City resident Roxanne Beal’s cat, Katrina, used to be indoor-outdoor.
The 3½-year-old, 10-pound Bengal cat would go outside for a few hours a day to exercise and explore, staying close to Beal’s home in the Monocacy Village neighborhood off East Street, and sleep inside at night. The arrangement worked well for a while, Beal said. She insisted that Katrina was not disruptive or destructive, and that many of her neighbors loved to see the sleek, exotic animal walking alongside Beal and her dog, Maggie, when they went for strolls.
But over the summer, Beal was forced to begin keeping Katrina inside, or contain her to the yard, when she received a warning, followed by three violations, for the cat running on a neighbor’s property.
Now, as Beal prepares to fight the latest violation from Aug. 11, she is soliciting a change to the city’s at-large animal ordinance that prohibits animals from running at large in the city as a means of justice for Katrina and other nonthreatening pets.
“The feral cats, they have more freedom than she does,” Beal said of one of the reasons she started a petition to garner support from her neighbors for an ordinance change that would allow Katrina to roam as she once did.
The petition, which had 35 signatures as of Nov. 1, states that those who sign are pledging that they have no problem with Katrina walking through their property or out and about, and would support a change to the city’s at-large animal ordinance that would allow cats to roam while in training to get used to confinement.
Beal also said that she would like to explore a change to the ordinance that would narrow the scope.
“I’m hoping that maybe the regulation can change from any animal at large to specifically say any animal 20 pounds and up that can hurt somebody,” she said.
Beal presented her petition to Mayor Michael O’Connor’s office and has spoken to Alderman Roger Wilson about her suggestions. She is hoping to receive some support for an ordinance change.
In the meantime, Beal is careful not to let Katrina slip out when she opens her doors and keeps the cat confined in a netted enclosure when she is in the backyard.
Katrina is spayed, current on her shots and microchipped, Beal said. The cat simply wants to explore and exercise, which Beal believes is important for any animal.
“It’s safer for anybody’s cat to stay inside, but I’m big into exercise for the dog, exercise for the cat. It’s better for them,” she said.
Officials not pursuing a change
Wilson, who also works as Frederick County’s director of government affairs and public policy, said he looked into Beal’s complaints about the ordinance and spoke with other officials, but he said he does not know that anything can be done.
“I researched [this], and we can’t do anything,” he said. “If you let cats free range, you’ve got to consider other animals.”
O’Connor had a similar take on the issue.
“Absent the public coming and saying, this is a problem, we think we should do something about it, it is not, at this point, at the level of something that registers with me,” he said of a potential change to the at-large animal ordinance. “The public is allowed to come in and share their thoughts. We have to understand and look at the impact of keeping it and the impact of changing it, whatever way that would be.”
Enforcing the law
While Beal tries to convince lawmakers that the city’s at-large animal ordinance should not apply to pets like Katrina, Frederick County Animal Control Supervisor Sgt. Dave Luckenbaugh explained why it exists.
“When we educate people, we tell them when animals run at large, bad things can happen,” he said. “They can have an encounter with another animal, an encounter with wildlife. Whether it’s a dog or a cat or a cow, a whole lot of things can turn out bad if they are out running at large.”
He added that cats will use gardens as litter boxes, can contract diseases, and do other offensive things that people do not want on their properties.
Luckenbaugh also explained that the ordinance applies to every animal, big and small, in the city and county, not just dogs and cats, but farm animals, rodents and any other creatures that people have as pets.
The ordinance the city follows is technically a county ordinance, which city officials adopted in 2016 when they legalized backyard chickens. County animal control officers enforce the elements, which Luckenbaugh said are mostly complaint-driven and come in from various sources every day.
“There are occasions where our officers witness something, but most come from phone calls, emails, walk-in complaints, or complaints from other agencies,” he said.
From January through October, Luckenbaugh said animal control officers responded to 1,545 at-large animal complaints across the city and county. He said that 994 of the calls were for dogs, 207 were for cats and 344 were other animals.
While he would not specifically discuss Beal’s case because one of the violations is pending, Luckenbaugh said the process to respond to at-large animal complaints is pretty standard.
“With violations, we try to be progressive in nature,” he said. “We start out with education, verbal warnings, explain to people what the law is, and their responsibility as an owner.”
If verbal and written warnings are not effective, Luckenbaugh said officers will issue civil citations. They get progressively more expensive, with the first at $50, the second $75 and the third and subsequent citations $100 each.
Luckenbaugh also addressed the issue of feral cats. He said officers will respond to nuisance cat calls if they are on someone’s private property and if no known owner exists, they will pick them up and take them to animal control but cannot issue a citation unless they have a clear owner.
“If we can’t prove ownership or responsible party, there’s nobody to issue [a] citation to,” he said.
Luckenbaugh also pointed out that if a person’s cat has permission to be on a neighbor’s property, it is not considered at large. When they do not have permission, they are in violation of the ordinance.