Rethinking cat licensing

Rethinking cat licensing

By Erich Wagner (File photo)

Once the cat got out of the bag that City Councilor Justin Wilson was combing Alexandria’s codes for outdated or unnecessary laws, residents started coming to him with ideas.

And more than one had stumbled across a largely unenforced ordinance regulating feline companions.

“We’ve actually gotten a couple of emails from people interested in cat licensing,” Wilson said.

Most local jurisdictions have laws requiring that dog owners get licenses for their canines. But of area local governments, only Montgomery and Prince George’s counties join Alexandria in requiring cats to be licensed as well.

According to city code, cat owners in the Port City must buy a one-year license for $10 or a three-year license for $25. Joe Seskey, deputy director of the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, said the penalty for owning an unlicensed cat is a $50 fine.

Seskey said the shelter routinely issues cat licenses to pet owners and new adopters. Between July 2010 and June 2013, officials issued 2,100 licenses, netting the city $5,645.

Wilson said he wants to learn the original reasoning for the license requirement, which was last updated in 2008, before passing judgment on the measure. But he understands residents’ concerns about how it works in practice.

“I suspect the explanation is going to be that it eases the recovery when a cat is lost, but I don’t know,” he said. “The residents raised the concern that there was very low compliance, and that’s probably true.”

Seskey said violators are only brought to the attention of the city if their pet becomes a problem.

“There are any number of reasons that we would come into contact with someone’s cat, but primarily it’s because it’s bitten their owner,” he said. “That’s the point when we’d discover its licensing and vaccination history.

“[It] doesn’t happen that often, and we take it on a case-by-case basis as they happen.”

In fact, violators are very rarely found, Seskey said later in an email. In 2013, the city issued zero citations for an unlicensed cat.

“I’m surprised there were that many,” joked Wilson upon hearing the statistic.

Wilson still wants to hear more about the rationale for the regulation before casting judgment.

“I just need to make sure there’s nothing I’m missing,” he said.