The Walton County Sheriff's Office is investigating a cat shooting in Freeport after receiving a letter from a national advocacy organization dedicated to felines.
The incident occurred on Aug. 25 when Cyndi Jennings and neighbor Terry Stitt went in search of a missing feral female cat they had been feeding. While searching they were startled by the sound of a gunshot.
"I heard a gun shot and saw a man standing with a rifle of some kind and realized he was going to shoot again," Stitt explained. "I ran toward him and tried to get his attention and he shot again. I yelled at him, 'Sir, did you just shoot a cat?' He said yes and I asked where it went. I walked through some ditch and picked up the bloody cat."
After a shot to the stomach and a second shot to the head, the cat — which was named Momma Cat — was still moving its legs. Stitt said she remembers calling out, "It's still alive" and hearing the man's reply, "Do you want me to finish it off?"
Stitt held the cat, tears running down her face, asking the man why he shot the animal. He reportedly told her that a cat had been spraying and throwing up on his truck as well as using his yard as a litter box. Stitt told the man the cat he shot was a young female and not likely the culprit.
"All he said was, 'Wrong cat,' " she said.
Jennings' boyfriend Mark Crow immediately made a call to the Walton County Sheriff's Office. After arriving on scene, the officer met with Stitt, who was burying the cat. After speaking with both sides, the deputy decided there was no “criminal act” since the neighbor shot a firearm on his own property. The police report states the neighbor "shot the cat in his yard in a safe manner."
"I explained to him about firing a firearm safely on his property and recommended that he not shoot anymore cats for safety reasons," the deputy wrote in his report.
"I told the officer, 'You just gave the guy the OK to shoot any cat in his yard,' " Crow told The Sun.
Stitt then appealed to the media, Alaqua Animal Refuge and other animal welfare organizations.
Alley Cat Allies, a national advocacy organization dedicated to the protection and humane treatment of cats, is investigating the Aug. 25 incident. They believe this was an act of animal cruelty and should be handled as such.
"We want justice and we want this person to be prosecuted," said Becky Robinson, president and co-founder of Alley Cat Allies.
The organization's staff attorney, Elizabeth Holtz, has already sent a letter to the WCSO and the Office of the State Attorney, 1st Judicial Circuit. The Sheriff's Office received the letter and now says the Criminal Investigations Division is investigating the incident.
"Since it is an open investigation I cannot comment until the case is closed," said WCSO Public Information Officer Catherine Rodriguez.
Jennings and Crow have been working to move the colony to a new, safer home in Freeport. While they're rushing to build a cat-proof enclosure, the seven cats they could catch are being temporarily housed at Freeport Pet Clinic.
They have been taking care of the cats since 2009 when Jennings was asked to take care of a dying neighbor's feral cat colony. She agreed noting that the rest of the neighborhood had offered to help pay for spaying and neutering, but when it came time to collect Jennings said she was only given $2.
“They're the unsung heroes," Alley Cat’s Robinson said of people like Jennings, Crow and Stitt.