Should You Go To Jail For Kicking A Cat?

The video lasts all of 12 seconds: A stray cat — after being lured by a young man’s outstretched hand — is suddenly and violently kicked, its body propelled through the air, clearing a small fence and landing about 20 feet away, to a chorus of cackling laughter.

The man, Andre Robinson, was soon arrested.

Had it been a person he kicked, Mr. Robinson, 22, most likely would have received a quick plea bargain requiring no jail time — if, that is, he had even been arrested.

But now, every time Mr. Robinson has appeared in court in Brooklyn, animal-rights activists have surrounded him, attending his hearings and calling for a jail sentence. He has not even received a plea offer from prosecutors, which is extremely rare in misdemeanor cases.

Mr. Robinson, who has pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor animal cruelty charge, has admitted to the police that he kicked the cat at the Brevoort Houses in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, where he lives, and then posted a video of the kick on Facebook. He has not explained why he kicked the cat.

Motive aside, Mr. Robinson has unwittingly placed himself at the center of an impassioned, growing debate.

On one side are the activists. Once dismissed as cat ladies or fringe do-gooders, they have come to wield real power through funding, organization and a focus on legal remedies for animal abuse. They have embraced social-media campaigns; offered rewards to potential witnesses to animal abuse; trained prosecutors; and made inroads in pushing law enforcement across the country to arrest, and seek jail time for, animal abusers.

Yet lawyers defending the accused say that punishment can seem disproportionate to the crime when an animal is the victim. They say that putting people in jail can have serious long-term effects, from starting or strengthening gang affiliations, to taking someone away from school or a job to which they may not return.

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