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Cat owners be warned: Salt Lake County has plans to begin requiring licenses for pet cats by mid-1989.

However, America's favorite house pet - 56 million nationwide as opposed to 51 million dogs - probably will be spared the disgrace, and humans spared the futility, of a cat leash ordinance.No one has yet suggested how much a cat license would cost, but county Animal Services Director Peggy Hinnen feels licensing of felines should be part of an effort to raise funds for a new animal shelter.

Dog owners in unincorporated areas pay between $5 and $15 for a county license.

Hinnen had asked county commissioners to include $40,000 in next year's budget to begin planning work for a shelter to replace the overcrowded and outdated facility at 511 W. 39th South.

The requested funding was not approved because too many other projects were given higher priority. Hinnen, in a letter to commissioners, said another funding alternative would be an increase in licensing revenues.

Hinnen said cat licensing would have a number of benefits besides bringing in more money. Licensing would make it easier to reunite cats that end up at the county shelter with their owners, and make possible better records of rabies vaccinations, which are required by county ordinance.

In 1987, only 2 percent of the cats impounded by the county were returned to their owners, while Animal Services was able to reunite more than one impounded dog in three with its humans.

Animal Services would have to enhance its computer software and conduct a public information campaign to encourage compliance before cat licensing could be implemented, Hinnen said.

But enforcement of a a cat leash law would require a 30 percent to 50 percent increase in the division's field service operations.

Animal Services expects to encounter the arguments that no human really "owns" a cat, and that licensed kitties would be likely to hang themselves by the collar. Both perceptions are false, Hinnen said.