Saturday, 1 August 2009


I've been contacted by constituents about a horrible incident which led to the death of their cat, Wilbur. More details can be found on here, but basically Wilbur made the mistake of straying over into next door's garden, as cats do. Meanwhile the neighbour had decided to let his 13 foot long python out for a stroll... and Wilbur fell prey to the snake. He was crushed, asphyixiated and consumed whole. The owners had to live in the knowledge for the next week that their beloved pet was slowly being digested inside the snake's stomach. I don't think you have to be a cat person - which I very much am - to find that horrible.

I'm checking out the legal situation but it appears from what the RSPCA and police have told Wilbur's owners that the snake owner did nothing wrong. Have a look at the website, and see what you think. Would you be happy to have one of those loose in one of your neighbour's gardens? If you had young children playing in yours? I'm amazed actually that there aren't tighter rules on owning such pets - or an outright prohibition. As the website shows, there have been incidents around the world of similar-sized snakes killing children or even grown men.

PS I haven't yet responded to Wilbur's owners, as I only saw their email on Friday, but I hope they're happy with me publishing details of this on my blog, so that people are aware of their campaign.


Chris Hutt said...

Don't most cats spend their lives killing small mammals and birds? And do they not kill these animals quite slowly, "playing" with them in the process?

Presumably the premature dispatch of Wilbur will save the lives of hundreds of smaller animals, both wild and those that would have found themselves a constituent of his pet food.

What's more Wilbur's sacrifice will have saved the life of whatever animal was due to have provided a meal for the snake instead.

So on balance it doesn't look like such a terrible scenarion to me.

Anonymous said...

What a reactionary load of tosh, while the owners of the snake may be liable, to ban something because something bad may happen because of it is an excuse for us to be wrapped in cotton wool , unless we have allergys of course..

cowbutt said...

Justice for Wilbur says...

Incredibly, he thought that as it was always fed dead prey it wouldn’t be interested in anything live. We feel so many owners of these lethal ‘pets’ are guilty of the same underestimation of the creatures’ wild instincts.

I imagine there are owners of pet birds and rodents out there who say the same things about cats and their owners. Where do you draw the line?

Seems it's the owner(s) at fault, rather than the animal. Birds, rodents, cats and pythons can all be kept responsibly, or not.

Jockso said...

I have children and I would much rather live with a neighbour who keeps his pet snake in his own yard, than the neighbours I do have who have cats. I find cat owners to be the most ignorant and selfish of all pet owners; if you have a dog and it messes on the street you can be find up to £1,000, but cats regularly crap everywhere except their own back yard and the owners never have to deal with the consequences. Every time I let my kids out in the back garden I have to first check that there is no cat crap/piss in their sandpit, paddling pool, etc.
Cats present a real danger to children through parasites and diseases carried in their faeces, a python in it’s own garden presents none.

Steve said...

Kerry bet wilbur's owner didn't ring the RSPCA when the cat brought a dead bird in to the house or a mouse. It's called nature...and for the people who are plagued with cats crapping in their gardens and killing birds, I have only one question.....Where can I buy a python!

Kerry said...

Chris, don't you have any empathy at all with the cat's owners? I think it's remarkably callous of you to feel able to post something like this when it's obvious the owners are incredibly upset by what happened. I now regret alerting them to the fact that I've blogged about it, as I am sure these responses will just cause them further distress. And cat food only consists of the bits no-one else would eat anyway; that's why you never get bits of pig in catfood, because they're aren't any leftovers - you can eat 'all but the squeak' as they say.

Thomas - I simply don't think snakes should be kept as pets anyway, they're not domestic animals. And would your reaction have been the same if a child had been killed? OK, a compromise could be to impose tighter regulations on owners of such creatures, but I don't think the place for snakes is in tanks in people's spare bedrooms.

And I don't think the comparison between cats stalking birds works either - the birds aren't pets, and a responsible owner would put a bell on the cat's collar anyway so they alert the birds (apart from anything, because it's horrible having to rescue half-dead birds from a cat's jaws).

One of my cats once came home with two vampire-like marks in her side, which we concluded were caused by a neighbour's Jack Russell, which used to occasionaly come in through our cat flap. At the time we were living somewhere with little or no boundaries between the back gardens, so we accepted this as inevitable, 'though annoying. Big difference between that and having a 13 foot python come in through the cat flap!

