Hope, Kansas?

Wellington, Kansas, rings in the new year by introducing a pet limit law aimed at reducing the number of free-roaming cats. The likely outcome? More cats—and more of them killed.

According to a news report Monday, the city of Wellington, Kansas (8.19 square miles, population approximately 8,057), recently modified its animal ordinance to include a provision that “no person or household shall own or harbor more than four cats of more than six months of age or more than one litter of kittens.”

“We were picking up, compared to years past, a couple hundred cats per year,” Wellington Police Chief Tracy Heath explained. “We’re hoping that this new ordinance may lower that number.”


Well, OK. I suppose that’s all Tracy’s got in this case. There is, after all, no reason to think the four-cat limit will lead to fewer intakes.

“I’m not sure of the rationale behind pet limit laws and what they are meant to accomplish that other laws don’t already address,” wrote Julie Castle, senior director of communications for Best Friends Animal Society, in a 2010 blog post. “Animal abuse? Noise? Smell? Community safety? All of that is covered by other laws.”

Nathan Winograd, director of the No Kill Advocacy Center, describes pet limit laws as “inconsistent with lifesaving.”

I haven’t looked into the Wellington story carefully, but so far haven’t seen any indication that colony caretakers are exempt from the provision. It’s far more likely, I think, that the ordinance may be used to target caretakers and other people involved in animal rescue.

Such individuals are, of course, rarely the source of the cats that end up in shelters. On the contrary, these are the people reducing both the number of cats on the streets and the number being killed in their local shelter.

A community truly interested in addressing the issue of free-roaming cats would be implementing a comprehensive TNR program and ensuring that affordable spay-neuter services are available. It doesn’t appear that Wellington is doing either one. Instead, the people in charge have taken the easy way out—which will likely result in more cats killed, not fewer.

Hope is great—but it’s no substitute for sound public policy.