MONTGOMERY: Board of Health requires that all cats be licensed

By Lea Kahn, Staff Writer
MONTGOMERY — Felix the cat is going to have to get a license — a cat license, that is — beginning next month.
The township Board of Health has adopted an ordinance that requires all cats to be issued a license — similar to the license required for dogs — as a means of ensuring that all cats have been given rabies shots.
Township cat owners already are required to obtain a rabies vaccine for their pet, but the cat-licensing ordinance — which takes effect Jan. 1, 2016 — ensures that all cats receive a rabies vaccine, said township Health Officer Stephanie Carey.
Under the ordinance adopted at the Board of Health’s October meeting, any cat that is at least 7 months old must be licensed. If a cat is brought into the township from another New Jersey municipality and it has been licensed in that town, the license is valid for the rest of the calendar year.
To get a license, a cat owner must provide a certificate of vaccination from a veterinarian. Depending on the brand, a rabies vaccination shot is good for one to three years, Ms. Carey said.
Licenses can be obtained from the township Health Department. A registration tag with a license number will be issued and must be worn on a collar, although microchips or tattoos may be used instead of a collar and license tag.
The fee for a cat license is $15 for an unneutered cat, and $10 for each neutered cat. The fee is $25 for three or more neutered cats in one household. The deadline to obtain a license is Jan. 31. There is a $1-per-month late fee for cats that have not been licensed by Jan. 31.
Montgomery Township has required cats to receive a rabies vaccine since 1990, but there has not been any method to track whether a cat has been vaccinated — and that is the goal of the new cat-licensing ordinance, Ms. Carey said.
During the first year after the ordinance takes effect, the focus will be on educating cat owners and encouraging them to comply, Ms. Carey said. Township officials “are out to save human lives and protect human health” from animals that are rabid, she said.
“I understand the concern that you have to get a license for everything, but there have been almost no cases of rabies in dogs because of the near-universal licensing of dogs,” she said. The Board of Health is applying the same concept to cats.
Between 1989 and 2014, more than 400 cats were confirmed to have rabies, she said. 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 license since 1946, she said.
Cats are at the greatest risk of getting rabies, Ms. Carey said. They are most likely to contract rabies after coming into contact with rabid raccoons, skunks, foxes, bats and groundhogs.
Ms. Carey pointed to an incident 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 vaccine, it would have been put in an isolation cage for six months or euthanized, she 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 visible sick, she said.
But if someone is bitten by a wild or unknown animal and it cannot be captured, that person is given a series of rabies shots in a hospital emergency room, Ms. Carey said. Untreated, rabies is fatal.
“Rabies is a real human health issue. It is a real-life issue for residents of the community,” Ms. Carey said. 