In a creative bid to prevent bird killings, a bill proposed by Camden Rep. Vicki Doudera seeks to include trespassing cats in the laws governing animal trespass in the state of Maine.

We believe there are other, better ways of achieving what is a noble goal.

The first reason to raise a brow at this proposal is that Maine’s animal control officers, like most government employees, are already up to their elbows in other work. It’s hard to support the introduction of a responsibility to respond to new complaints – complaints that may well be regarded as emergencies by some but not by most. Chasing cats that have been ratted out does not strike us as the best use of official time and resources, both already at a premium. 

On top of that, enforcement may not be as fruitful an enterprise as hoped.

Even if the officers could throw themselves into the very involved work of following cat trespass tips, issuing fines to the owners of delinquent cats is likely to result in an abundance of dead ends; the reality is that many “domestic cats” roaming around outside aren’t owned. Another factor standing in the way of progress might also be “compassion,” cited by a Maine State Police lieutenant as a reason that a new distracted-driving bill may not have its desired effect.

Shelters and veterinarian offices would then be left to deal with rounded-up offenders. Representatives of both camps expressed concern at the knock-on effects of the bill at a Feb. 27 hearing held by the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. One shelter operator (who noted that Maine is consistently in the top three cat-owning states in the U.S.) said her shelter took in and cared for almost 1,700 cats in 2022.


That bird populations are at risk from cats is in no doubt. Supporters of the bill attending the hearing earlier this week included Maine Audubon, which, citing a 2013 study, noted that “predation by domestic cats is the number-one direct, human-caused threat to birds in the United States and Canada.”

Alarm at ongoing bird killings featured heavily in supportive testimony. People reported dicey scenes at garden bird feeders. One supporter of the bill wrote: “I regret not being in front of you in Augusta to personally deliver the dead birds killed in my yard by roaming neighborhood cats.”

Opponents were equally impassioned, with one contributor referring to the bill as a “death sentence for cats.” Competing priorities led to at least one reference to the risk of “neighbor wars.”

How to proceed?

Maine should invest in education about the damage outdoor cats do to bird populations, how to reduce that damage and what constitutes responsible cat ownership. The testimony in Augusta featured positive mentions of interventions like cat leashes and enclosures. Something as simple as a bell on a collar can go a long way. 

Overpopulation of stray and feral cats is also tackled by an effective and humane strategy now popularly referred to as trap-neuter-release. There’s nothing to stop the state from redirecting energy and resources to population control of the cats that, by volume, pose the greatest risk. Across the state, volunteer programs deserving of state support are already carrying out this work every day.

Maine’s pet owners have proven themselves more than receptive to sterilization programs; the state’s low-cost spaying program had to be paused because funding was exhausted by a “tremendous” demand for vouchers by those eligible for them. It should be reopened to applications without delay.

And Maine should consider encouraging cat owners to take full responsibility for their pets, by requiring them to license their felines and show proof that the animal has been spayed or neutered and vaccinated against rabies. (This state mandate currently applies only to dog owners.)

Sometimes a bill works most effectively as a conversation starter; we believe this is one of those times.

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