- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 13, 2005

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin residents ignored passionate opposition from cat lovers and supported a plan that would allow hunters to take out wild felines that kill birds and other small mammals.

Residents who attended the meetings of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress voted Monday night to allow hunters to kill cats at will, just like skunks or gophers — something the Humane Society of the United States called cruel and archaic.

A total of 6,830 persons voted for the plan and 5,201 voted against it. Fifty-one counties approved the plan, 20 rejected it, and one had a tie, according to results released last night by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

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

Katy Francis of Madison was one of about 1,200 people who attended the Monday evening meeting at Exhibition Hall at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison. She wore cat ears, whiskers and a cat nose and held a sign that read, “Too Cute to Kill.”

“The cat hunting thing brought me out because it was very extreme,” Miss Francis said.

The congress, which acts as an advisory group to the DNR, asked residents in 72 counties whether free-roaming cats — including any domestic cat that isn’t under the owner’s direct control or any cat without a collar — should be listed as an unprotected species.

If so listed, the cats could be hunted, as they have been for decades in South Dakota and Minnesota.

Firefighter Mark Smith proposed the hunting idea at the La Crosse County congress last year, noting that feral cats killed small mammals and birds. Mr. Smith has faced death threats over the plan.

Some estimates indicate that 2 million wild cats roam Wisconsin. The state says studies show feral cats kill 47 million to 139 million songbirds a year.

The prospect of feral-cat hunting has more hurdles to clear — and faces the considerable opposition of several 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 then would have to pass a bill, and Democratic Gov. James E. Doyle would have to sign it.

Republican Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, co-chairman of a powerful finance committee in the Legislature, vowed to “work against any proposed legislation to legalize the shooting of feral cats.”

Ted O’Donnell, who gathered more than 17,000 signatures in an online petition to oppose the plan, said he wasn’t giving up, either.

“I can assure you that the campaign is undeterred and we will still be working tirelessly to defeat this in whatever form it takes,” he said.

The vote in Columbia County was a standing-room-only gathering of camouflage- and blaze-orange-dressed hunters in the Portage courthouse basement.

Brian Sparks of Sparta said he is a hunter who has “no real interest in shooting cats” but thinks the proposal is a good solution to a serious problem.

“I think a lot of people have the conclusion we’re going to run out and shoot cats. … This is just the first step we’ve got to take to take care of this problem,” he said.

The majority of the about 500 attendees at Franklin Middle School in Brown County’s Green Bay were women, and of 26 speakers, 21 were against the measure.

Amy Kocha said she feared a hunt could harm innocent cats.

“Cats are a species that is often truly disliked,” she said. “There will be cats that are shot and injured and left to suffer.”

Bob Young of Green Bay noted that feral cats often killed other kittens.

“I’m not against cats. Feral cats, I’m against,” he said.

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