Cat licensing bill sparks a sharp debate Foes vehement

measure's aim is to encourage rabies control, neutering

March 18, 1997|By Craig Timberg | Craig Timberg,SUN STAFF

A proposal to require the licensing of cats in Howard County generated sharp debate last night about the perils of wild cats, the difficulty of licensing them and the dangers of a pet police state.

Animal Advocates of Howard County, a nonprofit group, is seeking annual licensing of cats in hopes of encouraging rabies shots and neutering. The group blames irresponsible pet owners for allowing their cats to breed, adding to the population of wild cats.

But at last night's County Council hearing, opponents were vehement in their opposition.

"Are we putting up another level of Gestapo tactics, where people are going to come around to our homes and see how many cats we have?" said Wayne Newland of Columbia, a breeder and founder of Free State Cat Fanciers.

"You can't legislate responsibility into people," added Newland, who declined to say how many cats he owns. "I'm asking you to educate rather than legislate."

The proposal under consideration by the council would require cat owners to license each of their cats every year while providing proof of rabies vaccination for each one.

A cat that is spayed or neutered would cost $6 a year. Two or more would cost a total of $12. Unaltered cats would cost $24 each per year. The fees would be the same as those required to license dogs.

"By giving cats the same protection we now give dogs, we can significantly cut down on the number of cats killed by the county," said Martha Gagnon, president of Animal Advocates.

Last year, the county killed 1,342 cats at a price to the county of $100 for each, said Republican Councilman Darrel E. Drown of Ellicott City, one of the sponsors of cat licensing.

Supporters say cat licensing has helped other states and counties control populations of wild cats, which can spread rabies and other diseases. Anne Arundel, Prince George's, Montgomery and Garrett counties license cats.

"Simply killing cats is not the solution," said Joanne Serelis of Clarksville.

But several others questioned the logistics of cat licensing.

"The biggest problem of pet registration with the cat is this," said Wendy Feaga, an Ellicott City veterinarian, as she held up a leather collar with several tags. She said that cat owners are reluctant to put collars on their pets.

"If we pass this legislation, there has to be a way to put the tags on the cats," added Feaga, a cousin of Republican Councilman Charles C. Feaga.

She and others suggested ear tags, unbreakable collars, tattoos or even computer chips that would keep registration information.

But her cousin, Councilman Feaga, has criticized cat licensing, saying that he has rarely seen evidence of cat overpopulation in Howard County. And last night he warned, "When the cats are gone, the rats take over immediately."

Ron Cashdollar, president of the Howard County Farm Bureau, also criticized the bill, saying it would be a burden on farmers.

"We use them for pest control and rodent control. They have a job," Cashdollar said. "We want them to reproduce so they can keep that rodent population under control."

But Kathleen Schwartz of Lisbon said irresponsible cat owners simply leave their pets at her farm.

"This is a real problem in our area," Schwartz said. "Every time I turn around, there's another cat out at the farm. I think this is a throw-away society."

Also last night, police and fire union officials joined forces with administrators to urge the County Council to approve new union contracts that would allow retirement in 20 years rather than 25.

That issue and cat licensing are scheduled for votes in April.

Pub Date: 3/18/97

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