Apr 12, 4:48 PM EDT
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Feline lovers holding pictures of cats, clutching stuffed animals and wearing whiskers faced-off against hundreds of hunters at meetings around Wisconsin to voice their opinion on whether to legalize cat hunting.
Residents in 72 counties were asked whether free-roaming cats - including any domestic cat that isn't under the owner's direct control or any cat without a collar - should be listed as an unprotected species. If listed as so, the cats could be hunted.
The proposal was one of several dozen included in a spring vote on hunting and fishing issues held by the Wisconsin Conservation Congress. The results, only advisory, get forwarded to the state Natural Resources Board.
Statewide results were expected Tuesday.
La Crosse firefighter Mark Smith, 48, helped spearhead the cat-hunting proposal. He wants Wisconsin to declare free-roaming wild cats an unprotected species, just like skunks or gophers. Anyone with a small-game license could shoot the cats at will.
At least two other upper Midwestern states, South Dakota and Minnesota, allow wild cats to be shot - and have for decades. Minnesota defines a wild, or feral, cat as one with no collar that does not show friendly behavior, said Kevin Kyle with that state's Department of Natural Resources.
Every year in Wisconsin alone, an estimated 2 million wild cats kill 47 million to 139 million songbirds, according to state officials. Despite the astounding numbers, Smith's plan has been met with fierce opposition from cat lovers.
Critics of Smith's idea organized Wisconsin Cat-Action Team and developed a Web site - dontshootthecat.com. Some argue it is better to trap wild cats, spay or neuter them, before releasing them.
In Madison, about 1,200 people attended the Monday evening meeting at the Alliant Center - more than the 250 or so in a typical year, but less than the 3,000 or so who took part in a debate in 2000 over whether to allow hunters to shoot mourning doves.
One of the attendees was Katy Francis, who wore cat ears, whiskers, a cat nose and a sign that read, "Too Cute to Kill." For Francis, "The cat hunting thing brought me out because it was very extreme."