Here is another viewpoint:
Question from Deborah in AR:
My town has a leash law covering cats as well as dogs! This means that no one can get a feral cat spayed/neutered under our shelter's new low-income S/N program unless the cat is afterwards licensed and kept indoors. I would like some advice on how to persuade the City that it is in the public's interest to exempt cats from this requirement.
Anticipated arguments against this change would include: gardeners who don't want cats messing in their flower beds, bird enthusiasts who insist cats decimate wild bird populations, some who fear cats might spread disease, fanatic dog lovers who would resent cats getting any special treatment (a larger group than you might imagine), and officials who think the City would lose money gained through licensing fees. Thank you for providing such a wonderful service.
Response from Nathan:
I remember working for a large law firm when I was practicing law. One of my mentors was a wise old lawyer who told a great story about how his firm was representing an insurance company who did not want to pay out in a toxics pollution case worth millions of dollars. Both sides were writing briefs, citing legal precedent, asking for more and more documents, while the case dragged on for months and even years. When all was said and done, there was a statute on the books that was clear and to the point. The opposing side didn't have a case. Had any of the attorneys working for the insurance company bothered to look at the actually statute that governed the situation, the case could have been dismissed early on. So before you go on the attack, read the ordinance.
When I was working at the San Francisco SPCA, one of our feral volunteers received a citation from the Health Department for allegedly violating the city's pet limit law because she was feeding a feral colony across the street from her home. She was threatened with a fine and even jail term. But the ordinance defined cat ownership as someone who feeds a cat for 30 days on property they own or possess. Since she was feeding the cats on public property (which she did not own or possess), she was not the legal owner as defined by the city ordinance. So I called the Health Department and told them to read their own ordinance. The enforcement action stopped.
Cat confinement laws and cat licensing laws are detrimental to saving lives. If you want to get rid of them, more power to you. But if you have a more narrow focus - you are worried that they will impact your feral work, get copies and read them first to see if they even apply to you before you wage a campaign that may be unnecessary. Many local ordinances require that a person have an ownership or possessory interest not present with regards to feral cats. What this contemplates is an indeterminate time of custody, control or responsibility. In contrast, the feral cat caretaker would exercise custody only for the purpose of physically taking the animal to be sterilized, at all times presuming the animal's re-release. To me, that does not confer ownership for purposes of town licensing or leash laws.
But if the ordinance applies to you and you want to change it, always start with a well-written position paper. It should include a cost-benefit analysis of the competing claims in favor of cat licensing and leash laws. If you do your research, you will find - like the claims about feline disease and predation noted in the earlier post - that all the different claims made in favor of these ordinances do not stand up to scrutiny. You have many communities you can draw on to show what a failure it is in terms of reducing the numbers of cats entering shelters, generating revenue, or controlling feline "delinquency." From San Mateo, California to Fort Wayne, Indiana, communities that passed strict cat confinement laws generally killed more cats when their ordinance went into effect than they did before it, and continue to kill cats in numbers that are above the curve for similarly situated communities without these laws. In fact, get the facts and figures from your own community, which you have a right to do under state public records act (often called Freedom of Information laws). You'll find that compliance rates are low, generating additional compliance through canvassing costs more money than is generated by licensing revenues, nor can any link be made between confinement laws and reductions in nuisance complaints or impounds. I would challenge any community to show otherwise.
Follow the money. It ain't there. When I lived in Marin County, just north of San Francisco, the local humane society pushed a countywide licensing scheme that failed. We put out an 11-page position paper, going over point-by-point the claims made to support it, and debunking each one with facts and figures from ours, and other jurisdictions as follows:
The labor-intensive enforcement provisions of cat licensing, including the creation of a crime, cannot be supported as a cost saving measure.
Low compliance rates, complaint driven enforcement, discouraging of privately funded and administered cat care and sterilization efforts and the experience of other jurisdictions with cat licensing demonstrate that jurisdictions that have implemented cat licensing have seen the number of cats handled and kill rates increase, or have had no effect to warrant the imposition of and drawbacks associated with cat licensing
Experience in jurisdictions with cat licensing demonstrate reduced reclaim rates due to fears of penalties and/or inability to pay impound recovery fees. In addition, since a majority of cats killed at shelters are unowned, it is unlikely that reunification rates would be increased. This is further exacerbated with low public compliance experienced in all jurisdictions with cat licensing despite aggressive programs and expensive door-to-door canvassing
Taxing those who have cats living in their homes or who undertake rescue and care efforts at their own expense will NOT represent an equitable shift in the animal control tax burden since most cats entering the shelters are unowned or owner relinquishes, and since owned cats are not contributing to animal control costs. Therefore, cat licensing amounts to a penalty tax, penalizing responsible cat owners and those that are acting to ameliorate cat overpopulation through privately funded means.
To believe that "taxing" a cat will raise the status of a cat in a caretaker's perception is as silly as it sounds. In fact, marginal caregivers and homeless cat caretakers will either be pushed underground or will be forced to abandon their efforts, forcing the cats onto the town's charge and increasing shelter deaths.
In short, we argued successfully that although cat licensing is promoted as a benign public health and safety regulation (and as a population control for cats), closer scrutiny revealed that its real effects were far from beneficial. Licensing required the county to make considerable expenditures to implement programs for controlling and licensing cats, at the same time they undermined existing efforts to reduce cat overpopulation undertaken at no cost to the county through arbitrary mandates, fines, taxes or fees - and, at the threat of impoundment and killing of the cats - which defeated the likelihood that community groups and volunteer organizations could make a lasting and significant contribution to solving the "pet overpopulation" problem. Our motto: "It's not just a cat licensing bill, it's a license to kill cats." The only thing killed was the proposal to license cats. You can do it, particularly in an era of tight budgets. If you offer it as a cost saving measure (shifting the cost from public control of cats to privately funded TNR and rescue efforts (what is called a "public-private partnership") is a good argument for exempting your efforts.
If all this sounds lawyer-like, it is meant to. When the county administration expected "crazy cat people" to show up screaming about fluffy (some did that too, the second motto was: "Better Fed than Dead!"), they were stopped cold with a crisp well-written position paper laying out the economic and political implications of a county-wide licensing scheme. When the county was looking at budget cuts, the last thing it wanted to do was to increase a costly bureaucracy that did not meet the goals proffered by animal control in surrounding communities that tried going that way.
In addition, while you advocate for change (you can form an association to put out your position paper, write press releases, attend city council meetings), have a fallback position. One compromise is getting an exemption for feral cats who are, in many cases, "unowned" and therefore properly outside the town leash law. Keeping a cat confinement or leash law off the books is generally easier than getting one that exists to be repealed. But amendments are made all the time to laws, and a well researched and well written position paper and advocacy campaign, combined with proposed exemption language for TNR, has a very good chance all things being equal.
As an aside, I am unclear without more information, what the mechanism is for checking licensing and indoor compliance under the low-income S/N program. But if it is truly a barrier, you need to find alternative sources of spaying while you work to change the ordinance. All feral cat programs should be actively fundraising and trying to work with multiple providers so as not to be impacted by changes with any single one.