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A Utah lawmaker has been ridiculed, threatened and e-mugged by pet lovers in recent weeks after proposing a law that would let rural residents shoot cats, dogs and other critters they deem feral.

Perhaps more newsworthy is that Rep. Curt Oda, a Republican from Clearfield, Utah, seems shocked some folks wish him harm. "These people that are so against violence are promoting violence," he told the Deseret News in Salt Lake City.

Really? Imagine that.

Where was Mr. Oda six years ago when Wisconsin debated whether to let people shoot feral cats, or 11 years ago when we approved a mourning dove hunt? We could have warned him that pacifists play for keeps. Even if you surrender and extend a hand or olive branch, they'll run it through a Veg-O-Matic.

Our feral cat proposal didn't even make it to the Capitol, yet it created international headlines and commanded air time on national TV and radio. It was a frequent promo for updates on "The Today Show," Fox, MSNBC and local TV reports.

You'll recall our proposal was a mere advisory question from the Conservation Congress, Wisconsin's 350 lay advisers to the Natural Resources Board. The idea appeared on the questionnaire for the April 2005 statewide fish and wildlife hearings, won a 57-43 vote, and died. No legislator ever backed it. They all averted their eyes and never spoke of it again.

Too bad Rep. Oda didn't follow their lead, even though he was just trying to help rural Utes. These folks often deal with strays thoughtless urbanites abandon near their homes. They have few options because pet shelters are seldom near.

Oda thinks folks should be allowed to shoot critters gone wild without fear of facing animal-cruelty charges. After all, if some folks avoid paying for pet adoptions or euthanasia, why force the costs or fatal deed on others? Is this a rural resident's obligation to society?

Besides, many of them dislike feral cats because they kill songbirds, foul sheds and barns, and reproduce even more killers and freeloaders. You can "educate" urban mopes all you want about spaying, neutering, licensing and leashing their pets. Unfortunately, many of them don't care. They abandon pets and conscience alike.

Still, Oda is probably over-thinking the issue. His proposal would allow "the humane shooting or killing of an animal if the person doing the shooting or killing has a reasonable belief the animal is a feral animal."

But what is a "reasonable belief"? And would this law give folks any more protection than the unwritten policy of "Shoot, Shovel and Shut Up?" That's an animal-control practice they've long followed in handling tomcats, sickly strays or threatening dogs.

Then again, maybe our country's common-sense days are long gone. For example, consider the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is proposing a rule for this spring's statewide hearings that would allow people to shoot a cougar if it's "in the act of killing, wounding or biting a domestic animal," such as pets and livestock.

Cougars are a protected species, so it's illegal to shoot or trap one that is attacking a domestic animal without the DNR's permission. That's great, but let's keep this in perspective. The DNR has confirmed only four cougar sightings the past three years, so rural Wisconsin is not under siege from marauding cats.

Plus, all four of those cougars were young males, which often travel hundreds of miles seeking a mate and their own turf. For all we know, all four soon died on life's lonesome highway. No law grants more protection than that.

But if a cougar whacks Fido, Bessie or Trigger before we can enact this law, the attack probably will end before anyone grabs a gun. And even if someone is fast with a firearm, they'd probably shoot first and worry later about the law's specifics.

After all, judging by threats made against Rep. Oda, running afoul of a law would be the least of a cougar shooter's problems.

Patrick Durkin is a freelance writer who covers outdoors for the Green Bay Press-Gazette. E-mail him at patrickdurkin@charter.net.

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