OXNARD — Although Moorpark already requires licenses for cats, a similar proposal in this city has some pet owners hissing that the measure is unnecessary and contrary to the feline's very nature.
"Cats are different than dogs," said cat owner Ponch Zizumbo, manager of Pet World Super Store in Oxnard. "Cats go all over the place and find their way back. The reality is, you don't hear about killer cats doing this or that to people."
But animal control officials say cats, like canines, need to be regulated and dismiss as myth the popular belief that felines must be errant to be happy. If the City Council tonight approves revisions to its animal control ordinance, residents will have to pay $10 to $30 for unfixed cats annually to license their felines beginning Feb. 9.
Facing tight budgets and a growing number of unclaimed cats at the pound, officials say the fees will generate revenue, reduce public-health risks and help reunite more pets with their owners.
"It is something that needs to be done," said Susan Laird of Oxnard's Utility Customer/Licensing Service Program. "Only 2% of the cats that wind up at the pound are reclaimed. With [cat licensing], we will be able to get cats back to their owners."
If the ordinance passes, Oxnard would become the second city in the county to mandate cat licensing. Moorpark approved a similar ordinance in December 1994 with few howls of protest from the public.
County supervisors considered imposing cat license fees on unincorporated areas last year, but put off a vote because they deemed the issue too controversial. But the county leaders have again taken up the issue. And the cities of Simi Valley, Fillmore, Ventura, Ojai, Port Hueneme, Camarillo and Santa Paula are all now talking about putting tags on cats.
State law requires dog owners to license their pooches. But Oxnard animal control officials say that asking only dog owners in the city to pay a licensing fee is no longer fair.
Oxnard now pays the county about $300,000 annually for animal regulation services such as kennel fees at the county's animal shelter. The city raises about $125,000 to pay the county through dog licensing and other programs, but derives no money from cat owners. Yet Lisa Jenkins, Oxnard's animal control supervisor, said Oxnard sends as many cats to the pound as it does dogs.
Jenkins said that beginning to license Oxnard's estimated 24,575 cats would generate an estimated $50,000 a year, forcing cat owners to share the cost with dog owners.
"We will have a way of balancing the animal program through the licensing revenue," Jenkins said. "Right now, we don't have anything to offset the handling of cats at the animal shelter."
Some Oxnard cat owners believe cats are treated as second-class citizens and welcome licensing as an opportunity to put their pets on an equal footing with canines.
"I think cats are treated as throwaway pets," said cat owner Sandra Peterson, a 29-year-old data-entry clerk. "I think that they should be treated as dogs so that they are watched over."
But Zizumbo said the licensing fees will simply dissuade many cat lovers from becoming cat owners.
"There are going to be a lot less cats out there," Zizumbo said.
If City Council members approve the ordinance, cat owners will have to get a rabies vaccination for their cats before obtaining their license. City animal control officials will require a proof of sterilization if pet owners want to pay the lower licensing fee.
Under the proposed ordinance, cats will have to wear conventional tags or a microchip implanted in the animal's neck that will identify the pet with a scanning device.
At least one Oxnard veterinarian says licensing cats will help protect residents from health risks.
"It will help the veterinarian have an opportunity to educate a portion of the public that doesn't usually get their pets vaccinated," said Jan Feingold of the Oxnard Veterinary Hospital. "There are a number of states that have experienced a resurgence of problems like rabies. Keeping cats licensed and vaccinated will reduce the risk."