Free-roaming felines now run afoul of the law
The days when cats can roam freely in Edmonds are over.
Nobody likely believes that residents who let their cats roam outside will suddenly change their habits.
But residents who are tired of cleaning up after their neighbors’ cats have the law on their side following Tuesday’s vote by the City Council ordering a rewrite of an ordinance governing animal control.
Previously, the ordinance stated it was “a civil violation for the owner or person having charge, care, custody or control of any animal, with the exception of cats, to allow such animal to run at large during any hours of the day or night.”
The council threw the exception clause into the litter box.
But not before a steady stream of residents – some claiming to be cat owners or cat lovers – complained about free roaming cats and the disease, death and destruction the ferocious felines inflict on all in their path.
Cat advocates who think it should be a cat-given right to live wild as their ancestors did were noticeably absent from the public hearing.
Had they attended, they would have heard how dangerous free-roaming cats are to the health and well-being of people and other animals alike.
Edmonds resident Cheri Zehner, who said she has a master’s degree in public health and who testified five years ago when the same issue befuddled the city, said cats carry dangerous diseases that can transfer to humans, such as toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease.
She said doctors warn pregnant women not to touch litter boxes because of the danger of infection, which has been found to cause mental disorders in humans.
And, to the surprise of any free-roaming cat owner who has found a “present” on his front step on many a morning, Zehner said, “It’s a myth that cats are good at catching rodents.”
On the other hand, another resident cited studies that claim cats are responsible for the deaths of up to 1.1 billion birds every year.
(An article in Nature Communications earlier this year reported a new study claiming that free-roaming domestic cats in the U.S. kill many billions of birds and small mammals per year. Its data has since been widely disputed, but scientists acknowledge cats may kill significant numbers of birds and small animals.)
Science aside, perhaps the most persuasive arguments against free-ranging cats were made by residents who said it’s a matter of common decency.
A resident who has had to clean up cat waste in his vegetable garden, Mac Kenney said, “I don’t want their feces and urine in my yard.
“Out of respect and decency, I would never bring cat waste into your yard and garden,” he told councilmembers.
Resident Alan Mearns, a member of the Pilchuck Audubon Society, said cat owners aren’t doing their pets any favors by letting them outside, either.
“There are many hazards,” he said, citing automobile traffic, dogs, coyotes, lawn chemicals, rabies, even antifreeze, which cats find sweet but will kill them with just a small amount ingested.
“The outdoors is no place for free-roaming cats,” Mearns said.
By a 6-1 vote, the council agreed.
“I own a dog,” Councilmember Frank Yamamoto said. “I don’t allow him to run around.
“Now I also have a couple of cats, and they’re contained. I don’t want to see them get hurt. It’s important as owners that we take responsibility.”
Ultimately, councilmembers warned, residents will still have to work it out with their neighbors.
“I have a strong hunch this is not entirely popular,” Council President Lora Petso said. “This is a tool to help folks sort things out for themselves.”
Councilmember Joan Bloom, the sole holdout, objected to passing an ordinance that treats cats and dogs as if they are the same kind of pets.
“I have no cats; I have no dogs,” Bloom said. “What I have seen since the previous ordinance passed is absolutely nothing has changed in my neighborhood.
“I think this is an ordinance based on the belief that cats and dogs are alike.
“I would only vote for this if people will find a location, funding and design for an off-leash cat park.”
Wouldn’t that be a sight…