Keeping a tight rein on cats

August 19, 1999|By Kevin Cowherd

AS THE LONG, hot summer grinds to a close, it's time to leave behind the drought and the 10-mile backups at the Bay Bridge and those choking Orioles and consider an issue too long ignored in this state: a leash law for cats.

Oh, no doubt this will set off a good deal of wailing from the powerful cat lobby.

But to anyone able to look at the issue objectively, there's no question that a cat leash law makes perfect sense.

As it stands now, cats are allowed to slink about freely, and look what that has done to our way of life.

Go for a relaxing walk in most neighborhoods and a cat is liable to bolt from beneath a parked car and scare the daylights out of you.

Or the cat will just stare at you with those eerie Barbara Walters-like eyes from atop a deck railing or front stoop, an experience every bit as unsettling to most people.

Naturally, given the surly nature of cats, the average person would conclude that the cat is about to attack at any moment.

A leash law would eliminate this fear.

In effect, it would give the streets back to the people.

It's probably too early to get into all the particulars of what the cat leash law would entail.

But as a general rule, the more exotic (and hence, annoying) the cat, the shorter the leash should be.

Thus, your tabby cats, your calicos, these cats might be required to be on leashes up to 4 feet long.

Whereas your finicky Persians, your prissy Siamese, your high-falutin', hey-look-at-me Maine coon cats with their long, raccoon-like tails, should probably be kept on extremely short leashes -- 3 feet long at most -- so that they don't wander too close to passers-by and irritate them.

A leash law might have unseen benefits for the individual cat-owner as well.

Traditionally, cats have gotten their exercise by hanging from the living room curtains, or clawing and disfiguring the armrest on the couch, or torturing some poor mouse or chipmunk in the back yard and then dragging its carcass directly into the path of the cat-owner's Sears Craftsman lawn mower, necessitating a costly blade re-sharpening or engine repair.

But maybe a brisk walk on a leash, twice a day, would eliminate this sort of negative behavior.

Understand, no one is saying the transition to a cat leash law will be easy.

The first time you put your cat on a leash, he may well nip a chunk from your finger (requiring a painful tetanus shot) or scratch you with his claws (which, if left untreated, could lead to a serious staph infection.)

Or he may simply fix you with a cold, piercing stare, not unlike the cold, piercing stare he favors you with when, for example, you feed him or open the door at night to allow him back into the house.

Actually walking the cat may be problematic, too.

Cats, by their nature, are aloof and do not like to be dictated to. Don't be surprised, then, if you get the leash on the cat, carry him out to the sidewalk, and he absolutely refuses to walk.

Perhaps there are special protective booties that could be affixed to each of the cat's paws, allowing the cat to be safely dragged on a 15-minute walk -- at least until he gets the hang of what you want him to do.

Or, barring that, maybe he could be pushed around on a tiny skateboard at first, which would not help him exercise-wise, but which he might find even more relaxing.

After a while, though, the cat will probably get used to walking on a leash.

I'm sure most dogs did not exactly do cartwheels the first time they were put on leashes, either.

And I'm sure it took awhile for oxen to get used to the yoke, for horses to get used to the harness, for cows to . . . well, you get the idea.

Since the transition to a cat leash law may be jarring for many cat-owners, the state should move slowly once the law is actually on the books.

Perhaps there could be a grace period of a few weeks, during which officials would bombard the airwaves with public-service spots on the order of: "Get a rope around that kitty -- it's the law!" or "Cat-walking: Looks weird, beats a $50 fine!"

But that's just off the top of my head.

If you think of something snappier, I'm sure the state would be open to suggestions.

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