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Source/Letters:  LaCrosse Tribune <letters@lacrossetribune.com>
Writer: Kate.Schott@lacrossetribune.com
Link:  http://www.lacrossetribune.com/articles/2005/04/12/news/00lead.txt
Emphasis Added

 
Published - Tuesday, April 12, 2005
 

County residents approve
unprotected status for feral cats
 


Shirley Gates of Mindoro, Wis. speaks out against taking protection away from free roaming feral domestic cats Monday at the annual Conservation Congress County Meeting held by the Department of Natural Resaources at the La Crosse Center. Gates owns pet cats and "working cats" who keep the rodent problem under control on her farm. PETER THOMSON photo

By KATE SCHOTT / La Crosse Tribune

Thirty-five. Fifteen. Forty-four. Fifty-two.

As the hands in each seating section were counted, called out and written down, area residents like Bill Patza and Ann Gronbeck-Peterson nodded to each other, a silent sign of solidarity.  Another count a few minutes later, and those nods were more pronounced. Five. Five.

Thirty-three. Thirty-two.

By a vote of 146 to 75, La Crosse County residents gave their stamp of approval Monday night to reclassify free-roaming domestic feral cats as an unprotected species, allowing them to be shot by anyone with a Wisconsin small-game hunting license.

But the measure is far from receiving its final stamp of approval. The results from the meeting, as well as from similar meetings held in all 72 Wisconsin counties Monday night, will be forwarded to the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board and Department of Natural Resources for further consideration.

The proposal would only become law with approval from state legislators.

The debate over whether to allow feral cats to be classified as an "unprotected species" started last year at a similar meeting. Mark Smith, a La Crosse resident and firefighter, made the proposal during a spring hearing to the annual La Crosse County branch of the Conservation Congress.

The idea was approved and the full Congress, an elected body with the duty to advise the DNR and state Legislature on natural resource issues, decided to put the issue before the public at its 2005 spring hearings.

The proposal would consider a feral cat any feline not under its owner's direct control or without a collar. Studies cited in the proposal suggest that feral cats kill an estimated 47 million to 139 million songbirds annually.

La Crosse residents who spoke in favor of the proposal Monday said the initiative isn't about pinning a target on Fluffy. Patza, also a La Crosse firefighter, said Smith's idea was about "taking care of a problem we have made," namely owners who either don't spay or neuter their cats or let them run free.

Gronbeck-Peterson of La Crosse said feral cats can harbor a number of diseases and pose risks to pets.

"These feral cats are not loved, tended to or cared for by anyone," she added.

Bob Schmidt said the proposal illustrated "cat-haters at their worst" and said the intent of it was to get all felines, not just feral cats. The problem is the owner, not the cats, the La Crosse resident agreed, but he doesn't feel animals should "pay the ultimate price" for a human's carelessness.

Bridget Magno of La Crosse agreed, likening shooting feral cats to putting "a Band-Aid on an arterial wound" while ignoring the real issue.

Peggy Mahlum of Holmen asked if windows and cars also would be considered being banned, since they too kill birds. She said cats do not know the end of their owners' land boundaries and could easily wander onto another person's property or cross the path of a hunter who thinks it is fair game.

Heather Schmid, executive director of the Coulee Region Humane Society, said there is a man-made problem with feral cats but said shooting them was not the solution.

She said more could be done and it would take the community coming together to find an answer. Animals at the shelter receive a humane death, she said, not a painful, prolonged one that could come from a gunshot.

Kate Schott can be reached at (608) 791-8226 or Kate.Schott@lacrossetribune.com.

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