Dog days for cat owners: Feline licensing proposed

August 04, 1994|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer

The fur may soon be flying in the County Council chambers over a proposal to license cats, just as dogs have been licensed for years.

County Councilwoman Maureen Lamb, sponsor of the legislation, said she expects howls of protest from cat owners. "We do have a problem along those lines, because they will object to the fees," said the Annapolis Democrat.

The measure would charge $30 for an unspayed or unneutered dog or cat and $4 for an altered pet, with discounts for veterans, the disabled and senior citizens. To get a license, cat owners would be required to present proof that their pets have been vaccinated against rabies, which is required by state law.

Anne Arundel would join Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore counties in licensing cats. A public hearing is scheduled for the council's Aug. 15 meeting.

The idea may not sit well with feline owners, who object to the double collar of new county fees and being forced to hang a tag around their pet's neck.

"I think it's a big pile of bull, because a cat is something you keep inside," said Patrick Rzcezkowski as he shopped for cat food in Pasadena. "The government always has to put their nose into something."

Curt Giles of Longpoint agreed: "I guess I would be opposed to anything that would cost me more money."

But as he listened to some of the reasons for licensing cats, he softened his stance: "That may not be a bad idea, to tell you the truth, if it would give people an incentive to get their pets spayed or neutered."

Representatives of the county's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, who requested the bill, and veterinarians say that licensing cats will reduce the spread of rabies, encourage the spaying and neutering of cats and speed the return of lost pets.

If people could see how many cats are destroyed every week at the county's animal shelter, they would be lining up to support the bill, said Frank Branchini, executive director of the SPCA of Anne Arundel County.

Last year, 7,108 animals were euthanized in Anne Arundel County, "and most of them are healthy, good-tempered and adoptable," Mr. Branchini said. That number might be significantly reduced if there were some means of identifying stray animals and a license would do that.

Last year, Mr. Branchini points out, a third of the 3,000 stray dogs picked up by animal control officials were returned to their owners. But only 100 of the approximately 3,500 stray cats found their way back home.

In 1993, 4,783 cats were put to sleep, as opposed to 2,325 dogs, Mr. Branchini said.

Beyond the heart-wrenching problem of having to kill so many animals is the matter of controlling rabies. "Most people, when they think of rabies, they think of dogs," said Ray Thompson, executive director of the Maryland Veterinary Medical Association.

But cats are a much more common carrier of rabies than dogs. According to statistics complied by state health officials, of the 305 confirmed rabid animals found in Maryland through June, 21 have been cats and three were dogs. Last year, 623 rabid animals were identified, 21 of them cats and one dog.

"I'll concede I understand that people are concerned about over-regulating pet ownership," said Dr. Jane Brunt, president of the Maryland Veterinary Medical Association and a feline specialist practicing in Towson.

"However, rabies is a threat," she said. "People need to know it's something that's not only a pet hazard. Beyond that, it's a human health hazard. . . . This is a health and safety issue, not a legislative issue."

Many cat owners, Mr. Thompson noted, oppose cat licensing laws because they insist that their pets only stay indoors. "But with the number of cat rabies cases, they're obviously going outside."

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