Leash Law for Cats?

In the town of Kenai, Alaska, officials besieged with complaints about free roaming felines and a growing population of shelter cats, are proposing a cat leash law. That’s right, leashes for cats.

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The local paper cited a city attorney’s description of the cats as “defecating on private property, invading plant beds, and otherwise disturbing property owners’ peaceful enjoyment of their property.” Mayor Pat Porter and town council member Tim Navarre’s proposed solution is an ordinance that would require cats be kept indoors, behind a fence or on a leash/chain. The suggested fine for noncompliance is as much as $500.

In a letter to the council, one Kenai resident wrote, “Having cats use my yard for a kitty litter box is a huge health issue, as well as being really nasty, and we shouldn’t have to tolerate this. Twice I have accidently stuck my fingers in cat poop while trying to weed my flower garden.”

Some residents in Kenai (population 8000) have “20 cats that they’re just letting run loose,” said Mayor Porter. The neighbors are not pleased. Although residents can trap the loose cats by borrowing a live cat trap from the animal control department and bring them into the shelter, this does not solve the problem. The shelter has to return the feline when the owner comes for the cat. “We just have to give the cat back,” Porter said. “There’s not even a charge for it coming into the animal control, even if they fed it for three days.” This is what she wants to change.

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The idea of cats leashed in a yard or during walks may sound ludicrous, but in actuality is quite common. Many cities, including St. Louis, MO, Englewood, CO and Dallas, TX have laws that instruct owners to keep pets of any sort on their own property or on a leash and/or specifically that this most definitely includes cats. The rules in Henderson, NV go even further by applying not only to dogs and cats, but to ferrets as well.

Can you really walk a cat on a leash like a dog and if yes, then why don’t you see it more frequently, especially in places with such laws? It is possible to leash train a cats. The reason many of us have never witnessed cat walking is because unlike dogs, most places do not enforce the cat leash laws. The real reason however, is good old-fashioned economics. The resources required to enforce such laws cost money.

The issue of noncompliance and resources are frequent topics in the civic battles these kinds of proposals foster. The Associated Press reported on an “unusually large crowd” that gathered for a city council meeting in Barre, VT when a proposed leash law included cats. “[Cat leash laws are] a bad idea, unless you want to have the police department chasing cats around for a million dollars an hour,” stated resident Sue Higby.

In 2014, such concerns prompted the city of Gretna, LA to exclude felines from their local leash law. As reported by the Times-Picayune, Gretna council member Joe Marino III stated, “I don’t think it’s something we can enforce. I don’t think we can confine a cat to a yard.” Marino sponsored the change that unleashed the cats.

Similar arguments have been made in Kenai in which fears have been raised regarding cat owner noncompliance and increased animal control costs created by the feral cat population. According to the Peninsula Clarion, emailed testimony to the council by Ryan Marquis stated, “The flaw in this ordinance is that it assumes compliance.”

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According to Porter, the passion exhibited from people on both sides of the issue has far exceeded topics she deems “more important” to the council, including the budget. She adds that the pro-leash proponents should not expect a cat catching patrol if the proposal passes. “We’re not going to go running around neighborhoods looking for cats, [as] we just don’t have the resources,” she said.

This article was adapted from a story by Karin Brulliard in The Washington Post titled “Why this town is seriously considering a leash law for cats.”