. These cats have no value and therefore technically it is permissible to destroy them. ((איסור מזיק הוא משום גניבה כמש”כ הטור בחו”מ שע”ח כשם שאסור לגנוב ולגזול ממון חבירו כך אסור להזיק ממון שלו. וכ”כ רבינו יונה בריש מסכת אבות, וע”ע בלבוש.

ואיסור גניבה הוא אפילו בפחות מש”פ כמש”כ בחו”מ סימן שמ”ח ס”א. ובסמ”ע שם כתב דהוא משום איסור חצי שיעור כמו בחלב ודם. ונראה דעפ”ז חידש מו”ר הרב זנ”ג דבעינן שיהא חזי לאיצטרופי לשיעור כמו בכל איסורי תורה, ולדעתו אין בחתולי הרחוב שיווי דחזי לאיצטרופי לכשיעור.

אלא דיש באחרונים (עיין במחנ”א) דלא בעינן חזי לאיצטרופי, אבל מ”מ נראה דגם הם יודו דבעינן שיהא שוה עכ”פ משהו, (כגון הא דשרי לקחת קיסם בגדר דאינו שוה כלום), והכא לפי סברת מו”ר אינם שווים אפילו משהו. ואע”פ דהם שווים הרבה לאשה בעלת החתולים, מ”מ אם אין להם שווי בשוק, אינם חשיבי ממון. (עיין נתיה”מ ריש סימן קמ”ח ומו”ר כבר כתב לדחות ראיותיו ודבריו.) )) This concept, however, apparently is novel and not universally accepted.

Furthermore, Rav Goldberg’s position can be challenged if one shows that these poor felines have some market value. Perhaps other cat lovers in your neighborhood would be willing to pay for these cats. If so, I would attribute the difference between my Rebbi’s statement and the value of stray cats in your neighborhood to two cultures that place different values on stray cats.

A different approach to this problem might allow you to poison the cats. If an animal wanders onto people’s property and causes damage, its owner is required to restrain it. If he does not, then even people who are susceptible to suffering damage in a recurrent rampage may not destroy the animal; they can only claim their losses and demand that the owner guard his animal better. ((עיין טור ושו”ע חו”מ סימן שצ”ז. והא דשרי התם לשוחטו היינובבהמה כשירה העומדת לשחיטה ושוחטה שחיטה כשירה באופן שלא יפסיד משוויו ששוה השתא. וע”ש בסמ”ע דאע”פ דימנע מבעל הבהמה מעות שיכול להרויח אילו היה מחכה מלשוחטו עד יום השוק, מ”מ איכא תקנה מיוחדת דא”צ לחכות, ושוחטו השתא כדי שלא יזיקנו. ושיטת הרמב”ם היא דאף לפני שהזיק שרי לשוחטו וא”צ להתרותו. אמנם מסמ”ע משמע דבעינן שהזיק עכ”פ פעם אחת, ובעינן שיתרה בבעל הבהמה קודם. ובשו”ת חות יאיר סימן קס”ה מחדש דבעינן שיתרה בפני עדים. ומכל זה מבואר דבבהמה טמאה או בהמה שאינה עומדת לשחיטה כשירה, אסור להורגה ולהפחית מדמיה, שהרי אינו חייב מיתה דאינו אלא מזיק. וכ”ז מבואר גם ממש”כ החו”י סימן קס”ה (הובה בפת”ש חו”מ שצ”ז) דחייב זה שהרג תרנגול חבירו אף שהתרה בבעל העוף שיעשה כן מחמת היזק שעשה לו. )) However, a potential victim may be permitted to place poison on his own property to prevent damage to himself or his property. Since he is not actively harming the animal and is acting on his own property, it is likely that he has not violated any transgression. The animals do not belong on anyone else’s property; if they trespass and eat the poison put out for them, the owner of the animal has only himself to blame. The property owner only indirectly and passively caused damage to someone’s property. Gerama may be permitted in this circumstance. ((מצאתי בשו”ת מהרש”ם ח”ד סימן ק”מ דדן אם שרי לתת סם המות לפני בהמות שרגילים להזיק, ומביא ראיה מסימן שצ”ז דדוקא כשעומד לשחיטה ואינו מפסידו כלל הוא דשרי, הא לא”ה אסור, וכן הביא ראיה מחו”י הנ”ל, אלא דמסכים לשואל דאם שם הסם ברשותו ואינו מזיק בידים דיש להקל אם א”א בע”א. אבל בדאיכא אופן לסלק ההיזק בלי לגרום למותם אין בידו להקל. )) This leniency should only be relied upon if there is no alternative method of protecting oneself from a menacing animal. ((ע”פ מהרש”ם הנ”ל. ))

These cats enter the neighbors’ property, eat the neighbors’ food and frighten children and adults. ((מו”ר דימה הנזק לשכנים כנזק של הציפורים בההיא מעשה דרב יוסף בלא יחפור, וכמו דהתם הם איסטניסים ה”ה הכא אע”פ שאין החתולים מזיקים ממש, מ”מ נוכחותם של החתולים כנזק לאיסטניס. )) I am not convinced that the cats have caused medical problems, but if that can be verified, it would also be considered damage.

