BARRE — Seven days after signaling they might be ready to require the confinement of cats, city councilors have embraced feline freedom.

They aren’t home free just yet, but councilors who appeared poised to scratch a long-standing exception for cats from the “running at large” provision of the city’s Animal and Fowl ordinance just last week, narrowly reversed course Tuesday night.

The council’s 4-3 decision sets the stage for yet another public hearing — the fourth so far — with respect to a proposed ordinance amendment that has been a moving target since it was introduced by Councilor Michael Boutin late last month.

Responding to a request that the ordinance be amended to strike a decade-old prohibition on dogs in parks, Boutin playfully tweaked the language of the running at large provision to draw extra special attention to the exception for cats.

The change proposed and still backed by Boutin reads: “It shall be unlawful to permit any animal or indigenous wild animals to run at large in the city except for cats, which have some magical dispensation due to their once status as a god in Egyptian times.”

Things went downhill from there because one resident who spotted the change wondered why cats were exempt from the ordinance and made a colorful case for including them.

That is precisely what the council agreed to do last week even as members embraced further easing restrictions on dogs by allowing them access, with some limitations, to local cemeteries in addition to parks. At the same time councilors deferred any action on several poultry-related changes that had been requested and briefly entertained.

Heading into Tuesday night’s public hearing cats were in danger of being stripped of the freedom they have enjoyed and subject to being impounded like, well, dogs, who were a step away from being permitted in parks and cemeteries, provided their owners keep them at least 20 feet away from any “gravestone, monument or marker.”

One of those changes survived the latest hearing, the other produced an about face that began when Boutin suggested the council return to the cat-friendly language he proposed at the outset.

“I just want my cat clause,” he said.

Enter Romni Palmer, who last week warned the council the change they were making would radically alter that rules for Granite City cat owners by essentially subjecting all animals to the running at large provision.

Palmer reiterated that concern Tuesday night, noting that — if read literally — the city’s animal control officer would be tasked with chasing squirrels and woodchucks, in addition to cats.

“Maybe we shouldn’t touch this section at all,” she said.

That would have been the easy way out. Instead Boutin renewed his proposed “Egyptian god” language and Mayor Lucas Herring suggested making reference to “owned animals” to get squirrels, woodchucks and other wildlife off the hook.

Herring’s change survived and Boutin’s did not, capping a dizzying discussion that prompted City Manager Steve Mackenzie to seek clarification before councilors voted on a motion they’d just amended to reflect those changes.

“I apologize for having difficulty following the bouncing ball, but is the exemption for cats in or out?” he asked.

The short answer was “in,” which means cats can be out, but Boutin supplied a longer one.

“Any cat, whether owned or unowned, is allowed to run willy-nilly throughout the city,” he said.

The motion passed, 4-3, with Herring snapping a 3-3 tie and joining Councilors John Steinman, Teddy Waszazak and Rich Morey, in a slim majority.

Boutin was among the dissenters — because he liked his language better. Councilors Jake Hemmerick and Ericka Reil voted “no,” as well.

Now the council is one public hearing away from adopting the proposed amendment, which — barring another substantive change — could happen next week.


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When is the next public hearing?

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