It has always been something of a mystery as to why the family dog is required to be licensed in Utah but not the family cat.

But that situation may change next year, at least in Salt Lake County, where a proposal has been made to license cats. The fur seems sure to fly if cat lovers don't give up their privileged position without a fight.No specific license fee has been proposed, but dog licenses in unincorporated Salt Lake County cost between $5 and $15. With similar fees and compliance similar to dog owners, cat licenses could raise as much as $100,000

The cat license is being proposed as a way to help raise funds for a new county animal shelter. The present one is badly overcrowded and lacks some necessary facilities, but there is no room in the county budget to even start planning for a new shelter.

Aside from basic fairness in licensing cats as well as dogs, it makes sense on the grounds that cats are just as much work for animal control officers as canine pets. The shelter handles about as many cats as dogs and the agency collects twice as many dead cats as dogs from county streets.

Licensing cats is not a new concept. Communities in some other states have been requiring cat licenses since the turn of the century.

In addition to having cat owners shoulder some of the expense of animal control, the license proposal also could be a protection for cats. It would help guarantee that proper shots are given.

And one of every three dogs impounded by the county is returned to the owner at present, but only one in 50 cats is returned because lack of licenses makes it hard to find owners.

A modest cat fee might make it possible for Animal Control to scratch out enough money for a new shelter - by a whisker.