A French court on Tuesday found France‘s national rail operator guilty of negligence after a departing train ran over a cat that had escaped from a traveller’s bag, in an incident that outraged animal rights groups.
The owners of Neko — which means “cat” in Japanese — accused rail staff of cruelty after they refused to delay a high-speed service from Paris to Bordeaux in January after their pet jumped on the tracks.
The death sparked demonstrations and an online petition of more than 100,000 signatures, with Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin declaring himself at the time to be “particularly shocked”.
An animal rights charity filed a legal complaint afterwards against the SNCF national railways for “serious abuse and cruelty leading to the death of an animal”.
That charge allows for a fine of up to 75,000 euros (more than $80,000) and a five-year jail sentence, but a Paris court fined SNCF 1,000 euros for “negligence” on Tuesday, ruling the pet’s killing had been caused “involuntarily”.
The ruling magistrate concluded that there had been “an absence of commitment of the necessary resources to rescue the cat”.
SNCF’s travel agency branch was ordered to pay another 1,000 euros in damages to each of the pet’s two owners.
The verdict went against the recommendation of prosecutors who had called for the SNCF to be cleared of all charges, saying that there had not been a “lack of humanity” from staff.
– ‘Sliced in two’ –
Neko’s owner Georgia and her 15-year-old daughter Melaina saw Neko escape from their travel bag and disappear under the high-speed TGV with 800 passengers on board shortly before departure time.
Georgia said she spent 20 minutes trying to persuade staff at the busy Montparnasse station to rescue Neko.
Once the train had departed, she made a gruesome discovery.
“We saw him sliced in half,” Melaina told animal rights association 30 Million Friends at the time. “They told us it wasn’t their problem, that it was just a cat and that we should have had it on a leash.”
SNCF offered her a free ticket to Bordeaux in compensation.
“We hope that the SNCF will now create clear procedures for decision-making by railway staff in situations like these so that they never again lead to the death of an animal,” the head of animal rights group 30 Million Friends, Reha Hutin, said in a statement.
On social media, some pointed out the cost of delays for passengers and the debt-laden rail company.
“The next person who allows his animal to escape, I hope for them they have a strong stomach and a full bank account to pay the bill for causing the delays,” @RavenV60 wrote on Twitter.
Following Neko’s death, Darmanin announced that police officers in 4,000 stations across the country would be trained to respond to animal trafficking and abuse.