In most B.C. cities, cats can balance on bars and walk on wires without any municipal oversight.
But some are looking at putting felines on a tighter leash.
Richmond took the first step Monday of potentially regulating cats being outdoors, with a council committee endorsing a move to work with the SPCA and the Regional Animal Protection Society on new educational campaigns for owners.
“I love cats dearly,” said Richmond Coun. Michael Wolfe, who put forward the original motion.
“The problem is when they’re outdoors and given free rein to wreak havoc on the neighbourhood. I’ve seen countless times … where cats have wild birds in their mouth as they’re running across the yard.”
Wolfe says it’s a tough spot for owners, because as long as they’re outside, cats aren’t keen to be seen when they’re smelling a rat — or any other type of animal.
“They are born with teeth and claws. It’s the genetics cats are given, and they’re very successful at killing wildlife,” he said.
“The cats are guilty by association if we allow them to have free rein outside.”
Cat bylaws catching up to dog bylaws
Meghann Cant, manager of animal welfare policy with the B.C. SPCA, said there’s generally bylaw inequality when it comes to people’s favourite four-legged friends.
“Cat bylaws are just at the point of catching up to dog bylaws,” she said.
“I think it was more common for dogs to roam before bylaws were passed … over time, it’ll probably become the norm to actually have cats indoors and not to become free-roaming on our streets.”
Victoria is the only major B.C. city that explicitly says cats must be on a leash in public areas, or their owners will face a $150 fine. In 2015, the B.C. SPCA found that of the province’s 162 municipalities, only 24 required identification, registration or licensing of cats, while only 13 had restrictions on unsterilized cats.
The City of Nanaimo may soon join that list: in early January council voted to move forward on bylaw changes banning cats from roaming outside, and will head to a full vote in February.
Cant said that like many bylaws, the key to any attempt in regulating cats begins with education and gentle enforcement, rather than stern measures from city hall.
“They’re not driving around in vans looking to round up cats. More of the enforcement is complaint driven,” she said.
“It can’t be done overnight. If a cat is used to going outside for a number of years, it’s something you want to do very gradually. … cats are exercising when they’re outdoors, they’re exploring and stimulating their senses, and there’s a way to do that indoors as well.”
Walking your cat on a leash outside is apparently a thing here in Victoria. pic.twitter.com/d8lcZKCcu7
Richmond puts the brakes on quick action
Despite the increased interest, there’s no guarantee more B.C. cities will regulate the habits and habitats of cats.
A majority of public feedback in Nanaimo has been against its proposal, and Richmond council rejected Wolfe’s proposal to immediately look at bylaw changes.
“Just because it happens in Richmond doesn’t make it a city responsibility,” said Mayor Malcolm Brodie, who said a much longer period of working with the SPCA and other groups would be needed before staff could begin understanding what changes would be worth considering.
“I don’t think it helps to change our bylaws. We don’t know … what is staff supposed to do? There really hasn’t been any guidance given toward that.”
Wolfe is hopeful Richmond will consider a change once more research is done.
“This is really an education piece, and maybe what we’ll learn is there’s a lot of violations out there, a lot more feral cats,” he said.
“It’s a problem to let your cat go for the day and come back and snuggle in your bed and bring whatever it wants back.”