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Concord resident seeks to license and regulate cats

Roaming felines blamed for dearth of backyard birds

Photos by Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

Lydia Lodynsky says cats have cut down on visitors to her Concord yard’s bird feeder.

Lydia Lodynsky’s backyard in Concord used to be filled with birds singing at the feeders and preening in the bath.

She described the yard as her sanctuary, a place where she and her ill mother could sit and escape the pressures of everyday life. Their visitors included mourning doves, tufted titmice, bluebirds, juncos, nuthatches, black-capped chickadees, cardinals, woodpeckers, wrens, finches, and blue jays.

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“It was exquisite,’’ Lodynsky said. “A small yard, but filled with life. The activity was magnificent.’’

But then the cats came. Three of them from her Bedford Street neighborhood discovered her yard and preyed upon the birds and chipmunks, she said. Lodynsky said she’d wake each morning to the sound of terrified birds screeching. The cats destroyed a nest, and killed at least eight birds, she said, leaving just sparrows and squirrels.

“Watching this all in my own yard literally made me sick,’’ she said. “This no longer is respite for me - it has become a detriment to my health. I have become a victim in my own yard to terrorist cats that kill everything in sight.’’

‘A pet should be confined to its yard or owner’s home.’

Lydia Lodynsky Concord resident who has proposed controls for cats
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After failing to persuade neighbors to keep their cats indoors, Lodynsky decided to take matters into her own hands. She is proposing a series of citizens’ petitions for Town Meeting that she hopes will protect wildlife but also encourage neighbors to respect each other and their property.

One petition calls for a bylaw that would require cat owners to license, vaccinate, spay or neuter, and regulate their pets. Under the proposed bylaw, cats would not be allowed to go onto other properties without the owner’s permission.

After three trespassing offenses, the animal control officer would explore options for containing the cat in its own yard. Also, any cat found to be roaming at large could be impounded by the animal control officer.

While several other communities in Massachusetts, such as Belmont and Watertown, require cats to be licensed, none appear to go as far as Lodynsky’s proposal.

“I believe a pet should be confined to its yard or owner’s home, and not be allowed to run freely through the neighbor’s yard, unless that is mutually agreed upon by the neighbors involved,’’ she said.

One of Lodynsky’s neighbors, Heidi Judge, agreed that several cats roam around Bedford Street, but she hasn’t noticed whether they’ve had an impact on the bird population.

Judge, who does not have cats, said she supports the idea of licensing and vaccinating cats, but thinks the restriction on roaming goes too far.

“I feel people should be able to let their cats outside,’’ she said.

Lodynsky would not identify the cat owners, saying she did not want to cause animosity in the neighborhood.

According to Town Clerk Anita Tekle, Concord does not regulate cats in any way. In fact, the town only has a dog officer, not an animal control officer, and he responds only to dog-related issues, said Town Manager Chris Whelan.

Lodynsky’s second petition would add $20,000 to the dog officer’s budget to expand the position’s role to cover cats and other animals.

The third petition asks the Board of Selectmen and town manager to establish guidelines for a “responsible pet ownership’’ program to promote a community where pets, owners, and neighbors “all live in safety and harmony.’’

“I believe education is key, along with sound community regulations and cooperation between pet-owners and nonowners in fostering a respectful, compassionate and caring environment - encompassing people, pets, and wildlife,’’ Lodynsky said.

Whelan said this is the first time he has heard complaints about wandering cats.

He had not received any comments about Lodynsky’s proposals, he said.

“If the voters decided this is something they’d like the town to address, we’ll do our best to enforce it as adopted,’’ he said.

A public hearing on the petition articles will likely be held in March. Town Meeting is to convene on April 23.

According to the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, several communities require cat owners to license their pets, including Belmont and Watertown.

Belmont requires cat owners to license, vaccinate, and spay or neuter their pets, said Ellen O’Doherty, who works in the town’s Health Department. The cost for an annual license is $8. O’Doherty said there are no restrictions on cats being outside, but officials recommend pets be kept indoors to protect them from the coyote population.

The MSPCA also recommends that cats stay indoors. They say that the risks to cats include traffic, larger animals, and altercations with other cats and wildlife, which can cause serious injury, disease, or parasitic infections.

In addition, the MSPCA says that outdoor cats can take a toll on local wildlife populations, and that any unsterilized cats permitted to roam outdoors could lead to unwanted litters.

Kara Holmquist, the MSPCA’s director of advocacy, said there are ample opportunities for stimulation and play for cats inside.

“There are a lot of risks for cats outside,’’ she said. “There are so many reasons to keep them indoors.’’

Holmquist said education is key, and the MSPCA would be willing to assist with those efforts in Concord.

Lodynsky acknowledges that even with an education campaign, passing the bylaw could be an uphill battle.

“I don’t know how much support it will get,’’ she said. “It’s not going to be easy. People are very protective of their pets. I’m optimistic and hopeful that this will turn the right way.’’

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at jflefferts@ yahoo.com

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