Getting Medieval on Yo Cats

Illustration by Bob AulIn Europe during the Middle Ages, people killed cats en masse because it was well-known that cats were agents of Satan. Some speculate that the lack of cats led to a proliferation of rats and caused the Black Plague (1348-1351). And now another catastrophe is in the making in South Orange County, where a homeowners association is telling cat owners they must put their animals on leashes.

The location: Crown Valley Condominiums in Laguna Niguel. Until last year, the homeowners association banned all pets on the property. But then a resident dog owner threatened to sue the association, citing a state law passed three years ago that prohibits bans on cats and dogs. So the association reversed its ban, but then, at an April meeting with residents, reversed its reversal and told cat owners they would have to leash their pets, just as dog owners do.

Heidi Gothard, a market researcher who has owned a Crown Valley Condominium since 1998, says she was walking outside her home shortly before that meeting with her pet cats—Silky, Jelly and Booster—when an association board member saw her.

"He said I had better be careful because they aren't going to allow cats to be outside anymore," Gothard said. "So I went to the meeting and confirmed that they are going to put together a new set of laws requiring all pets—including cats—to be on leashes."

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Efforts to reach members of the board of directors of the association were unsuccessful. But according to Gothard, one of the board members told her that leashing pussies was a matter of public safety. "He said he and his wife and infant son were on the balcony of their home, and a cat lunged at him," she said. "I asked if the cat tried to bite him, and he said it ran away."

Nobody had any problem with cats until recently, Gothard added. "If you have a problem with a stray cat, you just squirt it with water, and they don't come back. You don't write laws that require cats to be on leashes. This is a classic example of a homeowners association stepping outside the boundaries of common sense."

According to Gothard, she and several other cat owners who live nearby have tried to comply with the new policy but without much luck. "There's a guy who lives in the complex, and he tried to put the cat on a leash, and it was horrible," she said. "If anything, it proved that cats shouldn't be on leashes. I bought a leash for my cat, and it was a miserable failure. It was like cat abuse."

Pat Guiver, president of the Orange County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said that putting cats on leashes isn't necessarily inhumane but goes against feline sensibilities. "We do encourage cat owners to keep their cats indoors because of many hazards—from coyotes to poisons, traffic and just plain creeps out there. But it's nice for the owner and the cat to get fresh air. So if you can train your cat to walk on a harness, that might work. I know they have those for ferrets. It's not inhumane, unless your cat doesn't like it, in which case, he'll let you know."

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