Council backtracks after cat owners pounce on licensing law | June 14, 2013 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

News - June 14, 2013

Council backtracks after cat owners pounce on licensing law

by Daniel DeBolt

After public outcry, on Tuesday City Council members were persuaded to scratch new regulations for pet owners in Mountain View, including a controversial licensing and rabies shot requirements for cats.

The regulations, which the council voted in favor of last week, are going back to the drawing board.

The new animal control ordinance, based on a model proposed by the city's new animal services provider, Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority, required a second vote of approval on June 11 before it could go into effect. It includes a cat license requirement, with a $10 annual fee ($50 if your cat isn't neutered or spayed) and mandated rabies shots.

News of the ordinance's approval last week drew an angry response online from cat owners who complained that they had not known about it.

Dozens of cat owners spoke against the new ordinance Tuesday and not one person spoke in support.

"This is why I voted the way I did last week," said Mayor John Inks, who was last week's lone vote of opposition.

Council member Mike Kasperzak conceded, "You were right."

This time, council members voted 5-1, with Inks again opposed, to keep the city's existing ordinance, and add in the legalization of beehives. Member Jac Siegel was absent.

Several residents said the ordinance would require they go against the advice of veterinarians that indoor cats not be vaccinated for rabies.

"Two of my cats have had breast cancer, probably because of the rabies shots they had when they were little," said Alison Stern. "Making all of us put our cats at risk is not OK," she said in tears.

Resident Todd Nagengast said he chooses not to vaccinate his indoor cats and is "concerned that new ordinance would basically make me a law-breaker, make me guilty of a misdemeanor, I'd like to not go to jail for that."

"Just the fact there's a possibility somebody could be arrested for a misdemeanor for having a cat just scares the bejeesus out of me," said council member John McAlister, who made a motion to remove the cat license requirement from the ordinance. He later withdrew it so the entire ordinance could be reviewed.

Residents and council members said the new animal control ordinance was too long and detailed and affected too many people to be approved without more scrutiny. A review will soon be underway with efforts to get public input, city manager Dan Rich said.

The cat license controversy drew the the public's attention to the ordinance's other problems, which also were not discussed by council members last week, such as rules forbidding dogs on city property.

"The reason we don't have a room full of dog lovers is because they haven't read the part of the ordinance that says you shan't have a dog on city property," said council member Ronit Bryant.

Council member Margaret Abe-Koga noted that a former council member who had often brought her dog to City Hall would be in violation of the ordinance.

"A lot of business let their employees bring their pets," she said. "Should we be more pet friendly, too?

Cat owners protest

Carol Hyde, director of the Palo Alto Human Society, was one of the dozens who spoke Tuesday against the cat licensing requirement. "It is essentially unenforceable. Cats live in loose association with people, often showing up just for food. It can lead to abandonment of cats," she said. Because enforcement would likely have to be "complaint-driven" it would be "unfairly enforced."

Christina Peck of Fat Cat Rescue and the Stanford Cat Network said the two cat rescue groups also oppose mandatory rabies shots and licenses, noting that the groups operate without any contact with SVACA.

Police Capt. Max Bosel, who called cat licensing and rabies vaccinations a "common and best practice," had noted that the ASPCA endorses rabies vaccinations and cat licensing requirements, and most cities in the county require both.

Summarizing the "general belief" by most groups that oppose cat licensing, Bosel said "they theorize that licensing will lead to additional stray cat populations and additional cats in shelters, which will kill cats at a greater number" but that is not the experience of the city's animal control provider. Bosel said fewer than 700 cats are licensed in the city of Santa Clara, where SVACA is based, while over 3,500 dogs are licensed.

It was noted that 84 percent of cats are saved from euthanasia at the SVACA shelter at 3370 Thomas Road in Santa Clara, which also serves Campbell and Monte Sereno. The other SVACA cities have all adopted a similar ordinance, which Abe-Koga said should be a concern for SVACA's board.

The week prior, SVACA director Dan Soszynski said the license requirement aimed to increase the rate at which lost cats are returned to owners in a 96-hour holding period, now at only 10 percent, while 50 percent of dogs are returned, though some say the comparison isn't fair.

He said that SVACA recommends cats wear collars with registration tags. Several cat owners had issues with this, saying that inserting ID chips in cats was enough to ID them at shelters. Others said that collars come off or are a danger to cats if they get caught on a fence, though "break-away" collars are available.

"If I tried as hard as I could to abide by your ordinance — my cat loses his collar on a regular basis — it just won't work," said resident Carter Coleman. "To pass a law you know residents cannot abide by doesn't make any sense."

Email Daniel DeBolt at