A North Carolina town is cracking down on free-roaming cats, warning pet owners to keep their kitties on leashes outside, or face fines.
Cary, North Carolina — a town of 176,000 people located in suburban Raleigh — has had an ordinance on the books for more than half a century requiring all domestic pets, including cats, to be leashed whenever off their owner’s property.
Similar rules exist in other Wake County towns and cities throughout the state.
But Cary’s leash law caused a stir on social media earlier this week after the town’s Animal Services reminded residents on its Facebook page that “cats must be leashed when not on their owner’s property.”
The local agency listed some of the risks of allowing cats to run wild, including the fact that the popular pets kill an astonishing amount of birds each year, are the number one predator for small mammals and can transmit diseases to wildlife and humans alike.
“The safest thing to do for an outdoor cat is to teach it to be a house cat,” Animal Services maintained. “Indoor cats generally live longer, will not be struck by cars or risk injury from other animals.”
Tens of thousands of homes in Cary have at least one cat. Every year, Animal Services receives about 1,000 calls about stray or feral cats or litters of kittens, supervisor Chuck Haggist told News & Observer.
“For cats, they don’t have to be on a leash on your property but once they step onto a neighbor’s property down the road, that’s where the issue comes in,” Haggist said.
Owners caught violating the leash rule can face fines ranging from $20 to $250, depending on the number of offenses.
On the fifth offense, a cat caught walking around without a leash could be seized and taken to a shelter, from which it would have to be reclaimed by its owner for a fee.
Haggist said that while his agency is not actively looking for unleashed cats, it urges pet owners to understand the dangers for the cats themselves and for those around them.
“Coyotes are killing cats; there’s hawks, owls,” Haggist said. “The lifespan of an outdoor cat is about half of an indoor cat.”
Despite their relatively small size, cats are highly skilled predators that hunt birds, lizards and other small critters.
The American Bird Conservancy has previously said that cats kill an estimated 2.4 billion birds in the US alone each year.
Cat owners have the option of building outdoor enclosures, dubbed “catios,” to keep their curious kitties confined to their property while enjoying nature, or install invisible fences like the ones commonly used for dogs.
Not everyone in Cary, however, is on board with the cat crackdown.
In 2019, a resident – who pointed out that he does not own a cat – started an online petition, calling on the Cary Town Council to repeal the leash ordinance because “it is antithetical to the nature of cats to be on a leash.”
The Change.org petition has been signed by 267 like-minded cat lovers.