Bristol Dave said...

I can't understand why anyone would want to keep a massive snake as a pet, but maybe that's because I'm terrified of them.

That said, we can't ignore the other side of the argument, which is arrogant cat owners believing their pet has a god-given right to roam (and I'd point out, shit) where ever it pleases. Coming across one too many "gifts" left in my back garden has rendered me definitely not a cat person.

Ben said...

Would your reaction have been different if their cat had been killed by their neighbour's dog?

That pythons are dangerous to people is totally irrelevant assuming the animal was safely contained and all reasonable measures were taken to prevent people from wandering into the garden.

Chris Hutt said...

What about empathy for all the wild animals callously slaughtered by cats? What about empathy for the farmed animals processed into pet food or the millions malnourished in Africa because we prefer our fat cats to foreign aid?

Cats and snakes are both predatory animals, although snakes eat less often because they are cold blooded (like me?) so are arguably the less predatory and far less of a threat to wildlife, per capita as it were, than cats.

Beesides the number of cats killed by snakes can hardly be compared with the number killed or maimed by cars so I think this proposed action against snakes is ridiculously misguided.

As for empathy for Wilbur's family, I know how it feels but these things happen and they should try and keep it in proportion.

Peter Black said...

It is one thing for a cat to take its chances with indigenous animals but it is unreasonable to expect it to have to contend with an exotic creature that is not native to this country. Yes acts prey on smaller creatures but that is their nature. They also have to contend with animals that might attack them but that is life. Nobody should expect them to have to deal with a snake.

The snake is an exotic creature and its owners have been irresponsible in allowing it to roam freely, not withstanding the harm that could come to it. In my view the RSPCA should have taken action against them.

Kerry said...

Blimey, there are some real anti-cat people out there!

Yes, it would be different if it was a dog - see my earlier comment. My mother has foxes in her garden - she saw her cat the other day swiping one round the nose. If the fox got the cat, then it would of course be sad, but it would be "one of those things".

I would question whether such a huge snake really could be 'safely confined' in its own garden.

The pet food argument I've dealt with.

Not sure what can be done about cats wandering into other people's gardens. I accept it's a problem, but separate I think from the snake issue - I still think you'd rather have a cat in your sandpit than a 13 foot python, wouldn't you?

Chris, again your analogies are a bit dodgy. Cats get killed by cars all the time - yes, it's happened to a couple of mine. That's something you accept as a cat owner, and you try to train the cat not to go out on the road. I think the snake scenario is entirely different, not least because children - and even adults - could be at risk. Yes, they could be at risk from cars but we as a society have made that deal, haven't we - we know cars kill, but we believe the benefits outweight the negatives and thus allow car ownership whilst taking all the steps we can to minimise deaths (e.g. banning drink driving, speed limits, etc). I know you are now going to say that you don't subscribe to this 'deal' but I think you'd accept that the majority of people do.

How would those people who use the cats torturing birds and mice argument respond if it was a bunch of kids who'd tied fireworks to a cat's tail? Would that be OK because cats are also torturers? Just wondered.

cowbutt said...

Kerry said...

we as a society have made that deal, haven't we - we know cars kill, but we believe the benefits outweight the negatives and thus allow car ownership whilst taking all the steps we can to minimise deaths (e.g. banning drink driving, speed limits, etc). I know you are now going to say that you don't subscribe to this 'deal' but I think you'd accept that the majority of people do.

Actually, replace 'cars' with 'dogs' and you've got an interesting argument. I expect that pet dogs cause more deaths and injury than cats and pythons put together (both in absolute numbers, and by rate, and even if you only count human deaths and injuries for dogs), and yet society tolerates (even encourages) responsible dog ownership and no politician would dream of legislating against such (if only for cynical reasons of not alienating significant numbers of their potential supporters!) Of course, certain breeds of dogs are legislated as 'dangerous breeds' but that's more targeted at the owners (as irresponsible owners tend to be drawn to certain 'hard' breeds).

Now there may well be very good reasons to legislate against the ownership of snakes and other predatory animals (either selective breeds, or altogether), but with respect to Wilbur's owners, I don't feel this story isn't one of those reasons.

