Sackville councillors appear to be backing away from licensing cats after receiving a report from town staff recommending against it.
Instead, councillors are expected to ask the town’s Climate Change Advisory Committee next week to suggest how to educate cat owners about the need to prevent their pets from killing thousands of song birds.
“It sounds like sending this to the Climate Change Committee is like passing it off, but actually, it’s a really good idea simply because birds are under real threat from climate change as well,” said Councillor Sabine Dietz at tonight’s Sackville council meeting.
“It makes sense to me,” she added.
Dietz and other councillors noted that Richard Elliot, who serves on the advisory committee, helped conduct a scientific study on the human-related causes of bird deaths in Canada.
That 2013 study concluded that domestic and feral cats kill millions of birds every year.
Cat bylaw still needed
While he agreed with asking Elliot and the advisory committee to make recommendations, Councillor Michael Tower suggested some form of cat registration or licensing may still be needed.
“The idea of knowing that we can spay and neuter is pretty important I think when it comes to controlling the number of cats that are out there,” he said.
He was referring to the animal control bylaw that makes licences cheaper if the pet is neutered or spayed. Licensing would also enable the animal control officer to capture roaming cats and notify their owners. Under the current bylaw, dog owners whose pets have been caught while running at large must pay a $20 capture fee, an additional $25 for each day the animal was impounded plus the costs of any treatment the dog received while in the town’s custody.
Tower added that perhaps the new council elected in November will consider including cats in the animal control bylaw after it takes office next year.
Assistant town clerk Becky Goodwin said staff began researching the issue after local residents Les Hicks and Susan Gourley made presentations calling for bylaw changes to keep cats from roaming freely.
Among other things, Hicks urged council to to adopt a bylaw similar to the one in Riverview where pet owners are required to buy a $15 annual licence for all neutered or spayed cats and dogs or a $30 one if their pets aren’t neutered or spayed.
Hicks said that aside from killing song birds, freely roaming cats can be a nuisance, peeing and pooping in neighbours’ vegetable gardens and sandboxes or spraying on objects everywhere to mark their territory.
He also argued that it’s better for the cats themselves to remain indoors because outside they face many hazards that cause premature death or serious injuries.
Costs of cat control
In her report to council tonight, Goodwin said restricting cats could result in an increase in the numbers of mice in residential areas.
“Anti-roaming laws lead to animal control picking up strays, which could result in the euthanization of community cats,” she added.
“If we include cats in the Animal Control By-Law, the Animal Control Officer would have to be a full-time position,” Goodwin said, adding that after municipal amalgamation, more than one officer would be needed with start-up costs estimated at more than $50,000.
To read Goodwin’s full report to council, click here.
Reactions on Facebook
Deputy Mayor Andrew Black said that judging by the reaction on Facebook to recent stories about cat licensing, it’s clear that people don’t want it.
“There is a resounding no from the public for this bylaw change,” he said.
“One of the big ones is registration,” he added.
“People don’t want to have to pay any more; they don’t want to pay for their cats, they don’t want to pay for their dogs,” Black said.
“I wanted to make sure that people knew that that was out there and this is what people are saying in the public.”
“I think this is a very dangerous ground we’re walking on when we start quoting Facebook,” Councillor Dietz replied.
“If we would be listening to Facebook, we probably would all drown ourselves,” she added.
“I would suggest very strongly if we do want an inventory of what Sackville folks think, we go out directly and put a note in their mailbox and ask them to respond to that instead of thinking that Facebook would give us any kind of inkling of what the community thinks,” Dietz concluded.