Maine Republican 1st District Congressional hopeful Ed Thelander speaks at a lobstermen's rally on the Portland waterfront on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

A Republican congressional candidate who said that litter boxes are being placed in school bathrooms to accommodate children who identify as animals has walked back that statement, according to the Portland Press Herald.

Ed Thelander, who is challenging Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree in Maine’s 1st District, had made the comments in July on an alternative conservative website, and a clip of the interview circulated this week, according to the Portland newspaper. He also claimed that a “major employer” in Maine had to fire an employee for pretending to be a cat at work, according to the Press Herald.

The debunked fringe belief that schools are providing litter boxes for children who self-identify as animals, sometimes erroneously called “furries,” has occasionally popped up in Maine and around the country for more than a year.

A rumor about workers at Bath Iron Works identifying as furries and demanding litter boxes in place of bathrooms also plagued the shipyard last fall.

Thelander told the Press Herald he no longer believes that litter boxes are in school bathrooms and that it was a mistake to bring it up on the show. He said the person he heard was fired for pretending to be a cat was working at BIW, but he couldn’t provide any evidence of that being the case.

It was the second time in as many days Thelander expressed regret for past statements he made. At a Portland rally in support of lobstermen Wednesday, Thelander compared the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to rapists while leveling criticism at lobster regulations intended to protect the endangered right whale.

He apologized for those comments during his debate with Pingree later that evening.