Casper Is Run Down and Killed by a Hit-and-Run Taxi Driver while Crossing the Street in Order to Get to the Bus Stop
"We think he's about twelve-years-old but he has no road sense whatsoever. He just runs across the road to the bus stop."
-- Susan Finden
The absolute worst that could ever have happened has occurred and Casper is dead. The beloved twelve-year-old tuxedo from the Barne Barton section of St. Budeaux in Plymouth was struck and killed by a hit-and-run taxi driver early on January 14th.
Famous around the world for taking unescorted tours around Plymouth aboard First Devon and Cornwall's number three bus, Casper was killed as he attempted to cross Poole Park Road near his home in order to get to the bus stop on the other side. He reportedly had been making the one-hour, eleven-mile trip around Plymouth for the past four years. Altogether, it is estimated that he traveled twenty-thousand miles with the company. (See photo above.)
Not surprisingly, he was a big favorite with the drivers as well as management of First Bus. "He usually just curls up at the back of the bus," driver Rob Stonehouse related last year. "Sometimes he nips between people's legs but he never causes any trouble." (See Cat Defender post of August 27, 2009 entitled "Casper Treats Himself to an Unescorted Tour Around Plymouth Courtesy of the Number Three Bus.")
Casper's guardian, sixty-five-year-old care worker Susan Finden, has been left devastated by his death. "I never dreamt I'd miss an animal as much as I miss him," she told The Herald of Plymouth on January 17th. (See "Celebrity Cat Killed in Hit-and-Run.") "He was lovely and loved people so much. He was such a different character." (See photo below of her and Casper with Stonehouse.)
Although there is not any reason to doubt her sincerity, she apparently did not think enough of the moggy that she adopted from a shelter in 2002 to provide him with either a memorial service or a proper burial. Instead she took the cheap and easy route and had his remains cremated. It is not known if she even retained his ashes as a memento.
She did, however, post the following notice at the fatal bus stop: "Many local people knew Casper, who loved everyone. He also enjoyed the bus journeys. Sadly, a motorist hit him...and did not stop. Casper died from his injuries. He will be greatly missed...He was a much loved pet who had so much character. Thank you to all those who befriended him."
Tributes from as far away as Argentina, Australia, and Indonesia attest to his popularity and he is scheduled to be featured in a children's television show later this year. New York publisher Simon and Schuster has lined up an unidentified Scottish author to pen a book about him that is expected to be released in the fall.
"It's lovely to think he will go on in memories and with this book his story will live on forever," Finden told the Daily Mail on January 28th. (See "Casper the Commuting Cat to Be Immortalized in New Children's Book after Hit-and-Run Death.") "I can't wait to see it and, at the end of it all, the money (which she is donating to animal charities) will help other unfortunate creatures..."
The fact that Casper survived for as long as he did in the mean streets of Plymouth in attributable in no small part to the consideration and care that he was afforded by Stonehouse and other drivers of the number three bus who dropped him off at his house at the conclusion of each trip. "We were devastated to hear that Casper had been involved in an accident...," Marc Reddy of First Bus stated on the company's web site. (See "A Tribute to Casper the Cat.") "On hearing the news of his death, many of the drivers expressed sympathy for him and Susan, and we contacted her to offer our collective condolences."
Although he is now gone, posters bearing his likeness will continue to adorn the sides of First Bus's fleet for some time to come. (See bottom photo.)
"Casper touched many people's lives and clearly had a very exciting life traveling around Plymouth and who knows where else," Reddy continued. "I suspect he's now exploring heaven and is telling all the other cats up there about the many adventures he had."
While many individuals will sans doute find Reddy's perfunctory silliness about the immortality of the soul to be comforting, the stubborn fact remains that this beautiful cat would still be alive and well today if Finden had exercised one iota of either care or intelligence. As any fool knows, commercial streets are far too dangerous for even pedestrians let alone cats.
In most jurisdictions, derelict police forces do absolutely nothing to enforce the rules of the road. As a consequence, speeders, aggressive drivers, red light violators, drunks, and mobile phone gasbags rule the roost and woe be it to any person or animal who happens to cross their path.
"If he'd been ill we might have prepared for it but it hasn't helped us that the driver didn't stop. We couldn't believe it!" Finden told The Herald in the article cited supra.
That, however, is a far different tune from the one that she was singing six months earlier. "We think he's about twelve-years-old but he has no road sense whatsoever," she confessed to The Herald on July 29th. (See "Cat Rides Bus So Often It Gets Picture on Side.") "He just runs across the road to the bus stop."
Clearly, she knew all along that she was playing Russian roulette with his life by allowing him to venture out into traffic. Instead she placed her trust in the drivers to keep him out of harm's way.
"I'm really appreciative to all the drivers for making sure he gets home safely," she told The Herald in the July 29th article. "I'd hate to lose him."
While Casper no doubt was safe enough when he was aboard the coaches, all of that changed the moment he disembarked and was totally nonexistent when he was crossing Park Poole Road in order to reach the bus stop. At such times he was at the mercy of Plymouth's Demolition Derby motorists.
A far safer alternative would have been for Finden to either have put him in a carrier or on a leash and accompanied him on these trips. At the very least, she should have carried him across the street and put him on the bus. Likewise, she should have been waiting at the stop to collect him one hour later when he returned.
