Saturday, January 15, 2011

Starting This Week, Oakville Cat Owners Are Subject To A Fine For Letting Their Cats Outside

The cat may be crying, scratching, wailing to get outside. But open the door and prepare to pay a $100 fine and then some. That’s the new state of affairs in Oakville, Ont., as a bylaw ticketing cat owners who let their pets wander around outdoors takes effect this week. The Toronto-area bedroom community is following the lead of a number of municipalities by expanding its animal roaming bylaws to include felines, which animal rights advocates say are breeding too rapidly and are at greater risk of injury in urban settings. But critics fear ticketing outdoor cat owners could add to the growing ranks of kitties in shelters, as fine-dodging owners neglect to pick them up. It could also contribute to neighbourhood tensions, pitting cat lovers and haters against each other, some say.

For years, Oakville’s animal-roaming bylaw applied only to dogs. But a recent amalgamation of animal control laws, a process that included input from the public and the Oakville and Milton Humane Society, now means all animals are subject to the anti-wandering rule, said Johanne Golder, the shelter’s executive director.
Residents have long been allowed to catch a roaming cat and take it to the local humane society, she said, but the local shelter has seen a steady influx of kitty-cat drop-offs in recent years, making cat control a more pressing issue. Owners whose cats are repeatedly rescued or have been hurt in the city streets could face a $105 fine plus a $30 surcharge. Ms. Golder hopes the ticketing system will slow and eventually stop people from releasing their cats into the street. “If it’s a repeat, something that is becoming a problem, this will help us maybe to deter people so they realize it is important [to keep cats inside],” she said. “We’re not going to run around catching cats and we’re certainly not going to fine an owner unless there’s a major reason to do it.”
But could the already present tensions between cat owners and their less cat-friendly neighbours be aggravated by an outdoor ban? Perhaps, said Ms. Golder. But if anything, a short increase in cat returns will likely wane as people know they could face a fine if they break the bylaw. “There have been a couple of cases where people will continually bring in the same cat and the owner will come in and say, ‘I know who did this, why don’t they leave it alone?’ For the most part, people are only concerned about the animal. They’re largely not doing it to spite the animal or their neighbour.”

Despite all of the statistics in favour of keeping felines inside — an indoor cat can live three to four times longer than an outdoor cat — some believe fining people is a step in the wrong direction. “I think what’s going to happen is there will be some unintended consequences,” said Larry Evans, chairman of the Summits for Urban Animal Strategies organizing committee. “Let’s say you know if your cat is at a shelter, you’ll be fined. Why would you identify yourself as the owner?” Mr. Evans, who is also president and CEO of Calgary-based PetLynx, a company that creates technology that helps owners track down lost pets, said most cat owners are “responsive” owners, who may not seek out their pet if it goes missing. “If the cat says it wants to go out, this kind of owner will open the door, the cat goes out and doesn’t come back. They’ll think, ‘Let’s just get another cat at the shelter’ or ‘We didn’t like that cat anyway, it was peeing on the carpet,’ and so on. There’s a lot of education that needs to be put out there.”

The idea of fining people for letting their outdoor felines roam is unfair to responsible pet owners who immunize and spay and neuter their pets, said Lori Hobin, who owns three cats and lives minutes from the Oakville city limits in Burlington where similar animal roaming laws apply. “We as pet owners have to take every step necessary to make sure our animals are safe, happy and healthy, and if we let them to be outdoor pets then so be it,” she said. “Outdoor cats want just that ... to be outdoors. We shouldn’t be penalized for keeping our pets happy.”