Madera County residents will not have to license their cats or be required to have them vaccinated for rabies. That is the outcome of the unanimous vote today by the Madera County Board of Supervisors at their regular meeting.
The fees for licensing cats had already been approved in County Ordinance 634 in April of 2010. However, there was no mechanism put in place for the collection of those new fees.
Kirsten Gross, Shelter Director for Madera County was asking the Board to amend the language of the ordinance to grant her the power to begin collecting the fees. Residents of the county would have been required to have their cats licensed, which would have also required proof of a rabies vaccination.“I can’t charge the fees unless the Board authorizes me to do so,” said Gross. She estimated that about $5,000 in revenue would be raised each year for the general fund, but said that the main concern was to prevent rabies.
“We feel this is an important component for our licensing as we have a lot of cats in Madera County. We do have an increase in rabies occurring in our mountain areas, and we feel this is a tremendous health and safety concern.”
Tom Wheeler, District 5 Supervisor, wondered if we have a problem that needs addressing by implementing new fees. “To solve a problem you have to first identify the problem,” he said. “How many cats have we had with rabies in the county?”
Gross was aware of no instances of rabies in cats in the 10 years she has been working for the County, but pointed out that 3 confirmed cases of rabies have been seen so far this year in other animals. She also said that 18 counties in California have licensing requirements for cats.
“That’s only 18 out of 58,” said Wheeler. “That means 40 of us don’t. I spoke at a meeting the other day and not one of the 75-100 people there wanted this. It’s a big tax, and an injustice to our people, especially in today’s economic times.”
Chairman Ron Dominici raised concerns that violations of the ordinance would be misdemeanors.
“Having them qualified as a misdemeanor gives us the opportunity to address situations in that manner if we see fit, but 99.9% are dropped to an infraction,” said Gross.
Five members of the public were on hand to voice their opposition.
Don Burks of North Fork said that this felt like just another intrusion into the taxpayers’ pocketbook for no compelling reason.
“If there was some kind of imminent threat to public safety, I could see that,” said Burks. “But this will impose an extreme hardship on too many people. I have 5 cats. $25 per cat is a huge cost, and I can’t imagine my little cats running around dangling metal tags like a dog.”
Sarah Rah was concerned about her friends on extremely limited incomes.
“The fees are onerous. If somebody has 4 cats, that’s 100 dollars. People on limited incomes often have vegetable gardens, and cats are very important to keep critters at bay,” Rah said. “There’s often a fuzzy line between who owns what cat. Cats have a way at living at more than one house, and there’s a fine line between who’s feral and who’s not.
Letters to the Board included concerns about how this would be enforced, citing the current difficulties in getting officials to respond to calls for animal control with all the staffing and budget cuts. And what about barn cats or cats abandoned and fed by neighbors?
One letter stated, “While well-intentioned, I’m afraid this ordinance would cause many law-abiding citizens who are in financial difficulties to decide ‘no more expenses’ in regards to their cats, resulting in more, not less ferals and strays.”
No one spoke in favor of the ordinance, and when all was said and done, Supervisor Frank Bigelow made the motion that Gross “rewrite the document eliminating the words ‘cat’ or ‘cattery’ in the text, and include wording that the current fees that are in place as per the action of April 2010 be a voluntary component. Strike the rabies requirement for cats.”
The motion was seconded by Supervisor David Rogers, and passed by unanimous consent.