The following report was prepared by Possum Network's legal
correspondent Ruth C. Smith:
Unequal Justice: Judicial Discrimination Against the Possum
Courts are consistent in finding that dogs, cats, horses, and other animals should
enjoy legal protection from abuse and neglect. Justice officials cry in outrage when
stories of abused pets are revealed. But possum abuse has invoked only a mediocre response
from the courts. In fact, a double standard of justice exists where possum abuse is
The possum's plight dates back to English common law. At common law, animals were
considered to be the absolute property of their owners and had no legal right on their
own. However, this attitude began to change around the turn of the century; and today,
virtually every US jurisdiction criminalizes animal cruelty. (See Charles Friend, Animal
Cruelty Laws: The Case for Reform, 8 U. Rich. L. Rev. 201 (1974).)
But unfortunately, not all animal cruelty statutes protect possums. A few states,
including West Virginia, limit abuse protection to domestic and "useful"
animals. Unfortunately, the possum is not included in this category. Id.
Probably the most infamous example of the judicial system's disdain for possums is the
Steven Garity case. On March 31, 1994, in the sleepy town of Tumwater, Washington; a
mother possum and her seven babies were attempting to cross a highway. Garity spotted the
possum family and swerved into their lane to run them down. All eight possums died as a
result of Garity's actions. Garity's justification for his act was, "(Possums) are
pests. All they do is eat dog food and cat food. They just hiss at you."
Although Garity was charged for the possum-cide, District Judge C. L. Stilz later
dismissed all charges against Garity. ( See David Foster, Possum Death Stirs Debate Over
Cruelty, L.A. Times, July 10, 1994.)
It is evident that possums do not enjoy the same legal rights of protection from animal
abuse as other animals. Unfortunately for the possum, courts are slow to change.