Larry and Margaret Hopkins are harboring a juvenile offender. A wild child with a checkered past and possible gang ties seized by officers early this month.
As they await a court appearance, the Hopkinses let him wander outside their northwest Lawrence home and play with neighborhood children. Daily, he commits the same crime for which officers picked him up early this month.
He's Smokey kitty at large.
Animal control officers brought in Smokey early this month for stalking off his owner's property. The Hopkinses have a date in municipal court for the ticket they must pay for an absent, "at large" pet.
The Hopkinses want city commissioners to scuttle the ticket, so as not to "criminalize" cats who follow their territorial instincts. They say they face fees totaling $31 for Smokey's first offense.
"We'd like to decriminalize a cat's natural behavior," said Margaret Hopkins.
"It fails the reality check," Larry Hopkins said of the "at large" law that groups cats with dogs.
"Dogs were the first domesticated animals," he said. "There is still an awful lot of leopard in that kitty in your living room. If you don't catch it when it's a kitten, it's really hard to domesticate them."
They say 5-year-old Smokey like most cats was born to be wild.
He regularly patrols a perimeter with a quarter-mile radius around the house at 1610 W. Second Ter.
He has changed little since his days as a tough in an East Lawrence alley, his owners say.
SMOKEY WAS one of about a dozen cats who staked out the alley behind Margaret Hopkins' previous home in the 1100 block of New Jersey. She and a neighbor fed him occasionally.
In December 1989, she noticed him wheezing and limping, and decided to take him in. Vets diagnosed a respiratory illness and treated him.
"He probably wouldn't have survived the winter," Larry Hopkins said.
All was fine at the current Hopkins' residence until a nearby neighbor began to have trouble with animal droppings on his picnic table. He set a trap and caught Smokey.
THE NEIGHBOR handed Smokey over to city animal control officers. The Hopkinses say Smokey was framed.
"I would bet a large amount of money that it's a possum or a raccoon," Larry Hopkins said. "You sometimes see possums on the street, and raccoons are not too choosy about where they do their business."
To reclaim Smokey, the Hopkinses had to paid a $10 fee. They also must pay a $10 ticket for a pet caught at large and $11 in court costs.
They object to the city law that criminalizes a cat and its owners for allowing the feline to follow its natural instincts.
"We're responsible cat owners and we can be in violation of the law," Margaret Hopkins said. "We think that needs to be changed."
They plan to write letters to city commissioners, asking them to ditch the at-large ticket for cats for the first three offenses. They also plan to plead their case before the municipal court judge hearing the case.
They hope for a little extra sympathy from this particular judge: Municipal Court Judge George Catt.
Corrected version; Cause for paws: Local family fights for feline's rights
A photo caption in Monday's Journal-World incorrectly said that Margaret and Larry Hopkins have been fined by the city several times for allowing their cat to roam at large. The city has ticketed the couple once.