MONTGOMERY: Board of Health wants cats to be licensed

By Lea Kahn, Staff Writer
MONTGOMERY — Felix the cat may need to get a license — a cat license, that is — if the township Board of Health has its way.
The board is leaning toward enacting an ordinance that would require all cats to be issued a license — similar to the license required for dogs — as a means of ensuring that all cats have rabies shots.
Township cat owners already are required to obtain a rabies vaccine for their pet, but a cat-licensing ordinance would ensure that all cats receive a rabies vaccine, township Health Officer Stephanie Carey told Township Committee last week.
And if Montgomery Township’s Board of Health enacts a cat-licensing ordinance — which it can do, and is considering doing so in the fall — the township would join about 90 New Jersey towns that already have a cat-licensing ordinance, Ms. Carey said. Those towns include Branchburg, West Windsor and Lawrence townships, and Rocky Hill Borough.
Felines are at the greatest risk of getting rabies, Ms. Carey said. Between 1989 and 2014, more than 400 cats were confirmed to have rabies in New Jersey. That compares to seven dogs during the same 25-year time period, because dogs have been required to be vaccinated in order to get a dog license since 1946, she said.
So far this year, there have been four cases of rabid cats in New Jersey — including one feral, or wild, cat that was discovered to have the disease in South Brunswick Township. They are most likely to contract rabies after coming into contact with rabid raccoons, skunks, foxes, bats and groundhogs.
Ms. Carey emphasized the need for cats to be vaccinated, pointing to an instance earlier this year in the township in which a pet cat —which had a current rabies vaccine — came into contact with a rabid bat. If the cat did not have a rabies vaccination, it would have been put in an isolation cage for six months or euthanized, she said.
“(Rabies) is a real human health issue. It is a real-life issue for residents of the community,” Ms. Carey said.
A dog or cat that has bitten someone and that belongs to a neighbor or is otherwise “known” to a victim is quarantined for 10 days and observed for signs of illness — unless the animal is visibly sick, she said.
But if someone is bitten by a wild or unknown animal and it cannot be captured, that person should be given a series of rabies shots in a hospital emergency room, she said. Untreated, rabies is fatal.
Asked about the potential cat-licensing compliance rate, Ms. Carey estimated that 20 to 40 percent of cat owners would comply with a cat-licensing ordinance. She said about 70 percent of dog owners in Montgomery Township comply with the dog-licensing ordinance.
Requiring a license for a cat would increase the number of stray cats that would likely be returned to their owners, she said. About 90 percent of dogs that are licensed are returned to their owners, she said, but only about 5 percent of lost cats are reunited with their owners.
The revenue generated by cat licenses would help to offset the costs for the animal control office, Ms. Carey said. About two-thirds of the workload is generated by cats, but only dog owners are being asked to help support the animal control office, she added. The fees go into the township’s animal control trust fund.
The township Board of Health intends to introduce a cat-licensing ordinance in the fall, Ms. Carey said, adding that she wanted to alert Township Committee to the board’s intent so that the governing body would not be surprised. 