Hot Docs: Appeals court upholds conviction for piercing cats

June 23, 2011

kitten piercingsLast week, a Pennsylvania appeals court upheld the animal cruelty conviction of a woman who tried to sell “gothic cats” on eBay.

Some of you may already be familiar with the story: Holly Crawford attempted to turn three kittens “gothic” so that she could sell them for $100 apiece on eBay.

She did this by piercing their ears, the scruffs of their necks, and bobbing the tail of at least one (and attempting to do so to another).

In her appeal, Crawford claimed, in part, that the animal cruelty statute she was convicted under was unconstitutionally vague.

Hot Doc: Commonwealth of Pa. v. Crawford

Source: Thomson Reuters News & Insight – National Litigation

Specifically, Crawford argued that the statute is ambiguous, because it does not give sufficient notice that docking a kitten’s tail and piercing a kitten’s ears are prohibited thereunder.

The appellate court’s response was, in short, “yeah, if you’re an idiot.”

First, as to the kitten ear-piercing, Crawford tried to claim that piercing a kitten’s ears is similar enough to piercing a human child’s ears that it shouldn’t be considered cruel.

However, as any child can tell you, they aren’t the same as a kitten.

According to several veterinarians that testified in the trial court, piercing a kitten’s ears is extremely painful, especially since Crawford used no anesthetic and a needle intended for cattle (and five times thicker than the ones vets use to give kittens injections).

Moreover, even after the piercing is in place, it continues to impair the kitten because of cats’ heavy reliance on their ears for both capturing sound and communicating non-verbally (i.e. changing the position of its ears to attempt to look menacing to other animals).

And, as any cat-owner knows, cats instinctively clean themselves obsessively; they do this to reduce their scent for hunting.

So having piercings both in its ears and in the scruff of its neck would be a constant irritation, which explains why one of Crawford’s kittens eventually pulled one of its ear piercings out, damaging the ear (and Crawford was kind enough to re-pierce the ear).

The piercing at the scruff of the neck is also constantly painful because it makes the kitten feel like it’s being dominated and bitten by another cat (cat-owners may already be aware of the paralyzing effect of holding the scruff of a cat’s neck).

As for the tail-bobbing, which is shortening or completely severing an animal’s tail, Crawford claimed that since it’s okay to do to dogs, it’s okay to do to cats.

Though this argument isn’t as farfetched, the court still held no reasonable person would confuse a cat with a dog.

Furthermore, Crawford’s method of docking was particularly barbaric: she placed a tight rubber band around the kitten’s tail for at least a week to cut off the blood flow and “kill” the tail.

Since a cat’s tail is much more sensitive than a dog’s, this process leaves the kitten in excruciating pain for the entire time the band is on.

Was Crawford’s sentence so bad that she needed to make any appeal she could, even a flimsy one?

Not really: all she got was six months house arrest and another year’s probation after it.

Ironically, she probably would have been better off forgoing the appeal entirely, since it seems to have garnished some high-profile coverage (namely, from the New York Times) that she may never live down.