Local group wants stricter bylaws around cats in Saanich

A local citizens group appeared before Saanich Council on Monday, asking for stricter bylaws around cats.

The Citizens for Responsible Pet Ownership want's cat owners to have more responsibility for their furry feline friends.  Birder, naturalist and past president of the Victoria Natural History Society, Ann Nightingale, is associated with the group, and she says they want to see cats treated the same way as dogs.

"You don't let them roam free, you don't let them be a nuisance to your neighbours, that you take good care of them and protect them the same way you would any other pet."

The group is also calling for mandatory spay and neutering, licensing, and impounding any cats found roaming the neighbourhood.

Nightingale is a cat owner, and says when she bought her house, she made sure there was an enclosed patio that was too high for her cat to escape from, which she then turned into a "cat-io."  However, Nightingale adds that there are other methods asides from cat-ios that owners could use to restrict their cats to their property.

"There are enclosures, you can actually have enclosures built, even on the second story of your home if you like, or running around the perimeter of your yard.  There are items you can attach to your fence that would keep your cat in, and neighbour cats out.  None of these things are really cheap, but they are quite effective, or can be quite effective.  And if you want to take your cat out on a leash, I see more and more people out with cats on a lead all the time, it certainly is possible."

She says the group has several problems with cats roaming free, the biggest of which is passing on diseases.  She says toxoplasmosis, otherwise known as "Crazy Cat Lady Syndrome," is most harmful to pregnant women, but can be caught by anyone.  Toxoplasmosis causes flu-like symptoms, and in extreme cases, can lead to extreme behaviours, like risk taking.  

Nightingale is a birder and naturalist, and says another big inspiration for the cat crackdown is to save birds.  She says habitat and climate change are big factors in bird deaths, but two of the biggest killers are windows, and cats.

"Keeping our cats under control wild definitely cut down on bird deaths, and this time of year, I get extra passionate about it, because we are just coming into the breeding season.  Birds are on nests, they're going to have baby in the nest.  And a cat who catches a bird at this time of year, probably does not just kill that one bird, but probably the whole family, all the little baby birds in the nest as well.  So we like people to keep their cats under control, to keep them inside if they can, but if they're outside, have them outside under control."

The group presented a study that shows between 100 and 350-million birds are killed by cats each year in Canada alone. Nightingale adds that around the world, approximately 50% of all birds on the planet have been lost in the last 40 or 50 years, and in certain areas, like island settings, there are more risks for extinction.  However, she says there is a lot of back and forth with people about whether cats play a significant role in extinction. 

"There are people who can show you studies that show that cats may not have a control at the population level of a species.  That they aren't taking out so many that the species is going extinct.  And this is true, but we don't know where that tipping point is.  Passenger pigeons were abundant, right up until they weren't, and extinction is forever.  It's one of those things that we're not really talking about extinction when we're talking about responsible pet ownership, we're talking about even the common birds, we don't want them to be preyed upon by domestic pets."

She says cats aren't the only problem for birds.  Dogs can be very disruptive, especially when birds are migrating, and after flying all day or night are resting or feeding, when a dog runs up and scares them away.

Nightingale also says many residents of not only Saanich, but the entire CRD, are very proud of their gardens, and don't want cats destroying them or leaving behind "organic landmines."

The Citizens for Responsible Pet Ownership made their case to Saanich Council, who have received the delegation, and will make a decision at a later date.

The group has also made appeals to Victoria, Esquimalt, Oak Bay, and Central Saanich, all of which have approved the proposed changes.

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