The Montgomery County Council, seeking to prevent a rabies outbreak among raccoons from spreading to house pets, approved an emergency measure yesterday requiring persons to have their cats vaccinated.
The D.C. City Council tentatively approved a similar bill yesterday and the Fairfax Board of Supervisors has been asked to consider similar legislation.
Prince George's County is the only area jurisdiction that already requires vaccination of cats.
Montgomery's health officer told the council that a veterinarian from the Atlanta-based Centers For Disease Control has arrived in Washington to coordinate an area-wide response to the rabies, which has already been confirmed in 23 wild raccoons in Montgomery and hundreds more in Virginia. He said the specialist will be based in the District's health department.
The District's proposal, in addition to imposing a $25 fine for owners who fail to have their cats vaccinated, would prohibit the sale of animals that may carry the disease -- raccoons, skunks, foxes or ferrets.
"With a confirmed case of rabies in a raccoon in the District recently, we believe the legislation is urgently needed," said James E. Fitzgerald, president of the D.C. Medical Society, in endorsing the measure, which was introduced by at-large council member Betty Ann Kane.
The Montgomery council unanimously approved the cat vaccination requirement, although several members expressed doubts that it could be effectively enforced because, unlike dogs, cats are not required to be licensed and carry no identifiable markings.
"I don't consider this a safety measure like stopping smoking or jaywalking, or certainly not drunk driving," said Council President Neal Potter, who sponsored the bill. "But it is a safety measure which I think can prevent tragedies, although few in number."
The county animal control department will determine what civil penalty to assess against those who violate the law. It may decide to levy fines of up to $250.
"The new question on the horizon is, should cats be licensed?" added Councilwoman Rose Crenca.
The Montgomery County government usually charges $2 for a shot at its rabies clinics for cats, although the county recently approved five free clinics. The first four attracted about 2,000 cat owners. The last is to be held today from 2 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. at the animal shelter, 1420 Gude Dr. in Rockville.
Private veterinarians charge $8 to $23, according to a county survey of private animal doctors.
Health officials say cats pose more of a rabies threat than dogs, not only because they are less likely to be vaccinated, but because cats tend to roam into crannies, like attics and chimneys, where sickly raccoons may hide.
The Montgomery Council approved the bill after tacking on two amendments sponsored by Councilman David L. Scull. One would require veterinarians to vaccinate dogs and cats against rabies whenever a pet is brought in for any treatment. The second requires people who buy kittens and puppies from a pet store to leave a $10 deposit, refundable once the new pet is vaccinated.
Both amendments passed unanimously, although several council members thought the deposit requirement placed an unneeded burden on pet store owners, especially since most people do not buy cats from pet stores. Cats are generally passed on free between friends. Montgomery Sets Task Force To Help Newly Unemployed
The Montgomery Council approved yesterday Councilman David Scull's proposal to create a task force to aid the "newly unemployed," that pool of skilled persons who are out of work because of government layoffs or the shifting emphasis on high technology, and homemakers who are forced into the job market.
The 16-member task force, representing government and private industry, will make recommendations to the council and may include suggestions for helping persons switch careers.
Also, Councilwoman Rose Crenca introduced a bill that would bar doo-to-door solicitors, hawkers and peddlers from working after sundown. Crenca said the many persons--particularly the elderly and women living alone--are frightened when door-to-door sales people visit their homes after dark.