GUEST COLUMN:
Why the city should license cats
By the Board of Directors and Staff of the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region

       Feral and stray cats are the most significant animal control issue presently facing the Humane Society. Each year, approximately 9,000 cats are received at the shelter and approximately one quarter of these cats are feral. This rate on the Westside is about the same as the rest of the metro area.
       A feral cat is a domestic cat which has become wild, typically after a generation without care by a person. Feral cats live in social groups called colonies. The colony will become territorial and protect itself from other cats attempting to join the colony, similar to what is seen in wild groupings of animals. The factors controlling the population in a feral colony include predators, disease, capture, food supply and trauma such as vehicular accidents.
       Capture of feral cats typically leads to a five-day hold at the shelter and humane euthanasia. In 2007, the shelter took in 9,820 cats, with 6,311 of these admitted as stray cats. The remaining 3,509 were owner-surrendered, protective custody and other situations. Of the cats admitted into the shelter, only 45 percent were adopted or returned to their owners. The rate of return to owners of cats admitted as strays was 6 percent in 2007.
       The problem has steadily worsened over the past several years with an increase in the number of cats received - 3,000 more between the years 2000 and 2007. Dog admissions in that same time period rose by only 159. Sadly, the statistics tell us that the number of stray/feral cats is steadily rising and the rate of return to owners and adoptions is very low.
       Successful control of cat overpopulation requires a two-fold approach, including sterilizing stray/feral cats and requiring all pet owners to license their cats.
       An effective means of controlling cat population without relying on euthanasia has been implemented in many communities nationwide. Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) involves trapping free-roaming and feral cats, sterilization, vaccination and release. Typically, cats are vaccinated against rabies, feline leukemia and feline distemper. An outbreak of any of these diseases would be unfortunate for the cats involved and would also be an expensive animal control problem.
       To begin a TNR program in Colorado Springs, it is imperative that a method is in place to identify an impounded cat as a family pet or a stray/feral cat. In most communities in which TNR programs operate, cat licensing and mandatory identification is required. The Humane Society is proposing that all pet cats be licensed and have identification such as an ID tag or permanent microchip. This is an important step to help protect us in the event a pet cat is impounded and sterilized. Licensing takes the onus off of the Humane Society and places it on the owner.
       There are a number of benefits to the program, primarily a reduction in euthanasia rates, an increase in cage space for more adoptable pets and a drop in nuisance calls taken by Animal Control.
       Over time, the reduced flow of animals will result in less food, water, medication and care and a subsequent reduction in the Humane Society's operating expenses. Admittedly, this savings is difficult to estimate at this point, but when the program is active and mature we believe it will be cost-effective for all parties involved.
       The Humane Society of the United States, the American Humane Association, the National Animal Control Association, the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians, the California Veterinary Medical Association, and the Massachusetts SPCA are supporters of cat licensing. A survey of all practicing veterinarians in Colorado Springs found the majority are in favor of cat licensing. Many cities nationwide currently require cats to be licensed. Along the Front Range of Colorado, Fort Collins, Wellington, Loveland, Aurora, and Denver require cat licenses.

Editor's note: The Humane Society has proposed a Colorado Springs ordinance that would implement the licensing plan described above. Humane Society officials are working with the city attorney's office on the wording and, after an initial meeting with City Council in July, is scheduled to meet with council again this month.