The Cat Case - KOTA Territory News

The Cat Case



Gary Jensen
Beardsley, Jensen and Von Wald

When a person drives through town with fifteen cats in the car, what should be done, if anything – with the cats?   
Last week, the South Dakota Supreme Court ruled in a 3-2 decision that a law enforcement officer acted appropriately when he impounded the fifteen cats without a warrant or court order because of “exigent” circumstances.  The majority pointed to the unsanitary aspects of the situation and the safety risk, stating “Given the open and obvious safety hazard presented by Edwards’s traveling coterie of cats, the investigating officer here was clearly confronted with a situation demanding immediate attention to avoid serious injury and to protect the health, welfare, and safety of citizens.” 

The dissent found no “exigent circumstances,” thus no basis to impound the cats without a warrant or court order.  The dissent said there was no evidence of “an emergency situation where impoundment without a warrant or court order was necessary to protect the well-being of an animal.”  A veterinarian had examined the cats one month earlier and found them in “good health” with no evidence of neglect.  The cats’ owner provided them with food, water, protection, sanitation, and affection.  The cats had been spayed or neutered and received their immunizations.

This decision may get more attention than you think, time will tell.  Some will think it’s important, others may think it was a waste of the court system’s time.  It was very important to owner of the fifteen cats; her rights to her cats were terminated. 

What’s next – how many cats or dogs - are okay?  What about animals riding in the back of a pick-up?  

    If you want to know more of the details, you can read the Court’s 24-page decision in State of South Dakota v. Fifteen Impounded Cats, 2010 SD 50.

E-mail Gary is intended as general information on legal issues affecting us all.  This information should not be relied upon in any particular case and should never be used in lieu of consulting with an attorney.


1.      You see yet another car accident at a spot where there have been many accidents in the past and will be more accidents in the future? 


2.      You learn another person is hurt using a machine that has injured others in the past and will injure others in the future? 


3.      You watch a dangerous practice – like where a school bus parks – you know is a disaster waiting to happen?  


What should you do? 


Try to prevent the next accident, injury, and catastrophe from happening. 


How can you do that? 


Send a letter or email to those responsible – the highway department, the owner and operator of the machine, the school district - putting them on notice of the danger.


Your letter or email will either prompt a "fix" or help the next innocent victim establish liability against those who failed to act.   


Taking a few minutes to write a letter or email can have a huge impact; you can be a difference maker. 

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