Animal Services' Field Operations, commonly known as Animal Control, section provides animal care and control services throughout the County of San Luis Obispo. Patrolling an area which covers more than 3600 square miles and includes each of the county's seven incorporated cities, our officers work to promote the safety and welfare of both animals and people in our community.
Animal Laws and Ordinances
California State Law
The State of California has adopted numerous laws addressing a wide range of animal related issues, ranging from topics such as animal cruelty, rabies control, and pet store operations, to the regulation of dangerous animals, the use of service animals, and the issuance of pet insurance policies. These laws apply throughout the state, including both the incorporated and unincorporated communities of San Luis Obispo County.
More specific information on California's animal laws can be found on the California Legislative Information web page.
The County of San Luis Obispo Board of Supervisors has adopted additional ordinances which further address the care, keeping, and management of animals. The majority of these ordinances are contained in Title 9 of the County Code. Additionally, the keeping of some types of animals, particularly livestock and agricultural animals, within the county may also be subject to the County's Land Use Ordinance (Title 22). These laws apply throughout the unincorporated areas of the county.
Each of the county's seven incorporated communities have adopted their own municipal codes which contain sections addressing the care, keeping, and management within their individual city limits.
What should you do if you’ve found a stray cat? For many people, the initial reaction is to treat them just the same as a stray dog – call Animal Services to have them picked up and brought into the shelter where their owner can come and get them. And, for many years, that’s how it went. Despite the good intentions, however, a growing body of research shows that practice usually isn’t in the best interest of the animal, nor does it successfully address concerns related to free-roaming cats in our community.
While leash laws for dogs require their owners to keep them confined, there is no equivalent law for cats. So, that friendly stray cat you’ve found might actually belong to your neighbor down the street or around the corner and she’ll find her way back home just fine.
Other free-roaming cats that are unowned (“community cats”) may be feral or friendly. Once upon a time they may have been owned or they may have been born into the wild. Whatever their individual story, however, these cats don’t call a specific house or family “home”. Instead, they live within our community and are able to do so successfully because the resources they need to support themselves are there. This may mean that they are being fed and supported by people within the community, or they may have figured out how to survive without any human intervention at all. Regardless, they are contentedly leading healthy lives - even though it might not be the life we envision for an owned, pet cat.
Why not turn healthy cats in to the shelter?
Statistics show that trying to manage free-roaming cats in the same way we manage stray dogs is an unsuccessful effort. Owner reclaim rates for stray cats in California shelters average around 2%. While there are several reasons for this, the bottom line is that once a cat is brought into a shelter, it’s unlikely to ever go back home again. That’s compounded by the fact that the number of cats coming into shelters can easily exceed the number of new adoptive homes available. This is especially true for community cats which are particularly difficult to adopt because they are often very fearful or feral. So, while the rates of shelter intake and euthanasia of dogs has decreased over time, the intake and euthanasia rates for cats brought into shelters has continued to rise.
Meanwhile, just trapping and removing the cat from the community doesn’t fix the underlying issue. So long as the resources supporting that cat (food, shelter, etc.) remain in place, there’s room for another cat to come in and fill the gap that was created when the other was removed. This results in a perpetual cycle of trapping and euthanasia of thousands of cats without any notable change to the conditions in the community.
With this realization, prominent animal welfare and animal control organizations (including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the National Animal Care and Control Association (NACCA), the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program, and the California Animal Welfare Association) are advocating a different, more responsible approach of Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR).
TNR is the practice of humanely trapping healthy community cats, having them spayed or neutered, then releasing them back where they came from. By releasing the cats back into their home area, TNR helps to plug the resource gap that would be created if the cat were simply removed from the community. But, because the cat is neutered, it won’t be able to reproduce and contribute to the growth of the cat population. Over time - and coupled with measures aimed to responsibly reduce the availability of resources - active TNR efforts can stabilize and significantly reduce the size of community cat populations.
Neutering also decreases unwanted behaviors such as spraying, noisemaking, and cat fighting, thereby helping to reduce public nuisance issues that can sometimes be associated with community cats.
When should cats be brought to the shelter?
There are, of course, times when it is appropriate for cats to be brought into the shelter. For the most part, this occurs in situations where the cat’s survival needs are no longer being met in the community.
Abandonment – Unfortunately, not everyone lives up to the responsibilities of pet ownership. Rather than taking their pet cat along when they move, some individuals may just leave it behind. While these cats are often healthy and socialized, their source of food and shelter has been removed so it is unlikely that they will survive on their own.
- Injured or Ill Cats – Cats with visible signs of illness or injury are often unable locate or access food. Additionally, they may not be able to recover from their condition without veterinary care. For these cats, the shelter may represent their best chance for humane care and treatment.
- Orphaned kittens- It’s always best for kittens to remain with their mother until they’ve been weaned. However, if they’ve been orphaned and the mother is no loner around to care for them, the shelter may be able to provide foster care until they are old enough to be adopted.
- Safety risk – Unlike dogs, cats will avoid interacting with unfamiliar people when given the chance. This greatly reduces the likelihood of aggressive encounters. In those unusual situations where a cat is acting aggressively towards people or is frequently fighting with neighborhood pets, neutering the cat may help resolve that behavior. If not, it may be necessary to remove the cat from the area.
What is Animal Services doing about community cats?
Animal Services is committed to addressing the community cat issues of San Luis Obispo County in a responsible and humane manner. We continue to receive, shelter, and care for injured, ill, and abandoned cats. However, we encourage individuals who have questions or concerns regarding healthy community cats to leave them in place and work with local groups like North County Paws Cause or the Feline Network of the Central Coast to ensure the cats are altered through Trap-Neuter-Release programs.
Animal Services actively supports the efforts of these organizations and participates with other organizations like Wood’s Humane Society to promote the availability of spay and neuter services for community cats.
Animal Services also provides grant funding to these and other groups to facilitate their TNR programs. Vouchers for spay and neuter services are periodically made available to the public and can be used to offset the cost of alteration for both personal pets or community cats. These grants and vouchers are largely funded through community donations to Animal Services’ Community Animal Welfare Fund.
What can you do?
There are a number of steps you can take to help support the responsible management of community cat as well as to minimize adverse impacts that can be associated with free-roaming cat populations.
- Support TNR efforts – There are a number of non-profit groups providing TNR services around the county. If you have community cats in your neighborhood, they can help you ensure they get altered. If you’d like to be more involved in the process, these groups are always in need of volunteers and donations.
- Feed your pets indoors – Don’t feed your pets outdoors. This just attracts other animals, including nuisance wildlife, into your yard. If you have to feed your animals outdoors, do it at a consistent time each day and remove any food which has not been consumed after 30 minutes.
- Use cat deterrents – If you’re concerned about having community cats in your yard, there are a number of deterrents that you can use to safely and humanely discourage them from coming around.
- Use plastic carpet runners or commercial products like scat mats spike side up in your garden or landscaping
- Install motion activated water sprinklers
- Keep trashcans covered
- Scatter pungent materials like pipe tobacco, coffee grounds, citronella or eucalyptus around landscaping to keep cats away.
- Block access to hiding places – Cats may be attracted to your yard because it offers good hiding or resting places. Using screens or lattice to cover openings will help cats from using places like your crawl space as a shelter.
For more information regarding community cats, check out the following information sites.
Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
National Animal Care and Control Association (NACCA)
UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine
Million Cat Challenge
Alley Cat Allies
Feline Network of the Central Coast
North County Paws Cause
Animals in Need