Stray Cats: Fair Game?

Wisconsin residents support a plan to legalize wild cat hunting, according to voting results released Tuesday.

At meetings across the state Monday night, residents in 72 counties were asked whether free-roaming cats should be listed as an unprotected species. If so listed, the cats — including any domestic cat that isn't under the owner's direct control or any cat without a collar — could be hunted.

A total of 6,830 voted yes and 5,201 voted no, according to results released by the Department of Natural Resources.

The prospect of feral cat hunting has more hurdles to clear — and faces the considerable opposition of a number of national animal rights groups. The Humane Society of the United States called the proposal cruel and archaic.

The DNR would have to ask the Legislature to support the change. Lawmakers would have to then pass a bill, and Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle would have to sign it.

"I can assure you that the campaign is undeterred and we will still be working tirelessly to defeat this in whatever form it takes," said Ted O'Donnell, who gathered more than 17,000 signatures in an online petition to oppose the plan.

South Dakota and Minnesota both allow wild cats to be shot. Some estimates indicate 2 million wild cats roam Wisconsin. The state says studies show feral cats kill 47 million to 139 million songbirds a year.

At Monday night's meetings, animal lovers held pictures of cats, clutched stuffed animals and wore whiskers as they denounced the plan.

Few hunters publicly spoke in favor of the plan, first proposed by Mark Smith, a La Crosse firefighter. Smith had faced death threats over the plan.

Even Karen Hale, executive director of the Madison Audubon Society, one of the largest pro-bird groups in the country with 2,500 members, said she voted no. While the cats have reduced the population of birds in the state, she said the question was too controversial.

"The whole issue of possibly hunting them is so controversial and there has been so much misinformation that we really need a lot more discussion on this issue," Hale said. She called for another study looking at the impact of feral cats.

BY Ryan J. Foley