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Should cats be treated like dogs, when it comes to licensing and immunization requirements?

The San Diego city auditor's office recommends doing just that -- for the sake of health, safety and "cost recovery" for taxpayers.

According to formulas used by the Humane Society of the United States, there are an estimated 373,000 cats in San Diego.

If just 5 percent had been registered at $25 a head, the auditor's office says the city could have saved $536,000 over the past three fiscal years.

Cat owners say the idea defies logic and accounting principles.

"So now you have Animal Control being your tax collector," says Sandee Gilbert, the owner of a 1-year-old Cornish Rex male named Nike. "And as a tax collector, you're going to accrue a tremendous amount of cost trying to find the owner of that cat."

Gilbert, spokeswoman for the San Diego Cat Fanciers group, points out that a high percentage of cats in this community are unowned, or fed and tended by a number of people, or outright feral.

And while many responsible cat owners take the precaution and happily bear the expense of getting their furry friends whatever shots are necessary -- especially pedigreed show cats -- charging some people $25 to license and immunize a cat would be non-starter.

"What's going to happen is, they're gonna say, 'Bye, bye, Kitty Cat,' and throw the little cat out the door," Gilbert warns.

"The cost of euthanasia in Animal Control is just going to skyrocket because we'll have cats dying left and right for no reason whatsoever."

The issue arose Monday during a City Council Audit Committee review of San Diego's contract with the County Dept. of Animal Control.

The city auditor's office, echoing U.S. Humane Society policy, recommends that the city consider making cat registration and vaccination part of the next contract.

A committee member who owns a Bengal longhaired named "Ace" sees such a measure as a revenue-seeking 'cat tax' that should wind up in 'Kitty Litter.'

"On the list of issues facing our city relating to public health and safety," says Councilman Carl DeMaio, "this is nowhere near the top. In fact, I'd put it at the bottom."

Leading cat advocates say the measure would be overkill, literally and figuratively.

"San Diego is known for being very conscious of the feral cat and unowned cat situation in the community," says Joan Miller, vice president of the local chapter of the international Cat Fanciers Assn., Inc.

"The last thing I'd want to see," Miller adds, "is to have any deterrent to people who are trapping those cats, neutering the cats and then returning them to their environment where they can be cared for and fed."

The Audit Committee referred the city auditor's 10 recommendations regarding the Animal Control contract to the mayor and full council.

For the record, they noted that three of the five members object to the proposed cat regulations.