SWAMPSCOTT — One resident wants to put Swampscott cats on a leash; a regulatory leash, that is.
Town resident and local attorney Debora Newman presented her sponsored citizens petition, with 78 resident signatures, to the Board of Selectmen Wednesday night. The petition for the regulation of cats, which suggests keeping them indoors and licensing them once they turn 6 months old, is to be voted on at Town Meeting on Monday, May 20.
With Newman’s estimate of more than 1,000 cats in town, she said licensing could add more than $10,000 a year to Swampscott’s revenue.
“Part of what holds us back is the notion that cats are so different from dogs that they need unfettered freedom and that they are untamed and untameable,” Newman said. “All companion animals need limits and socialization and their humans need to be accountable.”
Newman provided the board with data that stated there are 56 Massachusetts municipalities that include cats in their ordinances or bylaws. After completing her own research, Newman said she estimates there are at least 357 Swampscott cats that spend their time outdoors.
She presented charts filled with data, from her own research, with the “preventable dangers” that occur when domestic cats roam the outdoors. She noted 15 lost cat posts on Facebook during the six-week winter period in Swampscott. Some of those lost cats never came home, she said.
“When people see a loose dog, they automatically assume the dog’s lost and they check the collar and license, call animal control, and find the owners, but not so with cats,” said Newman. “If a cat’s outside, people usually assume it belongs there.”
Outdoor cats are three times more likely than indoor cats to become infected with parasites, even in their feces, Newman said, citing recent data from 21 studies worldwide.
“Toxoplasmosis is a parasite in cat feces and it is the reason pregnant women are advised against cleaning litter boxes,” she said. “The parasite can cause serious birth defects, and can infect others with underdeveloped or weakened immune systems, triggering seizures and encephalitis.”
Another reason to keep cats indoors, according to Newman, is, just in the U.S. every year, they kill more than a billion birds, small mammals, and more than half a billion small reptiles and amphibians.
“I mentioned that about 35 percent of cats are outdoor cats,” Newman said. “That means 65 percent are indoors and happy. Let’s try to make that 100 percent here.”
The proposed Article 35, in the Town Meeting warrant draft, states “To see if the town will vote to amend the Town’s General Bylaws by inserting a new bylaw entitled, “Cats,” for the purpose of protecting the safety and welfare of the people, cats, companion animals, and wildlife in Swampscott, or act on anything relating thereto, and to authorize the Town Clerk to assign appropriate numbering therefor or take any action relative thereto.”
There is a provided appendix in the warrant with the full text of the proposed bylaw. Selectmen members did not make a recommendation for the article at Wednesday’s meeting and it is likely they will make one on the floor of Town Meeting.
“Your research and presentation were very helpful in opening our minds,” Selectwoman Laura Spathanas said to Newman.