NEWS- Carmen's Legacy: Community rails against alleged cat killer

What was he thinking? That's been the million dollar question ever since a well-to-do businessman shot his neighbor's cat in Albemarle County's upscale Bentivar neighborhood on April 24.

According to his lawyer, Benjamin Dick, George Seymour was simply trying to protect his expensive auto fleet from his neighbor's three year-old black cat, Carmen.

"He and his wife run a refurbishing car business," Dick explains of the Seymours. "They've had a number of stray cats who have come onto the property." Some of those cats, Dick says, "got on the hood of refurbished cars and clawed the paint. They damaged their valuable cars."

Though Dick says Carmen wasn't on a Seymour car at the time of the shooting, around 7:30pm on April 24, he insists that Seymour believed she was a stray because she wasn't wearing a collar.

Dick says Seymour told him, "I saw the cat, I impulsively picked up my gun, and trained it on him to shoot to kill."

"If he'd known it was the next door neighbor's cat," Dick says, "he wouldn't have fired away."

As detailed in the Hook's May 18 cover story, "Claws and effect: Bentivar sparks outrage,"Seymour's bullet entered Carmen's neck, passed through, and shattered bones in her shoulder and right front leg. The wounded pet dragged herself home, where her owners discovered her on the garage floor. Later that night, the Wintersteigers made the difficult decision to euthanize Carmen.

Vanessa Wintersteiger confirms that Carmen was collarless at the time of the shooting.

"She has worn one in the past," she says, "but it kept coming off." Because Carmen was lethargic and rarely moved far from the back of the house, Wintersteiger says they didn't replace the collar. But Wintersteiger adds that she has never seen any stray cats on or around her house, which is approximately 100 feet from the Seymours, who have been their neighbors since 1998.

"I know every cat I see around here," she says.

Dick says Seymour, a "former NRA member" who has hunted in Africa is "quite upset" over the incident. "This is an unfortunate incident for which he has great remorse," says Dick.

Wintersteiger says her family has had no contact with the Seymours since Carmen's shooting, something Dick attributes to Seymour's shock at being charged with a crime.

"He didn't know it was their cat," he says. "The first instant he dealt with was when [the police] were on his property talking about charging him with a felony."

Since then, Dick says, Seymour has been dealing with hate mail and with trouble at his business, the Import Car Store at the corner of Hydraulic Road and Seminole Trail. On Tuesday, May 23, several picketers appeared on the sidewalk with signs reading "Import Car Store owners shoot family pet."

That protest was not organized by the SPCA, says the organization's executive director, Susanne Kogut.

"That's not typically how we'd handle something like this," she says, adding that she has heard from numerous people in the community upset about the incident and wanting to see it punished. Currently, Virginia law treats first offense cruelty to animals as a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year behind bars. A 2002 amendment to that law made the second offense a Class 6 felony, and it made cruelty to companion animals– cats or dogs– a Class 6 felony if it resulted in that animal's death.

On Wednesday night, May 24– after this paper's presstime– Kogut invited the community to the SPCA for an evening meeting to discuss "Carmen's Legacy."

The goal of the meeting: "To decide what organized actions would be appropriate to make community leaders and officials aware that this community supports strong measures to combat animal abuse and to protect our family pets," she wrote.

Dick says Seymour, an avid hunter and former member of the NRA, is upset at people's perception of him and that he is not someone who'd deliberately hurt a companion animal.

"He told me, 'I'm having bad dreams about this whole thing; I'm being made out to be someone I'm not,'" says Dick.
Wintersteiger says her family too is suffering, and she's not sure what she'd say to Seymour if given the chance.
"He's upset it occurred," she says. "We're very upset that it occurred, as well, but we didn't have a choice."

Carmen, pictured with Isabella Wintersteiger, "never scratched and never bit," says Klaus Wintersteiger.