Cats, dogs and collars

August 08, 1994

Any jurisdiction that tries to pass cat licensing laws runs into howls from feline owners who say cats and collars weren't meant for each other. Cats are free spirits. It's cruel to make them wear a license.

Here's what's cruel:

Last year county animal control workers killed 4,783 cats, most of them strays. A good number of the strays probably belonged to somebody. Only 100 found their way home. Without tags, there's no way to identify them.

Cats should be licensed, for their safety and ours. County Councilwoman Maureen Lamb's pet licensing bill, scheduled for a hearing Aug. 15, may need a few refinements, but the premise is sound. Cat and dog owners would pay $30 to license an unspayed or unneutered animal and $4 to license an altered pet. The differential is intentionally steep to encourage people to sterilize their pets.

Dog owners, who now pay $10 for unspayed or unneutered animals, will bark at this increase, and some will argue that raising the fee will actually reduce the number of licensed dogs. But in the long run the higher fee should help reduce the dog population. A great deal of pet licensing occurs when people have no choice, namely, when they claim their dogs at animal control. As it is, it is cheaper to buy the $10 license for an unsterilized dog than pay $4 and the cost of spaying and neutering. Naturally, many dog owners don't spay or neuter. The same principle applies with cats.

The council may want to make an exception for breeders, who already pay kennel fees. Paying $30 an animal would pose a heavy burden; a modest $10 fee might make the bill more palatable.

As for the notion that cats shouldn't be licensed at all, we point out several facts. One, unidentifiable stray cats pose a health risk because cats can carry rabies. Licensing cuts down rabies because proof of rabies vaccination is required to get a license. Two, license revenue would help offset the cost of cat pickup and euthanasia; cats now account for the bulk of animal control's work but the county receives no cat-related revenue.

Finally, the argument that cat licensing is unnecessary because people keep cats indoors doesn't wash. The number of strays who end up being put to sleep makes that painfully clear.

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