A recent Supreme Court decision may mean that cats will have to be allowed at Conway’s planned dog park.
According to the ruling, any publicly-funded or municipally operated facilities for dog owners must accommodate cats as well.
"This kind of came out of the blue, but it looks like our hands are tied," city Chief of Staff Jack Bell said. "I guess the cat people and the dog people are just going to have to learn to get along out there, somehow."
Conway’s dog park is going to be built on the grounds of the Don Owen Sports Complex off Skyline Drive using a $25,000 prize from a national PetSmart-sponsored "Bark for Your Park" contest in which Conway was runner-up to Texarkana, Texas.
The new requirement comes from a lawsuit by animal equality group All Pet Rights 1st against the city of Paducah, Ky. The Court handed down its 5-4 ruling on Friday, holding that "If a municipality within the U.S. has among its residents people who genuinely want to bring their cats to a public dog park, then we must accede that nothing in our Constitution would act to stop them from doing so."
"This is a great day for pet equality," All Pet Rights 1st Chairman Todd Aprilla told the Washington Post on Friday. "From the start it was clear that [Justice Antonin] Scalia was going to be our swing vote, but our lawyers did a great job of convincing him in oral arguments."
Aprilla was referring to an exchange during oral arguments in January in which normally dog-leaning Scalia asked if attorneys representing the pet equality group "can stand there and tell me, with a straight face, that you people want to bring a bunch of cats and put them in a pen together with a bunch of dogs, and that you want this to happen all over the country? That’s what you’re saying? Fine. You just convinced me. In fact, that’s better than fine. That’s just great as far as I’m concerned. Let’s just all do that, then."
Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the dissent, warned that allowing cats in dog parks would lead to a "slippery slope" in which "our traditional dog parks would be made calamitous by such creatures as bobcats and peacocks and I know not what others besides."
Support for the city’s newly revised "Don Owen Dog/Cat Park" has not been universal, with some local dog owners complaining that the new requirement intrudes on their rights.
"This is another example of cats running roughshod over our dogs’ rights," said one local beagle owner who declined to give his name.
According to Bell, City Engineer Ronnie Hall has been tasked with advising the Conway Parks Department on how to best integrate cats into the city’s dog park plan.
"Well, some degree of animosity between cats and dogs is a fairly well-understood thing, and so it seems apparent to me that something would have to be done to minimize interaction between the species," Hall said on Monday. "I suppose that some sort of fence-like structure, perhaps a fence, would have to be built to accomplish this, lest disaster ensue.
"On the other hand," Hall continued, "I suppose that a tree or treelike object in the park would allow the cats to remove themselves from potentially harmful encounters."
No matter what happens with the future of the park, it is always important to remember: a prior restraining interspecies law forbids owls on limited Sundays.