Smokey the cat had his day in court today.
A sympathetic judge let him off easy, perhaps realizing that you can take the cat out of the alley, but you can't take the alley out of the cat.
Smokey couldn't be found in the courtroom. He was off living the only way he knows how at large.
His owners, Larry and Margaret Hopkins, pleaded his case. They were issued a $10 ticket early this month for allowing Smokey to stalk off their property and roam "at-large."
As they hoped, Smokey received light treatment from the judge hearing their case, Municipal Judge George Catt.
Catt suspended the ticket after the Hopkinses pleaded "no contest."
"I'm really pleased," said Margaret Hopkins. "I think it shows that he felt there were some mitigating circumstances."
PACING outside the municipal courtroom before their names were called the Hopkinses said they believed Smokey was framed and ended up a victim of a bad city law.
Animal control officers brought in Smokey early this month after he was caught by a neighbor of the Hopkinses, who live at 1610 W. Second Ter.
The neighbor had found animal droppings on a picnic table and set a trap for the offending animal. Smokey, who regularly "patrols" the neighborhood, ended up in the trap.
"(Defecating on a table) is definitely not cat behavior. A 'possum or raccoon is a much more likely offender," Larry Hopkins said. The neighbor turned Smokey over to animal control officers.
The Hopkinses have criticized the city law that "criminalizes" cats for following their natural instincts.
"It fails the reality check," said Larry Hopkins. "You cannot turn him (Smokey) into something he is not."
A STREET-SMART 5-year-old, Smokey spent his first two years as an alley cat in East Lawrence. Margaret Hopkins rescued him in December 1989 after finding him suffering from bone and respiratory illnesses.
After the Hopkinses moved to their northwest Lawrence home, Smokey reestablished his turf.
"As far as Smokey is concerned, that two- or three-block area is his yard," said Larry Hopkins. They nicknamed Smokey "Thug" for paw-punching the Hopkinses' other cats to earn more outdoor time.
Judge Catt would not hear pleas to strike down the at-large law. "I don't have anything to do with ordinances," Catt said. "If he's bothering the neighbors, you'll have to do something."
Larry Hopkins said most neighbors liked Smokey and that he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
CATT SUSPENDED the fine, but the Hopkinses did have to pay $11 in court costs, as well as a $10 fee to reclaim Smokey after he was caught.
The Hopkinses said afterward that they were pleased with the outcome and felt they had made their point.
The greater victory was being asked by the city manager's office to comment on a new draft of the city's animal control ordinance being prepared for city commissioners, Margeret Hopkins said.
They plan to ask the city to scuttle the at-large ticket for the first three offenses, and to strengthen the section dealing with cruelty to animals.
Smokey has been sticking closer to the house recently, they said. "Maybe he knows," Margaret Hopkins said.