SFSPCA: Mandatory Cat Licensing:  Ill-conceived and Ill-advised

SFSPCA: Mandatory Cat Licensing:  Ill-conceived and Ill-advised

The San Francisco SPCA takes a close look at a popular but seriously flawed answer to cat population problems

By: Staff  Date: 01/10/2012 Category: | Animal Legislation | Feline Issues |



The report begins with an indictment of the latest fad in animal control laws: The San Francisco SPCA has considered the various claims made for mandatory cat licensing legislation and has found little in the way of evidence - or even, in some cases, common sense - to support them. In our view, rather than helping cats or their caretakers, the primary effects of mandatory cat licensing would be to put the lives of cats at risk to round up and kill campaigns; penalize responsible cat owners, force many feral colony caretakers to cease their efforts, cost money, and inappropriately expand the power and reach of government bureaucracies and enforcement agencies.

The report continues with an analysis of claims made by those who propose such laws and debunks each argument.


Cat licensing will make cat owners more responsible

"Caring can't be mandated, and a licensing mandate will only end up punishing those who care," the report noted. Such a law will discipline the people who already provide care for their own cats, neighborhood strays, and feral cat colonies by imposing a tax on their compassion.

Activists often dismiss this concern by insisting that the licensing law will only be enforced upon complaint, but the SF report stated, "We see little equity or sense in enacting a law that only ends up penalizing through a licensing tax the very people whose behavior is already exemplary. Needless to say, truly irresponsible cat owners won't be affected. If the law isn't enforced, they are free to ignore it. If it is enforced against them, they are likely to surrender or abandon their animals, which will only add to the number of cats killed."


Cat licensing will help raise the status of cats.

Apparently, the rationale here is that dogs have special status because they are licensed. However, a more sensible solution to equalizing status, if such a thing is desirable, is to eliminate dog licensing as it is difficult to enforce and suffers from poor compliance.


Cat licensing will result in more cats redeemed at shelters

Statistics show that cat redemption at shelters is likely to decrease when mandatory licensing is imposed. In Los Angeles, according to a November 1993 report of the San Diego County Animal Control Advisory Board, the number of stray cats redeemed by their owners declined by 32 percent after the licensing law went into effect. In contrast, 63 percent of stray dogs in San Francisco were redeemed by their owners although fewer than five percent of those dogs were licensed.

Licensing proponents forget or ignore the differences in cat and dog populations. The stray and feral populations of cats are much higher than the respective populations of dogs, leading to a higher percentage of owned dogs and thus more redemptions after impoundment. Since unowned cats are highly unlikely to be licensed under the law, they'll either be ignored or rounded up and killed, as they are without licensing.


Cat licensing will help reduce the number of stray and abandoned cats

The only way cat licensing will reduce the number of stray and abandoned cats is if it is enforced by rounding up unlicensed cats and killing them, according to the SF report. If licensing is implemented, some groups and individuals will insist on enforcement to control feral cat colonies and neighborhood strays; since few of these cats are adoptable, a round up will lead to death for virtually all of these cats.



Cat licensing will help reduce shelter euthansias

Since cat licensing will likely result in more cats impounded for various reasons, it is not possible that the number of deaths will go down.


Cat licensing will raise money to help fund animal control agencies

Actually, cat licensing will cost money, not save it. At $5-$10 per cats, covering basic expenses such as purchase of license tags, paperwork, personnel, time for answering questions, mailing renewals, enforcement, public relations campaigns, etc., will be difficult. Higher license fees will bring less compliance, so additional budget money will come from some other bureaucracy or public service.

Dog owners contribute to animal control costs through license fees; it's time cat owners pay their fair share

As noted before, a more equitable solution would be to abolish dog licenses, not institute cat licenses.


Regulating cat owners through licensing and other mandates is the only way to solve cat problems

"In our view, the way to teach people to be responsible pet owners and help the cats in a community is through voluntary, incentive-based measures that enable people to do the right thing. Government mandates that seek to blame and punish pet owners are likely to be costly and counterproductive for all the reasons outlined above. Moreover, it seems to us to be grossly unfair to penalize the community at large through coercive mandates when it is the local shelters who are the primary source of animals and whose policies and practices have the greatest impact, for better or worse, on local animal welfare issues."


Does SF SPCA put its money where its mouth is?

Yes, with programs such as "Greenbacks for Gonads," a summer program that pays $5 per intact cat brought in for neuter surgery; a policy that requires sterilization of all adopted cats; assistance for elderly cat owners on the senior citizen pet program; a feral cat caretaker system; cat counseling class; periodic "free spay" months; and promotion of cats available for adoption through press releases and a satellite adoption program.

For more information about San Francisco's stand on animal issues or its cat adoption and education programs, write SF SPCA, 2500 16th Street, San Francisco, CA 94103-6589, (415) 554-3000. or visit the San Francisco SPCA  on the web. The shelter staff is eager to share its success in helping animals.

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All Authors Of This Article: | Norma Bennett Woolf |
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