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Officials will review laws on domestic cats

Jackson County Animal Control officials are reviewing the county's animal control laws in hopes of reducing the number of cats that are euthanized.

Animal Control officials say they have been looking at possible ordinance revisions for a year. But that effort has ramped up in the wake of the public outcry after a house cat was mistaken for a feral cat and euthanized at the Jackson County Animal Control Shelter in December.

"We want to do whatever we can to decrease euthanasia," said Jackson Baures, Jackson County environmental health division program manager

Max, a 4-year-old orange cat belonging to Medford resident Priscilla Farrel, was brought into the shelter Dec. 15 and was put down. Despite having a microchip implant that would have identified him and his owner, he was not checked for the chip because he was deemed feral and "unmanageable" by Animal Control staff.

Animal shelter officials said they were following county ordinance when they put Max down, but have apologized to Farrel. On Thursday they said they hope to make changes so a situation like Max's won't happen again.

"We can solve this issue," said county Commissioner John Rachor in a meeting with Animal Control staff and animal advocates.

Animal Control officials said ordinance revisions they hope to present to the commissioners for consideration range from a requirement for cats to be licensed to creating a website with digital photographs of all cats residing in the shelter.

"All of this to try to just match pets with owners as much as possible," said Colleen Macuk, director of Jackson County Animal Care and Control.

Jackson County's ordinance has specific regulations when it comes to dogs. Owners must obtain a license "within 30 days of the dog obtaining the age of 6 months or within 30 days of acquisition by the keeper, whichever occurs later," the ordinance reads.

In addition, the county animal shelter must hold dogs with proper identification for 120 hours, while those without must be held 72. Macuk said the shelter often waits up to seven to 10 business days — 168 to 240 hours — before euthanizing.

There are no set parameters with cats. The animals are not required to be licensed, but it is encouraged. Cats bearing no identification can be euthanized "any time after impoundment."

The number of stray cats brought to the animal shelter compared to dogs is considerable. In 2010, the shelter took in 2,945 lost, owner-surrendered or feral cats. Of that number, 2,363 were euthanized, 110 were dead on arrival, and two died at the animal shelter during treatment, according to Animal Care and Control records.

Baures said he took a trip to Multnomah County to see an example of a county that requires cat licensing, along with rabies vaccinations veterinarians are required to report to the county. The licensing fees provide revenue to the county to pay for animal control services.

"We're getting ideas and looking at how other people have handled this," Baures said. "It's not apples to apples, but we can certainly learn from other counties."

Animal Control officials said they're also looking for feedback and ideas from animal owners and other community members on the issue. They plan to meet with the Southern Oregon Humane Society and the Committed Alliance To Strays (CATS) to brainstorm additional ideas.

Public meetings will be held eventually, though dates, times and locations have not been set yet.

"I'm very optimistic that positive changes can be made," Baures said.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at rpfeil@mailtribune.com.