Los Angeles may become a 'sanctuary city' for cat lovers

Los Angeles may become a 'sanctuary city' for cat lovers
Cats play at the Los Angeles Best Friends Pet Adoptions and Spay/Neuter Center in Mission Hills. (Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz has proposed raising the number of cats that Los Angeles residents can have in their homes from three to five. I know what you're thinking: "Oh, no, I'm already over the limit. What will I do with Grumbles, Bumbles, Mumbles and Mr. Mumbles?"

OK, maybe you weren't thinking that. But it is probably true that many people don't know what the limit is and many violate it, whether they know it or not. In the city of Los Angeles, we not only have no idea how many cat households are over the limit, we have no idea how many cat households there are. Koretz says there is no official count. Cats do not have to be licensed here.


And should we care, anyway, if the crazy cat lady down the hall who surrounds herself with purring tabbies and an assortment of cat-themed cozies has three cats or five or seven? Besides, psychologically troubled cat hoarders won't pay attention to laws on cat limits, no matter what they are.

The reason to change the law is for the law-knowing, law-abiding cat lovers who would adopt more cats if they could from shelters.

"It's a somewhat arbitrary number," Koretz admits about upping the limit to five. "But it's low enough that I don't think people will get out of control but high enough that someone who has two or three gets to adopt a fourth or a fifth and drive down euthanasia."

And that's a worthy goal, particularly when it comes to felines. The Los Angeles municipal shelters took in 21,085 cats during fiscal year 2012-13, which ended in June. The shelters killed half of them: 10,737. That number is actually down from previous years. "The most likely people to adopt additional cats are those who already have cats in their homes," the Koretz motion, introduced this month, reads.

Many more dogs get out of the shelters alive. In the same time period, 33,742 dogs were taken in. Only 6,331 were euthanized.

And if you’re wondering, the limit in L.A. for dogs is three as well. A few years ago, former Councilman Bill Rosendahl tried to raise the limit to five for both dogs and cats, but he ran into a lot of resistance over raising the dog limit and the measure died before it reached the full council. Opponents were worried that more dogs in households meant more barking. Not a problem with cats. “I’ve never heard about too many cats mewing next door,” said Koretz.

The new law would also specify that anyone with five cats is required to keep them all indoors all the time (and, of course, have them fixed — that's the law already for any cat or dog.) Also, those who have more than five cats would be allowed to do so if they got a permit from the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services and agreed to a possible annual inspection of the cats in their home. That's new, a kind of path to feline legalization.

Of course, as with most L.A. animal ordinances — dog licensing, mandatory spaying and neutering — this one would be complaint-driven. So, would it be difficult to enforce? Probably. But the point is not whether the city can ferret out (speaking of illegal animals) the people with more than five cats or the five-cat owner who is letting two of them outside. The point is to allow people to adopt more cats from the overcrowded shelters.

There's no guarantee that this proposed ordinance would even make a dent in the shelter population. But there is no downside either. There is only the possibility that it could make cat adoptions go up and euthanasia numbers go down.

In fact, I know at least one animal welfare advocate — Cheri Shankar — who thinks there should be no limit on altered cats in a household. That's not a bad idea. Rational people will house as many cats as they can reasonably. Irrational people — including disturbed hoarders — will have too many cats, causing health and safety hazards for themselves, their neighbors and the poor cats. In those instances, complaints get lodged and other city agencies beside L.A. Animal Services get involved.

Bottom line: Any adjustment of city ordinances that could help stop the extensive euthanasia of cats in our shelters should be welcomed. It's outrageous that a city as sophisticated as Los Angeles has a municipal shelter system that is forced to euthanize half the cats it takes in. That's not just a shelter problem. That's not just a cat problem. That's a people problem. And it needs to be solved.