Cat license bill passes into law as Ecker fails to sign or veto it As of January '98, owners will face a fee


The bill requiring that most Howard County cats be licensed has passed into law without the signature of County Executive Charles I. Ecker.

Ecker has 10 days after the County Council passes legislation to sign or veto it. He did neither by Friday's deadline for the cat-licensing bill, so it passed into law as if he had signed it.

"It's a great day for Howard County cats," said Councilman Darrel E. Drown, an Ellicott City Republican who co-sponsored the bill with Democrat Mary C. Lorsung in hopes of controlling the population of unwanted cats.

The law, which will take effect in January, will require thousands of Howard cat owners to pay an annual fee of $6 per neutered cat or $24 for cats that are not neutered. Owners will pay no more than $12 a year no matter how many neutered cats they own.

Owners of undomesticated barn cats will be exempt from the law because of an amendment pushed by West Friendship Councilman Charles C. Feaga, a Republican and a farmer.

For domesticated cats, the fee is identical to what the county charges for dogs. The law is intended to give pet owners a financial incentive to neuter their pets and help curb the population of unwanted cats, more than 1,300 of which were euthanized by county animal control workers last year.

Ecker had the power to block the law because it passed by a 3-2 vote -- a margin too small for the council to later to override a veto.

He doesn't like the law. Friday, he called licensing a "penalty for the responsible pet owner," complained about the bureaucratic hassles of administering the law and questioned whether it would genuinely cut the number of unwanted cats.

"I'm concerned it's not going to do what it's expected to do," Ecker said. "However, it's a start."

Martha E. Gagnon, president of Animal Advocates of Howard County, which originally pushed for cat licensing, praised Ecker for his decision.

"We're certainly going to see some improvement for cats in this county," Gagnon said. "I'm so delighted that Dr. Ecker has done this. He has come through for cats in the county."

The law will require cat owners to apply for licenses through the county's animal control office.

But to make administration easier, Ecker and Drown are pushing for a policy that would allow pet owners to license cats and dogs through their veterinarians when they get required vaccinations or other care.

Pet owners would pay their fee directly to veterinarians, who would issue the licenses and pass the money to the county, minus an administrative fee.

Feaga, who opposed the bill, said he was disappointed Ecker didn't veto it. "I just feel that it's another one of those things that government should have stayed out of," he said.

Pub Date: 4/20/97

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