After all, it apparently was from watching her that he learned to take the bus in the first place. "I used to catch the odd bus, too, so maybe he saw me and got curious what I was doing," she acknowledged in an interview conducted last summer.
With his death, Casper thus joins an ever-growing list of famous felines that have been killed by hit-and-run motorists. Most prominently, there was Fred the undercover cat whom Assistant Brooklyn District Attorney Carol Moran carelessly allowed to get killed outside her Howard Beach home on August 10, 2006. (See Cat Defender posts of August 17, 2006 and February 14, 2006 entitled, respectively, "Brave Little Fred the Undercover Cat Has His Short, Tragic Life Snuffed Out by a Hit-and-Run Driver in Queens" and "Special Agent Fred the Cat Goes Undercover to Help Nab a Quack Vet in Brooklyn Sting Operation.")
On February 15, 2009, Eco, head mouser and mascot at the police department in Hamilton, Massachusetts, was struck and killed by a motorist. Even more disgraceful, this was the second time that he had been hit by one.
To their credit, however, the officers provided him with a memorial service and a proper burial. (See Cat Defender post of March 18, 2009 entitled "Eco, Who for Years Was a Mainstay at Small Massachusetts Police Department, Is Run Down and Killed by a Motorist.")
In the wake of Casper's tragic death there is increased concern regarding the well-being of several other free-spirited English cats who are allowed to come and go as they please by their owners. Most notably, there is a white cat named Macavity who has been taking the number three-hundred-thirty bus that operates between Walsall and Wolverhampton in the West Midlands since at least 2007. (See Cat Defender post of April 19, 2007 entitled "Bus-Riding Macavity Earns High Praise from His Fellow Commuters for Being the Perfect Passenger.")
Then there is Leila Abbou's cat, Milo, from Southam in Warwickshire who visits the vet, library, taxi stand, and Building Society by herself. She even has been known to hitch rides on the tops of strangers' cars. (See Cat Defender post of December 5, 2006 entitled "Milo, Who Visits the Vet by Her Lonesome, Is Named Old Blighty's Most Adventurous Cat.")
Lastly, there is Percy who for the past four years has been taking the North Bay Railway from Peasholm Park to the Sea Life and Marine Sanctuary in the Scalby Mills section of Scarborough in North Yorkshire. (See Cat Defender post of November 14, 2009 entitled "Percy Takes the Train All by Himself in Order to Visit the Penguins at an Aquarium in Scarborough.")
Although there are not any intermediate stops along his 1.2 kilometer commute and the train that he rides is a miniature model that has been in service since the early 1930s, it is believed that he nevertheless still has to cross Burniston Road in order to get to the misnomered Peasholm Railway Station which actually is located in Northstead Manor Gardens. His fragile life is therefore every bit as much at risk as Casper's was in Plymouth.
Life in the street in every bit as perilous for unescorted dogs as it is for cats. For example, Gary Kay of Dunnington allows his terrier, Ratty, to travel fifteen miles by bus into York so that he can enjoy a platter of bangers at a pub. (See Cat Defender post of November 20, 2006 entitled "Ratty's Taste for Bangers Coupled with His Owner's Negligence Places Terrier's Life in Grave Jeopardy.")
Cats are certainly entitled to their freedom but that does not include turning them loose on mixed residential and commercial boulevards, such as Poole Park Road, that teem with buses, taxis, lorries, and passenger cars. Exclusively residential areas that do not permit through traffic and culs-de-sac are however, in most instances, safe for cats.
It is heartbreaking that Casper is dead and this sense of loss is compounded by the realization that he need not have died if proper safety measures had been put in place. Although it was the criminal conduct of the taxi driver that ultimately was responsible for his death, Finden actually signed his death warrant years ago through her gross negligence.
First Bus cannot be let off the hook either. Because its drivers allowed him to ride and management even went so far as to capitalize on his notoriety, the company acted every bit as irresponsibly as Finden.
The first time that any of the fleet's drivers spotted Casper in the street they should have telephoned the RSPCA or some other bona fide animal rights group. Finden should have been warned to either keep Casper out of traffic or face the prospect of losing him to a more responsible guardian.
Even without the filing of an official complaint, the RSPCA should have acted independently since it obviously knew what was occurring simply by reading press reports. It accordingly owes the public an explanation for its dereliction of duty.
Finally, the English media also are complicit in his death for failing to sound an alarm that Casper's life was in jeopardy. While his exploits made for cute copy and some great photography, there definitely was not anything either cute or pretty about the way in which he died.
Because of the exalted positions that they occupy in society's pecking order, the members of the working press all too often consider themselves to be exempt from all moral obligations and this is terribly wrong. At the very least, the English media should have had the decency to have cared about Casper's safety.
The unsettling picture that emerges from all of this is that Finden, First Bus, the RSPCA, and English media cared little or nothing about Casper's welfare. Instead they merely took advantage of his ignorance of the machinations of motorists for their own selfish ends.
Now, like a pack of money-crazy ambulance chasers, the suits at Simon and Schuster are licking their chops in eager anticipation of all the shekels that they are going to make off of Casper's death. That sleazy New York crowd would travel to the end of this galaxy for a lousy nickel!
Casper deserved better than what he got from all of these bloodsuckers.
Photos: Press Association (Casper), Apex and the Daily Mail (Casper, Finden, and Stonehouse), and First Bus (poster of Casper and Finden).