Local laws, such as local animal control ordinances, are part of a city and/or county code. Ordinances often include sections on animal cruelty, ownership, at-large regulations, mandatory spay/neuter, and cat licensing. For community cats, the inclusion or omission of just a few words in these laws can be the difference between life and death. Many local laws are punitive. We seek to change them into positive laws that save animals and meet the needs of cats, caregivers, owners, and the community at large. Here are some of the most common sections of local laws that commonly affect cats.

Animal Cruelty

These laws should apply to all cats, not just owned, family animals.


Local ordinances that protect community cats differentiate between owners and caretakers, and they recognize that community cat caretakers are Good Samaritans using their own time and money to care for community cats. Provisions that define someone as an owner for feeding, harboring, or keeping an animal discourage well-meaning people from caring for cats and participating in Trap-Neuter-Return because they fear the costs and legal consequences associated with owning the cats.

At-large Regulations

Often known as “leash laws,” these regulations prohibit cats from being loose in the community. Leash laws are incompatible with Trap-Neuter-Return, because community cats are by nature free-roaming, and they don’t have an owner whose property they can stay on.

Mandatory Spay/Neuter

Although often well-meaning, mandatory spay/neuter does not increase the amount of spay/neuter taking place in a community. In addition to not providing resources that make it easier for people to meet this requirement, mandatory spay/neuter does not help community cats because they have no owner. Punitive in design, owned cats can be impounded and stiff penalties made so that owners cannot reclaim their companions. As a result, more animals are in the shelter system and quite often killed, instead of working with individuals to match the needs of animals with community resources.

Cat Licensing

Licensing requirements are often a death sentence for community cats because they typically require that any cat not displaying a license tag be impounded. It’s not safe, or practical, for community cats who have been through Trap-Neuter-Return to wear collars for these tags, so they are vulnerable. For community cats, an eartip signifies that they’ve been spayed/neutered and vaccinated. Owned cats, even those who live primarily indoors, are at risk of being impounded if they slip outside and are not wearing a collar and license. Licensing fees are often money for general funds and not applied to save or to spay or neuter animals, which demonstrates the failure of cat licensing measures.

Increasingly, communities are passing local ordinances with positive, proactive language related to Trap-Neuter-Return or Shelter-Neuter-Return. These ordinances write into law protections for community cats and their caretakers and explicitly endorse Trap-Neuter-Return. For model ordinances and examples of communities leading the way for humane care, read more about how Alley Cat Allies is creating community change.


Cat Licensing: A License to Kill

Guide to Local Government: Animal Control

Harmful Laws That Push Cats into Shelters

Help with Ordinances

How to Find Laws That Relate to Cats

Know Your Rights: How to Talk to Animal Control

Ordinance Drafting Guidelines

Sample Ordinance: Baltimore

Sample Ordinance: Washington, DC