Burton on the Bay:

Truth Is Weirder Than Fiction --The Strange Case of Wicomico County's Babe

And were judges of facts, though not judges of law. -Sir William Pulteney, Earl of Bath


When the titled Englishman wrote the above in The Honest Jury in 1711, he was referring to a dozen jurors, but methinks it's more appropriate for Wicomico County District Court where a judge has displayed a curious sense of legal reasoning.

But, then, we've also got a Texan mixed up in all of this, and we know Texans, like Eastern Shoremen, prefer to be considered different.

It doesn't take the wisdom of Solomon; just facts as suggested by the nobleman Pulteney to figure out what's what in the case of Babe, almost done in Aug. 3. Only by a miracle is she still alive.

Babe is a 10-month-old tabby cat who has become the darling of feline fanciers in the Salisbury area. She's a living example that cats have more than one life. She's also the center of a storm centered around this ridiculous question:

Does shooting an animal with intent to kill - not torture - constitute animal cruelty under the law?

Yes, you read that right. Does the intent to kill Babe - not torture her - absolve John Drendall, 47, of Houston, Tex., of cruelty to animal charges?

Too bad Babe can't testify. Or that you can't testify, or that I can't testify. What ever happened to plain old reasonable thinking?


Be there a will and wisdom finds a way. -George Crabbe

Hopefully, Crabbe was right. There's a lot of will going for Babe, though one wonders where the wisdom is.

The Bible asks where shall wisdom be found, and where is the place of understanding? We'll be watching District Court in Salisbury: maybe in the end, it will be found there.

A recent issue of the Washington Post covered the "Ballad of Babe," the story of a cat in the wrong place at the wrong time. She should have been home, but let's face it, sometimes cats - especially young cats - like to prowl about.

Sometimes owners allow them to do so; other times, they escape for their forays. Regardless, Babe didn't deserve a shot to the head. Here's the story as it comes to light in a saga headlined down Salisbury way as "Men Ambush Hapless Kitty."


Mistake Number One

John Drendall and his brother Michael were cleaning up their elderly parents' home and yard where they said almost a dozen "unrestrained" cats frequently hung around - and left footprints on their cars and feces in the garden.

According to their attorney, they planned to lure the strays into the garage - and what cat can resist canned tuna? - then shove them into a beer cooler and release them a few miles away.

Don't they have an SPCA or dog (and cat) catcher in Wicomico County? That's where Babe and the other cats should have been taken.

Cruelty is what comes to mind about transplanting cats miles from home. All the heartwarming stories to the contrary, not all cats find their way home from distant environs.

Instead, they become strays, often can't make it on their own and endure suffering and death in some way or another - a cruel solution indeed. Also, does not such a solution only just move a problem from one place to another - someone else's car with footprints or someone else's garden with feces?


Mistake Number Two

The Drendalls managed to get one cat in the cooler, but Babe wanted no part of confinement. Not about to be taken prisoner so easily, she drew blood when she scratched John Drendall on the hand. For John, Mistake Number Two.

Now anyone who has ever seen someone try to handle a frightened and angry cat can picture the scene. The Drendalls' attorney Kenneth Gaudreau said when John let her go "the cat started spinning around. It didn't leave, it didn't run. He didn't know if it was going to jump on him again."

Come on, a big Texan, afraid of a 10-month-old pussy cat? Did Babe represent Gen. Santa Anna and his thousands of Mexican troops storming the Alamo?

What would Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie have thought about what the frightened latter-day Texan John Drendall did next, according to court proceedings?

He grabbed his father's bolt action .22 caliber rifle and shot obviously equally frightened Babe, shot her in the head. When she dropped to the ground, the would-be executioner summoned enough courage to put her body in a sack and left her for dead.


Mistake Number Three

I guess he didn't realize that cats have more than one life - or that Babe's owner was witnessing the goings on. Mistake Number Three.

When the owner appeared on the scene with police, what did a bloodied Babe do but walk out of the bag? Needless to say, all were surprised.

The bullet had passed between the ear and the base of the skull, said veterinarian Richard Long. Babe would have used up all of her nine lives at once had it been another quarter of an inch either way.

Babe's owners cannot be reached because they have moved.

In any event, both Drendalls were charged with animal cruelty, though charges were later dropped against Michael because he didn't participate in the actual shooting.


Mistake Number Four

Police said both men were drinking when officers arrived. Mistake Number Four.

Authorities don't go along with the self-defense claim of John Drendall, thus the charges.

Assistant State's Attorney Paul Montemure is quoted as saying "This 200-plus-pound man claimed he was afraid of the cat. He was scared for himself and his elderly parents."

So much for the courage and image of gun-toting Texans.


The Letter of the Law

Time now for the wisdom of the court. Forget about the letter of the law, if in fact it has a legitimate role in the ultimate decision.

The Post quotes the Daily Times as quoting Judge Scott Davis: "If the animal was a snarling Rottweiler and had the defendant cornered, I don't know what the [prosecution's] position would be."

The case will be decided after the judge has opportunity to seek advice from lawyers concerning whether shooting an animal with the intent to kill - not torture - constitutes animal cruelty.

Personally, I'm beginning to think this episode should more appropriately be covered in Chuck Shepherd's "News of the Weird" column that appears regularly in this publication, and which is the first thing I turn to each week in NBT.

I also consider some appropriate words of Sophocles concerning such precise word-of-the law interpretations and legalities.

There is no happiness [for Babe and cat fanciers] where there is no wisdom.

Or Reason is God's crowning gift to man. And don't link Davy Crockett to all this; he wasn't a Texan. Enough said.

| Back to Archives |

Volume VI Number 2
January 15-21 1998
New Bay Times
| Current Issue |