January 23, 2017
Final Reports
San Mateo Courts - Civil Grand Jury


Summary | Background | Findings | Recommendations | Responses

The Pet Overpopulation Program (POP) should be adopted by all cities throughout San Mateo County. POP is a multi-faceted plan enacted by county ordinance to promote public safety, protect pets from disease, and encourage responsible pet ownership. Although San Mateo County has passed the POP ordinance, it covers only the unincorporated areas of the county. Three cities have adopted POP - San Mateo, Belmont, and East Palo Alto - yet, this leaves most of the county without the additional pet population controls mandated by this program. POP addresses the most significant pet population issues with two major approaches, spaying and neutering of dogs and cats and stricter licensing for breeding dogs and cats. POP also requires cat vaccination and licensing.

Increased cat and dog spaying and neutering can significantly improve management of pet population in the county. By minimizing exceptions to altering dogs and cats, more pet owners will be compelled to ensure their pets are not adding to the problem.

Cat licensing will provide the same benefits as state-mandated dog licensing. These include increases in return of lost animals to pet owners (hence decreases in euthanizing) and reduced risk of rabies to both animal and human populations (due to vaccination). Cat licensing will also more equitably balance the monetary support from cat owners with the costs of supporting them. This is an important financial concern since the Peninsula Humane Society receives more cats than dogs and returns fewer cats to their owners. In fact, in 2000 the percentage of dogs returned to their owners was more than ten times the percentage of cats returned. Dog licensing partially offsets the cost of supporting the county pet community, yet there is no equivalent for cats. The public incurs the full brunt of these costs.


POP is a program aimed at addressing pet overpopulation through increased responsibility of pet owners. This program does not try to address control of wild animals in the county. Rather, it seeks to address two areas of concern - the health of the cat community and increased responsibility for those breeding dogs and cats. The program is enforceable at present in unincorporated areas and cities that have voluntarily adopted this measure. The cities that have adopted POP are San Mateo, Belmont, and East Palo Alto. Cities that do not participate in the program do not require the licensing and vaccination of cats. Neither pets nor feral animals recognize the boundaries between jurisdictions where the program has been implemented and those areas where it has not.

California state laws covering control of dogs date from 1933. The historic purpose of such laws was to identify owners of dogs responsible for damage to livestock. In 1957, California state rabies control legislation was enacted. California state law currently mandates local dog licensing when the California State Department of Health Services determines that rabies exists in a city or county. In a report titled "The California Compendium of Rabies Control and Prevention, 2001," published in January 2001, the California State Department of Health Services determined that the entire state is rabies endemic. Therefore, to control rabies, licensing and vaccination of dogs is currently mandated by the State of California. At the present time, there is no California state requirement to license and vaccinate cats.

The California Department of Health Services reported to city and county animal control directors in January 2001, "Cats are now the most frequently reported domestic rabid animals in the United States. Because of the risk to cats and their owners, feline rabies vaccination is strongly recommended for ALL cats. Feline licensing and identification programs at the local level are strongly endorsed by the Veterinary Public Health Section." This report further states, "…feline rabies immunization in California is strongly recommended." In recent years there have been no reported cases of rabies in San Mateo County.

The Peninsula Humane Society (PHS) reports:

  • · In 2000, many more cats than dogs were brought in to the PHS. There were 4,885 cats brought in and 3,803 dogs.
  • · In the year 2000, only 3.8% of cats were returned to their owners vs. 44% of stray dogs reunited with their owners.
  • · Since passage of the POP in unincorporated San Mateo County in 1992, the number of incoming pets received by the PHS has been reduced by 28%.
  • · As a result of POP, the euthanasia of cats has been reduced by 32%.
  • · Dog licenses account for approximately $500,000 in revenue annually throughout San Mateo County. These funds go directly to support the animal control program, reducing the cost to the county and the cities. Revenue from licensing of cats also directly supports animal control services.

In 1992, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors enacted the POP ordinance mandating licensing and vaccinations for dogs and cats. This ordinance covers only the unincorporated areas of San Mateo County. The current ordinance is provided in the County Ordinance Code, Chapter 6.12, with cat licensing contained in Chapter 6.04. Individual cities have their own ordinances covering animal control. In addition, several other cities require inoculation of cats against rabies.

There are two ways of identifying licensed pets: a collar tag or microchip. Collars come in several varieties, including break-away collars to prevent accidental choking. The Microchip Identification System involves injection of a small microchip about the size of a grain of rice under the skin between the shoulder blades of a dog or cat.


POP is a multi-faceted plan enacted by county ordinance to promote public safety, protect pets from disease, and encourage responsible pet ownership. At present, POP is enforceable in unincorporated areas of San Mateo County and cities that have voluntarily adopted this measure - San Mateo, Belmont, and East Palo Alto. This leaves most of the county without the additional controls brought by POP. Countywide adoption of the POP (County Ordinance Code, Chapter 6.12) will improve the quality of life for cats and dogs and their owners by protecting pets against rabies infection and reuniting lost pets with their owners. Although there have been no recently reported cases of rabies in San Mateo County, the potential for exposure to wild animals continues.

We find that the uniform application of POP throughout the County of San Mateo would ensure all pet owners share in the responsibility of the county's animal control programs. Licensing of cats countywide promotes accountability and prevents pets from becoming a hazard to public safety. Only 3.8% of cats brought to the PHS were returned to their owners. This contrasts with 44% of dogs returned to their owners. Cat licensing will help to close this gap and decrease the euthanasia of cats. Revenue from licensing of cats would enable the PHS to enhance the level of animal control services, thus benefiting all pets and owners of San Mateo County.

This program would benefit from increased public awareness. This is true of other pet health issues as well, but POP's success will not come from adoption by county jurisdictions alone. Education of pet owners as to the goals of POP will help to increase public participation.


Recommendation 3.6

The Board of Supervisors should direct the Director of Animal Control Services to develop a program encouraging adoption of the San Mateo County Pet Overpopulation Program Ordinance, in its entirety, by cities which have not already done so. In addition, information regarding the ordinance should be provided to the public.

Recommendation 3.7

Cities which have not already done so should adopt the San Mateo County Pet Overpopulation Program Ordinance (County Ordinance Code, Chapter 6.12) in its entirety.

Responses from the Cities and Towns of San Mateo County

Atherton Belmont Brisbane
Burlingame Colma Daly City
El Granada Foster City Half Moon Bay
Hillsborough La Honda Menlo Park
Millbrae Montara Moss Beach
Pacifica East Palo Alto Pescadero
Portola Valley Redwood City San Bruno
San Carlos San Gregorio San Mateo
South San Francisco Woodside  San Mateo County


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