Incidentally, I can't really understand people wanting pet snakes - I'd rather keep a cat. I live near a main road, though, and I couldn't bear to keep one as a housecat, but don't want to deal with the likelihood it'll get killed in traffic.

Remember Remember said...

So some MPs are holidaying in the swamps of the Everglades. The scare will be over by the end of summer.

Chris Newman said...

I simply cannot comprehend why cat owners believe it is acceptable, or indeed responsible, to simply allow their animals to roam freely – why? In fact is it legal for cat owners to allow there charge to roam free today in view of the UK non-native species policy!

This is a sad and tragic accident, but it’s entirely down to the owners of the cat. It would have been an entirely different matter is the snake had entered their property, but it didn’t. So the only people to blame are the owners of the cat – end of story.

The Boiling Frog said...

@Peter Black: It is one thing for a cat to take its chances with indigenous animals but it is unreasonable to expect it to have to contend with an exotic creature that is not native to this country.

...and since when have domestic cats been native to this country?

Chris Hutt said...

Kerry, first off I'm not a cat hater. In fact I'm quite fond of them and have had pet cats. Other people may prefer dogs or pythons as pets. Within reason that is their choice and their right ot keep such pets.

All those pets pose dangers of one sort or another to other animals and sometimes people. It is incumbent on the pet owner to take reasonable steps to minimise those dangers, although it seems that few cat owners bother.

As you expected I don't agree that we all accept the implicit "deal" with the car. We have no choice but to harassed and intimidated by them and to be at risk of death or injury on a daily basis. By comparison the risk to cats or humans from snakes is statistically non-existent.

Chris Hutt said...

One more thing, your point about kids toturing a cat. Of course that would not be acceptable because it is not considered acceptable behaviour by children, irrespective of whether the cat was just getting a taste of its own medicine.

The python was just doing what comes naturally to pythons. Who knows, perhaps it was provoked by the cat into attacking. In any event it's so rare an occurence that everyone involved needs to put it behind them and move on.

Chris Newman said...

Domesticated cats are not native to this country, so why is it acceptable for them to be kept and not pythons! The python was within the boundary of its owner’s property; the cat has no lawful business enter the property. If the owner of the cat was a responsible owner and keep his pet within the boundary of its own property then this tragedy would never have happened.

Bristol Dave said...

and you try to train the cat not to go out on the road.

But not, say, not to go and shit in other peoples gardens? Interesting.

My girlfriend wants a cat, and it's an endless source of tension at the moment as I can't stand them (but I love dogs). I expect she would just let it roam freely as well, shitting in other people's gardens, but then the alternative is a litter tray stinking your house out! Not to mention that the cats are only with you because they haven't found anywhere better yet, and that their favourite way of showing affection is to stand on your lap with their back to you and shove their puckered "dishcloth holder" arsehole into your face. *Shudder* Plus, when was the last time you saw an A4 printed sign advertising a "Lost Dog"? (Newsflash, cat family: It's been living with the old lady down the road for the past week because she feeds it better food than you do)

Kerry said...

I expect what could be politely called a fairly eclectic bunch of comments on any post on this blog, but I have to say this response has amazed me. Yes, I accept there's an issue about cats roaming, although it seems to me it's been rather exaggerated - and I don't think it's something that can, or indeed, should be stopped. The issue with the python surely is that it may have been in its own backyard on this occasion - but as one of the press reports make clear, they're escape artists. Would you be comfortable having one next door? (And I'm not remotely scared of snakes, I've handled fairly large ones - this is a entirely rational response!)

As for what you can and can't train cats to do - whenever I've had cats they've gone into other people's gardens and other cats have come into mine. I don't see how you can stop a cat from doing so unless you building Alcatraz like walls, whereas it's quite easy to shoo them back inside if they try to stick their head out of the front door. And dogs roam too, given half a chance - which they shouldn't be because they don't have the common sense of cats and will no doubt do something very stupid like run into the middle of the road and start barking at cars.

Can I just get one thing clear - this post isn't so much about the fate of Wilbur, although I would have hoped that at least some of you fight have found it rather distressing. Let's pretend for a moment we're in the Florida scenario, when it was a two year old. Or that you're the parent of a two year old living next door. How would you feel then?

Ben Furber said...

