Editorial: City’s got cats on the mind

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(File Photo)

On the surface, it sounds like a good thing for the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria to launch a program to trim the city’s feral cat population. In recent years, officials and residents have watched wild felines grow in numbers, particularly in Arlandria and the West End.

After all, the program is a public-private partnership between AWLA and Alley Cat Allies and receives funding from PetSmart Charities. It involves trapping wild cats and either neutering or spaying them, then releasing them back into the wild. This method apparently reduces the feral population in a few years. The program’s private funding is well received — the average cost of spaying or neutering runs between $50 and $100 per animal.

So, what’s the problem?

It’s partly this program and partly Alexandria’s obnoxious four-cat, six-pet rule. With everything else going on — major development projects, struggling schools and crowded roadways — City Hall keeps busy regulating animals, in our homes and in the wild.

Though PetSmart Charities pays for spaying and neutering, it’s reasonable to assume that more than a few tax dollars will end up spent on incidental expenses: labor and gas, to think of just a couple. After all, AWLA depends on municipal dollars as well as generous charities and good-willed donors.

Is Alexandria’s feral cat population so out of control that government intervention is required? If so, why not just euthanize the cats rather than go through the extensive and expensive proposition of trapping these feral animals, transporting them, operating on them, nursing them, transporting them again and then releasing them back into the wild? It’s not as if they pose anything more than a source of annoyance. Many of our poorest human residents probably wish for such care.

And then there’s that pesky four-cat, six-pet rule, which is an affront to the intelligence and competence of Alexandrians — as if residents need City Hall to teach them best practices for raising pets. If someone has a large house and wants six cats, or a large cage and wants eight hamsters, what business is it of our local government? That’s one ordinance that needs to come off the books.

Unfortunately, often harmless-sounding ideas, such as regulating the city’s cat population, often result in governmental overreach. In the case of the four-cat rule, it also results in a loss of liberty for city residents. We disparage the pet restrictions on these pages partly because they’re silly. The notion of city cat inspectors raiding an unsuspecting home with a search warrant for illicit felines is absurd.

But a larger issue is at stake: government at all levels attemps to regulate too many areas of our lives. Leave the city’s cat population — feral and pets — alone.