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Concord proposal could result in cats on leashes

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Lydia Lodynsky complained that local cats attack the birds at her feeders in Concord.

CONCORD - It is a town closely associated with history, with the environment, and with civil liberties. And Wednesday, as part of its annual town meeting, the citizens of Concord will vote on two proposals that touch on many of those ideals and would, if passed, make history.

One is an environmental measure to ban the sale of water in plastic bottles - the first such action by a municipality in this country - that some hope will be the symbolic start to a global movement.

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The other is about cats. On leashes. And the story behind it involves dead songbirds, “terrorist cats,’’ property rights, and the nagging question: What would Thoreau do?

Barbara Lynn-Davis of Concord invoked Henry David Thoreau, saying he would not want cats on a leash.

SUZANNE KREITER/GLOBE STAFF

Barbara Lynn-Davis of Concord invoked Henry David Thoreau, saying he would not want cats on a leash.

Lydia Lodynsky, the woman behind the cat proposal, has offered a plan to create a cat bylaw that would mirror the one for town dogs, and could result in unruly cats being forced onto a leash.

“We don’t even have a leash law for dogs, just that they must be under control,’’ said Anita Tekle, the town clerk, who believes it would be the first such measure in the state if passed. “So if you whistle and the dog comes home, it’s under your control. I’m not aware that you can do that with cats.’’

Lodynsky knows that many of her neighbors roll their eyes at her, but says if they take a moment to hear how it got to this point, they might get on board.

It all started three years ago, when Lodynsky moved to Concord with her mother, who was in the midst of an eight-year battle with Alzheimer’s. Lodynsky said it was nearly impossible to go anywhere with her mother, so she created a respite in her backyard.

“She was blind and noncommunicative, but she did respond to sound,’’ Lodynsky said, “and the sound of birds singing was especially delightful to her, so I tried to embellish it, have it be a place for wildlife and songbirds.’’

When her mother passed away, shortly after the move, the yard became a respite for Lodynsky as she mourned. “I would sit and listen and contemplate and basically try to heal,’’ she said.

That’s when the cats came, and did what cats do: She says they started picking off the birds - including a cardinal, a mourning dove, two bluebirds, and a black cap chickadee the cats tore the roof off of her birdhouse to get to.

Lodynsky initially took her complaints directly to the neighbors who owned the cats. She said the owners, whom she declined to name, were willing at first to discuss solutions. But negotiations soon hit a dead end.

The husband, she said, told her she should put her “endless energy to better use, like changing the law.’’ So she did.

She has three warrants on the ballot related to the control and regulation of cats, the focus of which is a measure that involves cats wandering onto a neighbor’s property. If the neighbor does not mind, the issue is over. “But if there is a dispute, then the owner needs to respond to that issue and they need to do something about it.’’ That could lead to a cat being forced indoors, or confined to a leash.

In Concord, where Henry David Thoreau famously spent time communing with nature at Walden Pond, his ideas continue to pervade. And in the cat discussions, his philosophies are regularly invoked - by both sides.

Barbara Lynn-Davis, a neighbor of Lodynsky, is an avid bird watcher who monitors bluebird boxes in town. She also volunteers with an operation that rescues cats. On this issue, she sides with the cats, and thinks Thoreau would do the same.

“I really feel confident that Thoreau would not want the cats on a leash,’’ she said. “It seems to inhibit their freedom to roam and discover. She’s asking the cats to be curtailed to maintain this artificial environment that she created to give her pleasure, but the birds don’t need that.’’

But Lodynsky, who has owned felines in the past, said that it’s folly to consider a cat part of the natural world.

“They were brought here and domesticated; they aren’t part of the natural food chain,’’ she said. “Boldly, I would say Thoreau would support me because he respected natural species and biodiversity. When people say, ‘Leave nature alone,’ I say nature hasn’t been left alone since we moved here. My stand is that I’m trying to help these birds survive us.’’

On Wednesday night, the town will vote on Lodynsky’s three proposals - Concord has an open government, meaning one citizen, one vote - and she will share the agenda with Jean Hill, an 84-year-old woman who has fought a three-year battle to ban the sale of water in single-serving plastic bottles.

Hill’s proposal passed in 2010, but was shot down by the state attorney general’s office, which found problems with the way the law was written. After a narrow loss last year, she is optimistic that come Wednesday night, Concord will be the first in the nation and second globally to pass such a measure.

The idea, she acknowledges, is largely symbolic, but her hope is that if Concord - with its huge cachet in the environmental world - passes such a law, others will follow. And as she sat in her townhouse Monday, she also invoked Thoreau.

“I have this mental image of a stone being thrown into Walden Pond, and the circles that come out of it are other towns that follow us.’’

So what would Thoreau do? As the town prepares to vote, it’s anyone’s guess. The bottled water bill looks strong; the cat bylaw not so much. But as Tekle said, you never can tell.

“This is democracy at its best,’’ she said. “One person, one vote. And you never know.’’

Billy Baker can be reached at billybaker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @billy_baker.
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