What is with all you people hating cats! Cats are lovely. I don't know a more lovely animal (after penguins of course, can't beat penguins).

This video basically proves how lovely cats are.

cowbutt said...

Kerry said...

Let's pretend for a moment we're in the Florida scenario, when it was a two year old. Or that you're the parent of a two year old living next door. How would you feel then?

Kids and venomous or large predatory snakes in the same household (as in the Florida case, where the snake belonged to the mother's boyfriend) are incompatible. On that basis, no snakes, or no kids, or the relationship ends.

As far as being concerned about living next door to the owner of a large predatory snake, if I had a small child, I'd probably be more concerned about living next door to a dog (even a small one) which is a much more likely scenario. But then, my career is founded upon risk analysis, and lots of people aren't experienced with rationally examining risks (see also being more concerned about being blown up by a terrorist, than crossing the road, or drinking in a town centre late at night).

Your mate Tony wrote about risk in 2005:

"In my view, we are in danger of having a wholly disproportionate attitude to the risks we should expect to run as a normal part of life."

Black Bear said...

Snakes belong in jungles not in houses! I think it is extremely cruel to keep pythons as pets for our own amusement.
I would be alarmed to find there was an unattended snake in the garden next door that had the power to kill my children. I do get annoyed by the cat poo in my garden but however offensive it is not going to rise up and crush my child to death.

Chris Newman said...

Today reptiles are hugely popular as pets, there are in fact more reptiles keep as pets than there are dogs. In terms of pythons there are tens of thousands keep and there has never been a single death or serious to a member of the public. Compare this to dogs, over 60,000 people are treated each year in hospital, 1,000 of these are serious injuries and on average 100 people are permanently disfigured. Sadly between 3-7 people die each year, the majority of these are children. Statistically reptiles are the second safest pet, fish being the first.

Pythons and boas will not be added to the Dangerous Wild Animals Act, this has been considered and rejected on four separate occasions. The current review of the Act is not as is misleadingly claimed weakening the Act, it is indeed strengthening the Act.

Black Bear said...

As a child I kept lizards and snakes but have grown up to realise the cruelty of keeping such animals captive.

Reptiles and fish maybe the safest pets to keep, unless you happen to be swallowed whole by a python. However if you have Cystic Fibrosis the bacteria on reptiles skin and in the water of fish tanks can lead to serious chest infections shortening your life.

Kerry said...

Thanks, didn't know that - my niece has CF, useful info.

timbone said...

I can't actually read the website because the cat pictures double up and cover the writing.

Fenris said...

I feel sorry for the owners of both animals. I just hope that this won't lead to more knee-jerk legislation along the lines of the dreadful Dangerous Dogs Act or the Animal Welfare Act 2006, both of which have caused far more injustice and animal suffering than they have cured.

The owners of the snake haven't committed any criminal offence. The snake was in their own garden. While there it did what snakes do, exercising its rights to the five freedoms no doubt!

The cat was also exercising its right to the five freedoms, but along with those freedoms come risks to animals that are away from the protection of man. The risks of predation. Wild animals rarely die of old age.

Poor cat could have been killed by a dog, or a fox or even a car.

Would the cat have been happier if it had been caged in the house all of its life? Or was it better for enjoying the freedom to roam and no doubt catch it own prey from time to time.

What if the people the other side of the cat's owners had wanted to keep mice and let them roam their garden?

Some people are pointing at the dangers of keeping the snake. But are those dangers so very unacceptable? Herds of cattle have killed and injured people and their dogs recently. Should we ban people from walking in the countryside either alone or with their dogs? Should we ban farmers from keeping animals in fields that have footpaths through them or are in areas where right to roam is in operation?

Even if the owners of the cat took civil legal action what loss could they claim? The value of the cat?

And before someone suggests that as animals are part of our families they should have extra added emotional value in such claims, remember that this would inevitably make animal keeping so expensive that few would be able to afford to keep a pet.

Just think how much more it would cost to go to the vet, to board a dog or cat etc if the insurance costs had risen to cover huge claims.

And of course instead of an operation attended just by the vet and his nurse you would need something on the scale of a human hospital before the insurance companies would even think of covering the veterinary practice.

All more expense.

As they say, hard cases are likely to make bad law.