City avoids a new cat-leash controversy

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

We don’t know how many McCook City Council members have heard about the Great Cat Leash Controversy of 1967, but they wisely avoided a similar flap by voting to drop a cat-at-large ordinance from the books.

They also voted to more closely clarify what constitutes a dangerous or potentially dangerous dog. Dog owners should take a close look at the proposed ordinance before getting their hackles up; the wording seems to be reasonable about allowing dogs to be dogs while advancing public safety.

The changes were approved on first reading, so there’s time for discussion and consideration before they go into effect.

According to a column by Walt Sehnert, dog owners did get their hackles up in 1966 when McCook residents voted 2 to 1 to impose a leash law on dogs.

In 1967, a petition signed by 100 residents was presented to the City Council, which voted unanimously that cats living in the city had to be confined to the home or under a leash when they were outdoors.

We editorialized “residents of this city must keep their cats in confinement year around. Leash your cat!”

City Manager George Pyle predicted there would be trouble, and he was right.

“Two weeks later the pro-cat faction presented their petition to the council, which opposed the cat confinement ordnance,” Walt wrote in 2005. “This petition contained 500 names. But the council held fast and upheld the ordnance. Supposedly, they were miffed that only five women out of the 500 petitioners showed up at the council meeting to speak on the issue.”

Walt noted that his neighbor, who served on the City Council, was a bird lover, hated squirrels who were always eating bird food, but was “particularly incensed when a large tomcat killed one of her songbirds right before her eyes.”

Another neighbor was a police officer charged with enforcing the unpopular city ordinances.

Both began receiving hate mail, and dog-lovers were quick to call police with cats-at-large reports at every opportunity.

The cat leash ordinance was officially in effect eight months until it was voted out, 1,523 to 1,074, in April 1968, and few cats were brought to justice, Walt wrote. “The McCook Police Force gradually, and quietly managed to ignore the cat ordinance.”

“Interestingly, at that same election, voters also turned down an attempt to legalize liquor by the drink,” Walt concluded. The Gazette reported “perhaps McCook voters had survived the cat fight and didn’t feel their ‘spirits’ needed bolstering.”

Columnist Dick Trail commented on the cat-at-large issue the last time it came up in 2009, and you can read his observations here.

You can read Walt Sehnert’s longer, more entertaining view at the previous cat controversy in a 2005 column, here.

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