On limiting pets in Worcester

By Ann Marie Chamberlain

The city of Worcester ordinances related to pet ownership, which may have seemed appropriate at the time they were adopted; need to be adjusted to reflect the current spirit of the citizens they are intended to serve. Pet limiting laws are difficult and expensive to enforce partly because they require enough manpower to check every residence in the city for compliance. This policing of residents costs taxpayers not only the enforcer’s salary but keeps animal control from investigating more significant offenses like abuse or neglect. Limiting pet numbers doesn’t make people more responsible or capable of caring for their pets. In the same neighborhood you can have one household with 8 well cared for pets which even the people next door are virtually ignorant about and one person who has 2 pets that run through the neighborhood disrupting life in general. One of the myths of pet limiting laws is that the laws prevent animal hoarding. This misguided belief has proved to be ineffectual as hoarders rarely obey these laws even when they are arrested, brought to court and banned from future pet ownership. Hoarding is not something that average citizens become involved in, rather it has been found to be a problem affecting specific personality types and associated with a number of psychological disorders. Arguments that support the laws based on a complaint driven basis are at best discriminatory and rely on pitting neighbor against neighbor. The selective enforcement theory also encourages law-abiding pet owners to either surrender their over-limit pets to overburdened shelters where they will likely be killed or to effectively become virtual criminals by keeping all of their pets in the hopes they won’t get caught.

According to a report by the e American Pet Product Manufacturers Association for 2007, an estimated 63% of American households are dog or cat owners and at least 35% of those are multi-pet families with an average of 4 dogs or cats in combination. While this may not be surprising, what is remarkable is that 90% of ALL pet owners make decisions about where they live or move, based on their pets. Recent surveys have found that a cities attractiveness and habitability are viewed as a direct reflection of that cities treatment of the animals within its confines. In short, a majority of people find pet friendly cities more attractive places to settle. Even the Centers for Disease Control recommend pet ownership to reduce the effects of stress related diseases and loneliness, even going so far as to recommend ownership of multiple pets. One of the major drawbacks of pet limiting laws is that they exclude citizens from fostering animals. Without foster families the number of pets that local shelters can handle is severely restricted. Many communities rely on responsible pet owners to take in shelter animals as foster pets when facilities become overcrowded or to help prepare them for adoption into forever homes.

With our city, and in fact the entire nation, in the midst of an historic economic crisis, where daily people are facing not only job loss but the loss of their homes in staggering numbers, pets are also being overwhelming affected. While dogs are usually re-homed or turned in to shelters, cats, on the other hand, because of their hunter nature, are often turned out to fend for themselves. Of the pets that do end up in shelters 1/2 of the dogs and 3/4 of the cats are euthanized. The ‘lucky’ ones, who end up facing life in the wild and do manage to survive, become feral and form colonies. Feral cats are not ‘wild’; they are cats who have little or no contact or interaction with humans. Feral cat colonies aren’t new; they’ve been around as long as cats have had a relationship with man. As large metropolitan areas formed the cats adapted. Unlike stray dogs which will often seek out humans, feral cats avoid people, live in the shadows and scavenge food from the trash. For generations the accepted means of eradicating these ‘nuisance’ cats has been to trap and kill them. Unfortunately this method is only a temporary fix because as soon as an area is cleared of cats a new group moves in.

Back in the 1990’s animal lovers came up with a viable alternative, TNR or Trap Neuter Return. This simple alternative proves beneficial to everyone involved, especially the cats. TNR programs trap all the cats in a colony, veterinarians spay or neuter the cats, check their health, vaccinate them against rabies and then the cats are returned to the location where they were trapped. Volunteers can then watch over and care for the colony and trap any new cats which may show up as the existing population declines. The cost to the community of such a program is usually half the cost of trapping, destroying and disposing of the cats because much of the work is done by volunteers. TNR programs have been implemented and are working successfully on college campuses, in communities from coast to coast, even the nation’s capitol. TNR works because it sterilizes the colony to promote zero population growth and ensures that the cats returned to the colony are healthy and vaccinated.

Pet limit laws don’t make communities better, healthier or safer for their citizens. They do in fact; discourage people with more than the limited number of pets from moving to or staying in, the city. They are costly and further strain already overburdened public resources and personnel. They prevent competent people from fostering or adopting more than the limited number of pets even when they can and want to. They turn otherwise honest people into informants or lawbreakers. There are alternatives to penalizing both people and pets; we’d like you to consider them.

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