Owners of domesticated cats in Whiteside County will soon be required to register their cats and have them vaccinated for rabies.
The County Board approved the amendments to the Animal Control ordinance Nov. 20, which will be effective Jan. 1. Feral and barn cats are excluded from the requirement.
Driving the decision were an increase in rabies statewide and the discovery of the first rabid bat in Whiteside County in more than a decade, County Health Department Administrator Beth Fiorini said.
The changes are sure to be met with some resistance. Cat owners must spend either $8 for a 1-year registration or $20 for the 3-year version. Rabies shots range from $20 to $40. Failure to follow the law can bring a $200 fine.
The convenient argument against the rabies shots is that the viral infection is still uncommon and a cat that never goes outdoors won't be subjected to the disease.
A few high-profile cases this year in Whiteside County, however, serve as poignant rebuttals. In Prophetstown, a family had to undergo a series of rabies shots after a bat found in their home tested positive for rabies. The family's dog and two cats had to be euthanized because the pets didn't have updated vaccinations.
The alternative for unvaccinated pets exposed to a rabid or untested animal is 6 months of quarantine to protect their families. At an estimated $3,000 per animal for boarding, that option is cost-prohibitive for most owners.
Unlike humans, if cats and dogs contract rabies, they can't be saved by a series of shots.
According to the Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association, the number of reported feline rabies cases nationwide far exceeds that of all other domestic animals. With an increasing number of rabid bats, the risk to indoor cats is rising. Also, house cats can escape on occasion, and all it takes is one ill-fated trip outdoors for felines to come into contact with a rabid animal.
If you can remove these risks at a minimal cost, why wouldn't you?
Nationwide, registration and rabies shots for cats are required in 27 states; Illinois is not one of them. Whiteside is the 31st county in Illinois to put the mandate on the books.
Earlier this year, the County Board had expanded the Animal Control ordinance so the department could step up its efforts to go after pet hoarders and breeders. It also has set up a trap, neuter and return program to combat a serious feral cat problem, which also puts the county at greater risk for rabies exposure.
It's about time that we strive for equal protection for cats and dogs under these ordinances, and Whiteside County is on the right track.