Cat Law Fact Sheet #1:
Overview of Cat Ordinances
The information presented below gives a basic understanding of how federal, state, and local laws affect community cats, and how and why community cat advocates can be involved in the legislative process.
What are common issues addressed by cat ordinances?
Local communities have enacted a variety of ordinances directed at cats, including rabies vaccinations, licensing, restraint, shelter holding periods, impoundment of strays, permits for sale, identification, sterilization, nuisance animals, feeding bans, pet limits, and authority for animal control officers to trap.
Are ordinances being enacted that impact community cat programs and TNR efforts?
Yes, that is an area of increased activity right now. As community cat programs and TNR become more common, ordinances are being enacted and considered that could either help or hinder these efforts.
Are they all needed and effective?
Each ordinance was adopted under varying circumstances and some may be very old and outdated. Many may not be enforced by choice or by lack of personnel or funds.
What types of problems can arise?
Feeding bans are difficult to enforce and a town may choose to simply stop trying to enforce the ordinance rather than go to the trouble of repealing the ordinance. Or it is possible that the ban will be only selectively enforced. Another town passed a pet limit ordinance in reaction to a single hoarder case involving indoor cats. The original intent of the lawmakers was not directed at community cats, but because of the way pets are defined in the local ordinance, the revisions made it illegal to care for a cat colony that exceeds the pet limit.
Are all these ordinances supported by the ASPCA and other national groups?
No — some of these ordinances are helpful and some are not. Each ordinance has to be looked at on an individual basis.
What do good community cat ordinances do?
They clearly define a program and that it has authority to exist; and they make it clear that cat caretakers are not the same as cat owners. They also make clear how a Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program is funded (public funds, grants, or the caretakers’ own funds) and who is performing the TNR (animal control officers, volunteer caretakers, or both).
What harmful ordinances exist?
When local law or regulations define abandonment in a way that opponents could argue make TNR illegal, it is a major concern. Also, if feeding wild animals is prohibited and the law doesn’t clearly define feral cats as domestic animals, it should be addressed. Zoning regulations, in addition to pet limit restrictions, may also impact community cat efforts if ownership is defined in a way that applies to caretakers of community cats.
Should cats and dogs be lumped together in the law?
This was common in the past as both dogs and cats are considered to be pets and sometimes considered interchangeable. It is often inappropriate as they are very different species.
Why do some communities have cat laws but not others?
An ordinance is usually enacted in response to a specific problem that needs to be addressed or because an individual has worked to make it important enough for legislative action. It is much easier for a community to ignore cat issues than to act upon them.
Who usually advocates for enactment of these measures?
There are many reasons why legislative change is taken on. Individuals who see animal suffering and want to resolve it become advocates. People who feel they are “victims” of a situation will also lobby for a remedy. Lawmakers who want to help their constituents tackle a problem may be motivated to enact legislation. Depending on who the lawmakers are trying to help, the legislation may work for or against community cats. In addition, often efforts are made to handle a situation before a problem develops.
Which ordinances do the national organizations support?
We support efforts to ensure that TNR programs can legally operate and oppose efforts that interfere with them.
Is a local ordinance better than enactment of a state law?
A state law is usually better because it covers an entire state rather than individual communities. However, a state law is easier to enact when a large number of communities have already taken local action.
Is it easier to enact an ordinance or oppose one?
It is much easier to kill a bill than to pass one.
If a law already exists, can it be changed?
Yes, often times it is easier to amend an existing law than to create a new one. The process is basically the same, but much of the groundwork has been established.
Who should get involved with lobbying on these issues?
If you care about cats, you should be involved with the legislative process. The cats cannot speak for themselves.
Can individuals make a legislative difference or is it necessary to be part of a group?
Individuals can make a tremendous difference; being part of a group is not necessary. But as you work you will undoubtedly run into others who share your concerns and a coalition will probably form. Also, be sure to check with local humane groups to find others who may already be interested in similar issues.