OCEAN CITY – At Ocean City District Court this week, an Ocean City citizen was found guilty of discharging a fire arm after he allegedly shot and killed a feral kitten.
A litter of feral kittens and their mother had found shelter under the deck of William Cecero’s neighbors, Steve and Nancy Barnaba, setting off a squabble between the Caine Woods residents.
“Out of compassion, we started to feed the cats,” Steve Barnaba said in court on Monday.
After a few months, the Barnabas had grown attached to the litter of kittens, who return to their home regularly for shelter and food.
Cecero approached Steve Barnaba and questioned if he was aware that the cats had found shelter under his deck. Barnaba said they were aware, they had been feeding the cats and were in the process of finding them homes.
Cecero had expressed that he was concerned of the cats defecating on his property and the next morning contacted animal control.
“He didn’t even give us the opportunity to do anything about it,” Steve Barnaba said.
According to Ocean City Animal Control Officer Donald Spence, last September he responded to a complaint made by Cecero. When he arrived at Cecero’s home, Cecero showed Spence a “mess” that a cat had left in his backyard.
Spence stated he had shared with Cercero methods to keep the cats out of his yard, such as moth balls or ammonia, and did not set traps at that time.
Spence spoke with the Barnabas about a trap, neuter, and release (TNR) program that animal control and other feral cat caretakers in the area practice to prevent the population of feral cats in town from enlarging. The Barnabas showed interest in the program and did eventually trap some of the kittens and have them neutered and spayed.
Later animal control returned and set traps on Cecero’s property. According to Steve Barnaba, a week had passed and the traps located on Cecero’s property had not trapped any cats. Barnaba said that in a run in with his neighbor while at the mailbox, Cercero had said to him, “If I would have known it would come to this, I would have taken care of it myself. If I can’t trap them, I am just going to shoot them.”
On Nov. 1, 2010 around 6 p.m. Nancy Barnaba heard a loud gunshot come from her backyard. When she arrived on her back deck, she observed Cecero standing on his deck with a brown paper bag in his hand and one of her kittens lying “motionless” in the neighbor’s yard behind her house.
She said that by the time she reached the kitten Cercero was already there leaning over the cat with the bag still in his hand. Cercero offered to pick up the cat and put it in the bag, and Barnaba responded by saying she will pick it up. A towel was placed over the kitten until police arrived.
“She was dead,” Barnaba said. “Like she was running and just fell over.”
Officer Charles Zukas responded to Barnaba’s call. According to Zukas, the cat had a bullet wound under its right shoulder.
While Zukas was talking to Cecero, he admitted to owning a standard rifle as well as an air rifle. Zukas reported that Cercero had said, “I am an avid hunter, and it was a good shot.”
Defense Attorney Peter Ayers Wimbrow pointed out there was nothing written in the police report that the pellet that shot the cat matched the pellets of Cecero’s air rifle.
Wimbrow questioned the difference in sound of an air rifle and standard rifle when shot.
District Court Judge Patrick R. Hayman replied, “I know a sound of an air gun shot. Whether it’s a Daisy Red Ryder…or one you pump up.”
When Cecero was asked by his defense attorney if he had shot the cat, he replied that he did not.
According to Cecero, he had just returned from vacation and was going about his business of unpacking. He was exiting his house with the brown paper bag to take his trash out when Nancy Barnaba appeared on her deck yelling at him and asked him if he had shot her cat. He was going to put the cat in the brown paper bag to remove it, when Barnaba had told him not to touch it.
Prosecutor Paul Haskell pointed out an air rifle is included in Ocean City’s code concerning discharging a fire arm.
Ocean City’s code states, “It shall be unlawful for any person except a peace officer to fire, set off or discharge any pistol, revolver, rifle, gun or any other firearm or any air rifle or airgun with in the corporate limits of Ocean City, Maryland.”
Wimbrow asserted that there was no evidence that Cecero was holding a gun or where the gun was located at the time of the incident.
Hayman found Cecero guilty of discharging a fire arm. He was not charged with animal cruelty. Cecero has no prior record and was fined $100 plus court costs and received two months of probation.
The Barnabas said they were pleased that Cecero was charged with something but they were disappointed that he was not charged with animal cruelty.
“It’s so sad,” said Nancy McCarthy of Cats about Town, which has assisted the Barnabas with the feral cats. “She [kitten] was so young. So many people let things like this go. If more people would do this, there would be more protection for animals.”