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Proposed cat law is simply unfair

By a vote of 4-0 taken at their meeting on Sept. 9, the Nashua Alderman’s Personnel and Administrative Affairs Committee recommended that the full Board of Alderman adopt a leash law for cats as proposed by Alderwoman Patricia Klee and Mayor Jim Donchess. The law will require cat owners to keep their cats on their own property, including when their cats are outside. If your cat wanders off your property, the cat could be deemed a “stray” or a “nuisance,” and could be seized and impounded by the Nashua Police. The full BOA will vote on Tuesday whether or not to pass the leash law for cats in Nashua.

The mayor and Ms. Klee dispute the fact that the new law is really a leash law for cats. I disagree with them on this point, because the new law will leave cat owners with no practical alternative than to leash their cats when the cat goes outside. At least in my experience, and unlike dogs, cats cannot be controlled by a person’s voice commands. Unless they’re old or infirm, they can easily climb over fences. I’m not willing to use an electric fence and “shock collar” on my cats as I don’t personally feel those devices are humane. What then is the only practical option left for Nashua cat owners to keep their cat on their own property if the cat goes outdoors? The answer is putting the cat on a leash or other restraint. Or, cat owners can keep their cat inside for the rest of its life; 24 hours a day; 365 days a year. I don’t think it’s reasonable or fair to treat Nashua cats and their owners in this fashion, and that’s one reason I’m opposed generally to the proposed new law.

But arguably the worst part of the new law is that the city will not require cats to be licensed as part of the law. Licensing cats is tricky business, because the cat will or may have to wear a collar with a tag. This presents a choking danger to cats. But without a mandatory licensing law or registration system for cats, the city will not have a mechanism that guarantees that the city can identify the owner of a cat seized as a “stray” or a “nuisance.” That means the city and police will have no assured or guaranteed means to provide notice to a cat’s owner that their cat has been impounded. This poses a very real danger that a cat could be seized and impounded by the city without its owner ever knowing such has occurred. Your pet could therefore disappear one day without you knowing why, and without you having the chance to retrieve your cat from the animal shelter where it has been impounded by the city police.

Cats and their owners deserve the same protection afforded to dog owners by the dog licensing law currently in effect in Nashua. The dog licensing law in Nashua REQUIRES that dog owners register their dogs with the city. The city and the police use the registration info to create their own database of dogs living in Nashua which, at minimum, includes the dog owner’s name, address and contact information. The database is maintained by the city itself and effectively allows the city to give immediate and guaranteed notice to the owner of the dog that their pet has been impounded by the police. The dog’s owner can then retrieve their dog from the animal shelter after they are notified of the dog’s seizure.

I’d like dog owners to consider the possibility that the city of Nashua could seize and impound your dog as a “stray” or as a “nuisance” even if there was no licensing law for dogs required by the city. Would dog owners accept the possibility that their pet could be seized and impounded by the city with no guaranteed way for the city to provide notice to the dog owner of the seizure? Would dog owners think it OK for the Nashua police to seize their dog in a fashion where the dog owner did not know what happened to their pet? Would it be acceptable to dog owners that their dog might never be seen again because the police seized the dog as a “stray” but lacked a mechanism to assure that the dog owner was notified of what happened because there was no licensing law for dogs?

It’s unclear to me why Alderwoman Klee and Mayor Donchess are not insisting that cats be licensed in the same way that dogs are licensed if the city will be seizing cats as “strays” or as “nuisances.” Regulating cats like dogs, including for purposes of seizing cats as “strays” for being off of their owner’s property, without licensing cats is simply unfair. It exposes cat owners to the danger of losing of their pet in way that does not endanger dogs and their owners. If the city is going to regulate cats in the same way it regulates dogs, then the city should and must adopt a mandatory licensing law for cats. That way cat owners, like dog owners, will effectively be guaranteed to receive notice from the city of the seizure and impounding of their cat by the police. Anything short of having a licensing law for cats under the circumstances discriminates against cat owners and treats them unfairly. There is simply no good reason for the city to treat cat owners in a way that offers less protection for cats and the rights of cat owners than is the case with respect to dogs and the rights of Nashua dog owners.

In this instance, city government is wrong to adopt a law that regulates cats like dogs without affording the same basic and fair protections to cat owners that are provided to dog owners. The cat leash law should not be adopted by the city until and unless it provides for mandatory licensing for cats, including in exactly the same fashion that dogs are licensed by the city.