Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Cat Question

At the first council meeting of this new council, I announced my intention to look into the feasibility of a cat licensing bylaw. This has provoked a bit of reaction - the local paper ran an electronic poll, asking if people would be in favour of this (a small majority appear to be), and a number of people, ranging from Andrea's co-workers to our vet, have commented on it.

I do not hate cats, as some have suggested. I'm not particularly fond of them, either. I'm actually allergic to them. However, I am part of a family that is made up of cat people, which is why we have them as pets.

I recognize the value that cats (and dogs) bring to a family - they provide companionship, affection, and a non-judgemental ear. And while there are those who claim that cats are less attached to individuals than dogs, there is no denying that Hendrix recognizes Guthrie's step when he comes home from work, and runs to greet him.

I'm sure that most pet owners do their best to be responsible, recognizing that having a pet is a responsibility, not a right. And, like many things, it's the irresponsible few that cause problems for the rest of us. Too many people look on pets as being somewhat disposable, and can't be bothered with the basics of pet ownership, like spaying and neutering, which is why the SPCA is forced to take drastic measures, like the current offering of free adoption of cats, to try to reduce the current volume.

All of the cats in our home are the result of irresponsible pet owners. Hendrix, adopted from the SPCA four years ago, was one of a litter of kittens that was trapped by the animal control officer. He was extremely withdrawn in the first few weeks with us, staying completely within Guthrie's room. It was only after a couple of months that he ventured into the rest of the house - surprisingly, now he's probably the cuddliest of the cats.

Hunter was a stray who showed up on our doorstep three years ago, a half-grown kitten with a tremendous purr. He hung about the yard for a day or so before Andrea brought him in after he almost was hit by a car. We assume that he was abandoned by someone who moved out of the neighbourhood.

Two years ago Guthrie brought Gracie home - she was from a home where they don't believe in spaying or neutering, so usually have litters of kittens about. And most recently, we've been found by Maggie, a stray who hung about the yard all summer, usually running off whenever one of us got too close. She got very friendly when the cold weather came, and now is living in our basement - a long-haired tortoiseshell whose owners cared enough to have her spayed (the vet estimates that she's three or four years old), but who seem to have left her behind when they moved. We were going to take her to the SPCA, but realize their capacity issues right now, and Guthrie was worried that, because of her age, she was unlikely to be adopted. If you know anyone in the midtown area who's missing such a cat, give us a call.

So, how would a licensing bylaw help in controlling the cat situation? My initial thought that it would be a way of increasing revenues to the SPCA, an organization that survives because of the dedication of its staff and volunteers. Requiring that cats be licensed also might help to return cats that have wandered away from home, particularly if, as part of the licensing process, the cat could be microchipped. That might even be a way of providing owners with a tangible benefit of getting a licence.

Saskatoon has had a cat licensing bylaw for a few years - we could review their bylaw, and get a sense of how it's working. I've spoken with the guys at bylaw enforcement - they agree that our pet bylaws need review, and that now is as good a time as any. For instance, we do have a bylaw that limits cat ownership to six, and requires that all cats over six months of age be spayed or neutered unless the owner has a breeding licence. However, our lack of a licensing requirement means that we have no way of knowing where the cats are, or enforcing whether they are able to breed.

People need to become more aware that cats (or any pets) aren't disposable - that there are basic needs that need to be met. If the small cost of getting a licence discourages people from getting a cat - good. That is the smallest cost of pet ownership. And if it provides more funds for the SPCA, and reduces the number of cats who have to be put to sleep because their owner can't be found, all the better.

Next to recycling bins and parking woes, I probably get the most phone calls and complaints about cats, and how to control them. I'm not saying that licensing cats will solve all of these problems, but I think that it's a possible solution that is worth investigating.

"The problem with a kitten is that, eventually it becomes a cat." - Ogden Nash

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