by Steven T. Dennis, Staff Writer
They stalk moles, mice, birds and bunnies.
They're vicious killers, polluting poopers and spreaders of disease.
That's right, Morris is guilty of all of these crimes, according to county residents who testified last Thursday at a hearing on proposed changes in animal control laws.
Their solution: keep Morris inside or on a leash.
The cat control people thought they had an ally in County Executive Douglas M. Duncan. After all, Duncan's animal control overhaul proposal included a ban on cat roaming. But Friday, two days after a Gazette article detailing the backlash against the Duncan plan, Duncan ordered the county attorney to water down the proposed legislation.
The new language, which hasn't been drafted yet, will require a complaint before roaming kitties are snared and their owners ticketed, Duncan said.
"We're going to change it so that it will be a complaint-driven process," Duncan said.
Duncan has maintained all along that he didn't support a leash law, but the law he first proposed would have prohibited cats from roaming -- unless they were leashed or otherwise restrained.
Asked if it was fair to call his first proposal an anti-cat roaming law, Duncan tried to dissociate himself from his own bill. He said to ask the Animal Matters Hearing Board, which helped write the language.
Duncan said that he had sent the bill to the council and had doubts about the cat control provision. He said he wanted to wait for public opinion and give his opinion later.
Ironically, Duncan has two free-roaming cats himself, even though he lives in Rockville, which has an ordinance that bans owners from letting their cats run at large.
Rockville Police Chief Terry Treschuk said Tuesday that if Duncan allows his cats to roam free off his property -- which Duncan has admitted -- he is technically breaking the law.
Duncan, a former Rockville mayor who helped craft the Rockville law and voted for it, said that the intent was never to ban all roaming cats but to ban cats that are causing a nuisance.
If any roaming cat is illegal in Rockville, even without complaints from neighbors, "then Rockville needs to change their language," Duncan said.
But remember those cat control people? People like Montgomery County Humane Society Executive Director Sharon Kessler and the Animal Matters Hearing Board helped craft Duncan's original proposal and supported it at the public hearing.
They, unlike Duncan, didn't have any confusion about what the law would ban. Kessler said that she's "disappointed" with Duncan's apparent backtracking on the issue.
Kessler wants to outlaw roaming cats because she contends they spread disease, pose a danger to other animals and aren't safe outside.
Linda Winter, coordinator of the American Bird Conservancy's "Cats Inside!" program and a Washington Grove resident, had also pushed for a cat-roaming ban. Winter's main concern is that cats kill birds, bunnies and other creatures.
Winter and Kessler both agree that the law, even if it passed as first drafted, wouldn't have resulted in roundups of stray cats, because it would be impossible to enforce strictly.
The public hearing Thursday showed a sharp split on the emotional issue as nearly 100 people turned out to voice their opinions on animal control.
Katherine Rogers said the original proposal was "restricting the animal's freedom and pursuit of happiness for no good reason."
Rogers also pooh-poohed the argument that the law wouldn't require leashes.
"I'd like to know how I can keep my cat under control without a leash," she said.
Martha Lanigan called the ordinance a "neighbors snitching on neighbors provision" that would result in the unneccessary death of thousands of cats confiscated by animal control officers.
Supporters of the change cited cat pollution and property rights.
Chris Namovicz of the county's Water Quality Advisory Group testified in favor of a cat roaming ban on the basis of pollution. He estimated that there are 180,000 cats roaming outside, producing a ton of cat poop a day, the equivalent of 12,000 humans living without benefit of sewage systems. That poop helps pollute streams, he said.