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Agency Urges Cat Licensing : Pets: County regulators ask seven cities to adopt fees as a way to raise money, reunite strays with owners. Some residents object.

October 07, 1995|ERIC WAHLGREN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

County animal regulators hope that a proposal to require licenses for cats has nine lives, and are now encouraging Ventura County cities to adopt what the Board of Supervisors scratched earlier this year.

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Kathy Jenks, county director of animal regulation, mailed a report last week outlining the benefits of cat licensing to seven cities in her department's jurisdiction. Ojai and Simi Valley officials will discuss the proposal during their city council meetings next week.

Not everyone is exactly purring over a plan the county has discussed off and on for 10 years.

But faced with tight budgets and a growing number of unclaimed felines at the pound, some officials believe that cat licensing will generate revenue, reduce public health risks and help reunite pets with their owners.

"We are tired of killing cats," Jenks said. "We would like them to go back to their owners. We can't do that without identification."

State law requires dog owners to license their pooches. Over the past five years, Jenks said, 24% of dogs that wind up at the pound were reclaimed by their owners. Only 2% of the stray cats taken to the animal shelter ended up back in their original homes.

The animal regulation department serves areas populated by an estimated 117,821 cats and about 111,000 dogs. That only dog owners should have to pay the $27 licensing fee--$8.50 for spayed or neutered animals--is not fair, some argue.

"The animal shelter is serving both dogs and cats in roughly equal numbers," said Andrew Belknap, Ojai's city manager. "The difference is, people who own dogs are paying fees. But the cats are just as much of the cost picture as dogs."

Ojai pays the county about $50,000 a year for animal control services, with about $13,000 raised from dog licensing fees and the rest derived from the city's General Fund.

Belknap said requiring Ojai residents to license their estimated 1,642 cats would generate an additional $13,000 in revenue.

Moorpark already requires its residents to license their cats. But Simi Valley, Fillmore, Ventura, Ojai, Port Hueneme and Camarillo will each have to pass a cat licensing ordinance for it to become law in those cities. Oxnard and Santa Paula, which also contract with the county agency, conduct their own licensing program. Thousand Oaks contracts with Los Angeles County for animal control services.

Jenks hopes to get the Board of Supervisors to decide in November whether to impose cat license fees on unincorporated areas. If cat licensing becomes law in these areas, it could generate about $82,130 for the county, according to animal regulation projections.

Supervisors briefly considered such a plan earlier this year when adopting a county budget, but the proposal never came to a vote because it was deemed too controversial.

Supervisors Frank Schillo and Maggie Kildee said they remain more than just a whisker away from supporting cat licensing.

"I think that there is a tradition that is going to be very difficult to get around," Kildee said. "Cats are not prone to regulation and cat owners aren't very often either."

Other officials said cat licensing merely serves as another way for government to get its paws on taxpayers' money. State-mandated dog licensing, they point out, arose to force owners to vaccinate their canines against rabies.

"[Licensing] is being expanded into a general tax and into a revenue generator," said Sandi Webb, a Simi Valley City Council member who owns both dogs and cats. "That's been happening all over the county and it's not right. Cats are not out there running around attacking people."

But at least one Ventura County veterinarian argues that licensing cats would help protect residents from health risks.

"Right now, rabies vaccines are not required for cats, which is foolish," said Shelly Wilson, a Ventura veterinarian. "Cats are more exposed to rabid animals than dogs."

In her report, Jenks said cats have gotten a bad rap over the years, leading to beliefs that they are "some mysterious pseudo-wildlife species, needing to roam free for their physical and psychological well-being."

Not only can a cat adjust to wearing a collar and living indoors, Jenks said, but she added that licensing can also elevate the animal's status in society.

"Cat owners already realize that cats are important in their lives," Jenks said. "Perhaps by doing this, other people, neighbors who have shot BB guns or made disparaging remarks, will realize that cats have a right to be here too."

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