In a push to encourage pet adoptions and prevent felines from being euthanized in crowded shelters, Los Angeles may soon relax the limit on the number of cats that residents can own.
Councilman Paul Koretz, chairman of the city's Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee, is pushing to change city codes so that residents can own as many as five cats. It is now illegal to own more than three without a kennel permit.
"We euthanize a large number of animals and a large number of them are cats," said Koretz, a cat owner. "We have to try and adopt out more cats. The most likely takers are people who already have them in their home."
Opponents of a more liberal ownership rule said the change could encourage cat-hoarding and strip animal control officers of their power to ensure that pets are not being neglected or mistreated.
The proposal, which will come back before the animal welfare committee in two weeks and then would need City Council approval, would help save cats that are at risk in city shelters because of limited space, said Brenda Barnette, general manager of Los Angeles Animal Services.
Cats, Barnette said, are typically harder to get adopted than dogs, which may be why the live/save rate for cats in shelters is only 55%, compared with 81% for dogs.
Under the proposal, a person with five cats could have no more than three cats that live part or all of the time outdoors. Two of the cats would have to live indoors.
Those who want more than five cats could pay license fees and agree to annual inspections. Any additional cats would have to be kept indoors and all outdoor cats must be spayed or neutered.
The current cap on dogs is also three. No other pets have limits, Barnette said, although restrictions have been discussed for rabbits and birds.
City officials point to cities with no cap on cat ownership, such as San Diego and Santa Monica, as proof that their plan would work. Both the county and city of San Diego have no limit, or very liberal limits, on the number of cats allowed in a residence, according to the Department of Animal Services.
Tuesday's committee meeting drew mixed reactions from animal rights advocates.
The problem with the increase is not raising the limits to five cats, said Phyllis Daugherty, director of Animal Issues Movement, a nonprofit organization. The issue is allowing people to have more than 20 cats as long as they pay a fee.
"We have to be concerned about the spread of disease, the overabundance of cat feces that will have to be taken care of in these locations [and] the parasites," Daugherty said. "This is not humane to animals or fair to people or the city."
But most people who own multiple cats don't hoard, Koretz said.
Cheri Shankar echoed his sentiments. Placing a limit on pet cats is an arbitrary move, said Shankar, who lives with more than three cats in her Beverly Hills home.
"Someone could have three cats and take terrible care of them," she said. "It should be about the conditions in which the cats are being housed."