Since the cats cause damage to the neighbors, the neighbors are permitted to place poison on their own property with the intention of killing the cats, should they stray again onto their property. The basis for this ruling is that it is likely that the cats are not hers at all, she was warned to watch the animals, the poison is being placed on private property, and no active damage was done to the creatures. ((A dangerous animal that has caused bodily harm can be destroyed immediately. The Shulchan Aruch (C.M. 266:4) rules that a person who finds a dangerous cat does not have to return it to its owner; he may destroy it and keep its skin. Although the animal and its skin belonged to the owner, Chazal made the found animal ownerless so as to allow the finder to kill it and prevent harm to people. I have not used this argument to permit poisoning or otherwise killing the cats since the Shulchan Aruch seems to be referring to a cat that has caused bodily harm. The Gemara discusses a cat that ate a person’s hand. A cat that damages property is still owned by the owner and cannot be killed. ))

I see no problem regarding causing pain to the cats since it is due to a valid concern. ((Tza’ar ba’alei chayim can be understood in at least two ways.

  1. The Torah is concerned with the suffering of animals and demands that we avoid causing other creatures pain. Animals have rights and humans should not infringe on those rights.
  2. Hashem is not concerned with the pain or rights of animals. He is concerned with the development of bad character in people. Indifference to the pain and suffering of animals, birds and possibly even insects can breed cruelty in a person. Hashem proscribes certain cruel acts towards these creatures so that we will not act cruelly to humans.

In my opinion, the first approach is secular while the second approach is the Torah’s perspective. This is not the place to support my thesis, but here I assume the second explanation to be correct.

The Ramo (Even Ha’ezer 5:14) rules that there is no prohibition on causing pain to animals if there is a medical or other need. The Iggros Moshe (Even Ha’ezer 4:92) implies that financial gain is a valid reason, provided that the action is accepted, normal behavior. When the act is done for a valid reason, it has less of a negative effect on the person. If it is not viewed as an act of cruelty but as a way of furthering the cause of humanity, the negative impression left on the person is not substantial. It is then technically permissible. Sometimes the ratio of gain versus pain is not so great and an action may be technically permissible but best to avoid so as not to develop insensitivity to cruelty. The Ramo mentions the example of pulling out feathers from live geese for the sake of better meat. Such behavior is technically permissible but most people avoid doing it since it breeds cruel character.

ז”ל הרמ”א (א”ה ס”ה סי”ד) כל דבר הצריך לרפואה או לשאר דברים לית ביה משום איסור צער בע”ח ולכן מותר למרוט נוצות מאווזות חיות וליכא למיחש משום צער בע”ח ומ”מ העולם נמנעים דהוי אכזריות עכ”ל.

The suffering calves endure when being prepared as white veal is extreme and an uncommon way of raising beef. Rav Moshe (Iggros Moshe Even Ha’ezer 4:92) forbids the process. According to my previous assumption, this is because, since the process is uncommon and obviously cruel, it generates more cruelty in the person than other uses of animals. Saddling a horse or whipping a horse driving a buggy is permitted since it is considered normal domination over animals for the welfare of humankind.

The suffering the cats will endure through poisoning is probably more than they would feel through shechita; nonetheless, since they are a nuisance to the people affected, the people do not have to worry about tza’ar ba’alei chayim, since they have a valid reason to destroy them. This would be true even if the nuisance were only due to the people’s attitude towards cats.

שו”ר בשו”ת מהרש”ם ח”ד סימן ק”מ דדן בענין נתינת סם המות בפני בהמות אם יש בזה משום צעב”ח, והביא מש”כ בנו”ב קמא סימן פ”ג דאין צעב”ח במיתה ודחה דבריו ממש”כ הר”ן חולין יט: בסוגיא דשוחט מהצדדין ומב”ב כ. ומפמ”ג ריש הלכות שחיטה דטעם לסכין פגום משום צעב”ח, וע”כ דאיכא צעב”ח במיתה. ומסיק דאף דשייך בזה צעב”ח הא הוי לצורך ושרי כמש”כ הרמ”א ס”ס ה’ בא”ה, כמשכ”ל. )) These cats are pests in the eyes of some neighbors and the neighbors can do what is necessary to remove the pests from their midst.

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