Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Cat Came Back (Maybe)

You may recall that about a year ago, at the very first meeting of this new council, I proposed that we investigate the feasibility of licensing cats, as a way of providing increased revenue for the SPCA, and possibly making it easier to find the owners of abandoned cats, rather than having to have so many of them euthanized.

I wasn't proposing specifics, just that we look into the matter. Nonetheless, at the next council meeting, the motion received limited support and was defeated, with some councillors suggesting that they wouldn't be willing to support such a move unless there was a report first, which I found rather confusing since that was what I was proposing.

In late June, we received a report from the SPCA proposing a subsidized spay program for low income families. We referred this report to administration, and asked specifically that administration look into whether other cities have a subsidized spay program for low income families, and whether other cities require the licensing of cats. Better late than never, I suppose.

The preparation of the report included consultation with both the SPCA and the bylaw manager, so it's good to know that those most directly involved with the problem support the idea of a "Responsible Pet Owner Bylaw". Ideas put forward include the recommendation of licensing cats as well as dogs, as currently happens in both Regina and Saskatoon, eventually moving the location of licensing to the SPCA, giving all licensing revenues to the SPCA, and having a fairly hefty fine for having unlicensed pets. There is also a proposal for a subsidized program for low income families specifically geared towards spaying cats, and a "Get Out of Pound Free" program, which would apply to licensed animals which are picked up and taken to the pound. In essence, the first time that your pet was taken to the pound, you would be allowed to retrieve it for free, and not be charged the usual impoundment fee. This is an excellent incentive for licensing.

I support all of these ideas, and would encourage the SPCA to look into allowing pet owners to purchase additional escape insurance, so to speak, allowing more than one impoundment free of charges, if you pay an insurance fee beforehand. Our cats are mostly indoor cats, but when we had a dog, she was an amazing escape artist. She was never picked up by bylaw enforcement, but more than once I was called to Riverside School, as she had slipped out of her collar and headed down there to play with the kids at recess. So I realize how easily animals can escape, even when you think that they're secure.

I also think that the licence fee for unneutered or unspayed animals should be much higher than the basic fee - the proposal right now is a fee of $15 for a spayed or neutered cat, $30 for an unneutered or unspayed cat, and $20 for a spayed or neutered dog, $60 for an unneutered or unspayed dog. We should at least have the fees parallel, with the fee for an unneutered or unspayed animal three times the fee for having a fixed animal.

Public education would be a huge part of making this successful. In Saskatoon, bylaw enforcement goes door-to-door to ensure that animals are licensed - this adds to the cost, but also to the revenue. Unfortunately, it also would make us look a bit heavy handed. I would try the education and incentive method first, then get tougher if the level of compliance isn't where we need it to be. That's the problem with new bylaws - you have to be able to enforce them when they aren't followed, otherwise you might as well not bother. But you want to give people a chance to comply voluntarily first.

I'm glad that council has looked into this, even if I couldn't get their support on the matter last fall. I understand that the SPCA has had to stop taking in cats at this time because of lack of room - that's the clearest indication that we need to start making people more aware of the responsibilities of pet ownership, and let them know how they can be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

"If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. That is the difference between dog and man." - Mark Twain

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