Feline felonies In other communities with cat licensing, pet owners often ignore law.

March 19, 1997

SUFFERIN' SUCCOTASH! Licenses could be required for felines in Howard County under a well-intended bill that aims to wipe out feral feline colonies, prevent the spread of rabies and save the county a big chunk in euthanasia costs.

It would be a terrific idea -- if it could work. But Sylvester will catch Tweety Bird before this law accomplishes its stated purposes.

Democratic County Councilwoman Mary Lorsung and Republican Darrel Drown have joined forces to spare cats as well as the county government's kitty.

Mr. Drown says the county spends $100 to euthanize each stray cat that is not returned to owners or adopted. Too many cats get out of the house, run loose and are exposed to rabies from contact with wild animals, say supporters of the licensing proposal. Animal Advocates of Howard County hopes legislation would encourage more responsible cat ownership.

Their "Exhibit A" is similar legislation in Los Angeles. They contend it has substantially reduced the number of cats put to death there.

However, there is little, if any, evidence that the law is achieving those goals in Maryland counties that already require tabby licenses.

The number of animals rounded up and euthanized in Anne Arundel County is virtually unchanged since a law was adopted there in 1994. A before-after picture is not available in Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George's counties, which have required cat licensing for a decade or longer, before detailed statistics were kept. As for enforcement, it's a misnomer. George Whiting, associate director of Prince George's animal management division, may be right in saying the law helps teach pet owners about responsibility. But he concedes that the number of unlicensed cats is at least triple the 4,000 "legal" ones. The law gets ignored by both irresponsible cat owners and others who believe licensing is unnecessary because they never let their pets out of the house.

The Howard County Council can pass this law, collect fees ranging from $6 to $24 from the most dutiful cat owners and perhaps encourage some people to get pets spayed or neutered. Perhaps it will make a bit of a difference, but it will be far from a panacea for the problem of rounding up and euthanizing hundreds of stray cats each year.

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