The high court of South Dakota yesterday announced its verdict in the case known as South Dakota vs. Fifteen Impounded Cats.

This is one of those yeah-I-sorta-get-it-but-not-really situations. The facts of the case are as follows:

At approximately 11:15 p.m. on August 13, 2009, a police officer for the City of Pierre, South Dakota was dispatched to a local convenience store to respond to a complaint about a car parked in the parking lot occupied by a woman and a large number of cats. The officer proceeded to the parking lot and pulled up behind the car as its driver began to back out of the vehicle’s parking space, nearly backing into the patrol car. At that point, the officer observed that the view out of the back window of the other car was obstructed by numerous cats climbing on the seat backs and rear dashboard inside the vehicle. The officer approached the driver of the other vehicle and identified her as Edwards.

Edwards provided the officer with some information about having traveled from Texas, into South Dakota, through Pierre, and to Huron. Edwards further indicated that she was traveling back through Pierre on her way to Billings, Montana, and eventually back to Texas. Edwards stated that she had fifteen cats, that she had been living out of her car for several days and that she did not have any money.

In addition to the cats, the officer could see that Edwards’s vehicle was crammed full of personal belongings and clutter stacked on both the front passenger seat and all across the rear passenger area. The clutter allowed the cats to roam freely through the vehicle at a level or height that interfered with the driver’s visibility and limited her ability to safely operate and control the vehicle. The officer’s further inspection of Edwards’s car revealed that it did not contain any kennels or carriers suitable for safely transporting the cats, that there was only one litter box in the vehicle, and that the litter box needed to be cleaned out. There was also a strong pet odor emanating from the vehicle.

Let’s see. We have driving blind, arguable lack of inhibition, loads of exposure to cats, and an apparent absence of aversion to the smell of cat urine. Just sayin’. I wonder whether those Toxo scientists ever considered the possibility that some number of driving accidents suffered by Toxo infected humans were in fact the result of driving while under a pile of actual cats.

Although Edwards indicated that the cats were all spayed and neutered, she further stated that the cats had destroyed those treatment records.

Edwards then went on to describe how a dog had in fact eaten her homework.

Okay, if I were a police officer and a lady with fifteen cats milling about her vehicle nearly backed into my squad car while pulling out of a parking space, I’d be a little concerned for public safety myself, particularly if I’d recently been talking to Professor Robert Sapolsky.

And seriously, legitimate complaints over crappy precedent aside, South Dakota law enforcement should have some mechanism for dealing with a catmobile.

I do have some trouble with the argument that the occasion merited the impounding of these cats due to “exigent circumstances” surrounding their care. While I think being stuck on an interstate road trip with a crazy cat lady is an animal welfare issue for real, it should perhaps fail to entitle an agent of the state to summarily impound her animals without a warrant being issued.

Justices Glen A. Severson and Judith K. Meierhenry dissented, arguing that the majority misconstrued a law meant to prevent animal cruelty by turning “exigent circumstances” into a phrase that could apply to nearly anything. According to Stevenson,

The state provides no authority for the notion that animals traveling in a vehicle must be confined to kennels. It strains credibility to conclude that the facts of this case constitute the type of emergency situation requiring an officer to act quickly to impound animals without a warrant or court order in order to protect the animals.


Despite the State’s avowed concerns regarding Ms. Edwards’s ability to operate her vehicle amid her fifteen cats, the State did not cite her with a traffic violation. The claims of ‘exigent circumstances’ and inhumane treatment are a pretext. If safe operation of the vehicle was the concern, the police should have addressed that issue and not exposed the taxpayers to the cost of caring for animals wrongfully seized from Ms. Edwards.

Like I said, I get the point, but kinda not. Seems to me the circumstances warranted removing the cats to a secure location. Yes, right then and there. No matter how you slice it, driving under a pile of cats is unsafe at any speed.

© Ruth Crisler and Spot Check, 2010.