January 20, 2022
Final Reports
San Mateo Courts - Civil Grand Jury 1998 Final Report: Animal Control Services
Background | Findings | Commendation | Recommendations

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 live stock. 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 recent years, the California State Department of Health Services has 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. California state legislation to require licensing and vaccination of cats was proposed and defeated in 1994. At present, no such California state requirement exists for cats.

The Peninsula Humane Society was established in 1952, to provide care and protection for animals in San Mateo County. Through a contract with San Mateo County, the Peninsula Humane Society also provides animal control services which include enforcement of San Mateo County and city ordinances covering animal control.

In March 1992, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors enacted the San Mateo County Pet Overpopulation Ordinance (POP) which includes spay and neuter provisions and mandates licensing and rabies vaccinations for both dogs and cats. This ordinance covers only the unincorporated areas of San Mateo County. The cities of San Mateo County have their own ordinances covering animal control. The City of Belmont adopted POP in 1994, and the City of San Mateo followed in 1995. In addition to San Mateo County and the two cities mentioned, inoculation of cats against rabies is required in the cities of Brisbane, East Palo Alto and Redwood City.


Although no two ordinances are identical, 15 cities within San Mateo County differ significantly from POP in that they have no requirement to license cats.

To receive a license, cat owners in POP jurisdictions must provide proof of current rabies vaccination. Veterinarians are required by law to report to the County of San Mateo all animals they vaccinated against rabies.

The Peninsula Humane Society favors the provisions of POP and would like to see it applied uniformly throughout the County of San Mateo. Organizations representing other points of view, such as the Animal Council and the Cat Fanciers’ Association, favor uniformity but would like to see POP changed to conform more closely to the current ordinances of most cities.

The primary disagreement lies in the requirement to license cats. Peripheral areas of disagreement are the effectiveness of POP in reducing the need to euthanize unwanted animals, the seriousness of the rabies threat, the need for unaltered permits and breeder’s permits, the fairness of the provisions for financing animal control activities and the amount of training of animal control officers needed.

There are also important areas of agreement:

  • Animal control ordinances throughout the County should be uniform.
  • Programs to educate owners and to develop responsible pet ownership attitudes must be part of effective animal control.
  • Too many animals are euthanized.
  • Spay and neuter efforts are an effective way to control overpopulation.
  • There is a need to find ways to improve the adoption rate of pets at the shelter.

The San Mateo County 1998 Grand Jury feels that mandating cat licensing is unenforceable and is unlikely to produce enough revenue to cover administrative costs.

The San Mateo County 1998 Grand Jury recognizes that efforts to develop responsible pet ownership attitudes are already in place; however, they must be re-energized by establishing an innovative, creative, and effective program to educate pet owners about their responsibilities and to motivate them to take positive action.


The San Mateo County 1998 Grand Jury commends the sincerity, dedication and involvement of representatives of the Peninsula Humane Society and spokespersons for the Animal Council and Cat Fanciers’ Association in their attempts to develop an effective, county-wide animal control ordinance.

Recommendation 12: The cities within the County of San Mateo should adopt a uniform animal control ordinance. The ordinance should conform to the San Mateo County Pet Overpopulation Ordinance adopted in 1992, and amended in 1995, with the exception that the provisions mandating the licensing of cats should be deleted.
Recommendation 13: The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors should direct the Director of Environmental Services and the Executive Director of the Peninsula Human Society to design and carry out a program to proactively promote pet-owner responsibility. This new County-wide coordinated program should be in place by June 30, 1999.
Recommendation 14: The San Mateo County 1999 Grand Jury should monitor the implementation of the above recommendations


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