BACKGROUND / DISCUSSION
Council at its regular April 10, 2017 meeting motioned staff to re-instate the 2008 Feral Cat Control By-Law. This temporary By-Law was in effect from April 28, 2008 until December 31, 2009. In it, Council enacted provisions advising that cats roaming at large could be subject to an OSPCA trapping, spay/neuter and vaccination program.
This was a stand-alone OSPCA attempt to control the feral cat over-population observed at that time; in addition to animal welfare concerns, it had regard for public health and safety and the hazards that unmanaged cat populations can present to a community.
As per the temporary By-Law, the OSPCA was solely responsible and liable for operating the program which they supported with aggressive fundraising, volunteers and generous local veterinary goods and services in-kind exceeding an estimated $60,000. The 2008/2009 OSPCA program in partnership with veterinarians and feral cat caretakers was not sustainable long-term and the desired outcome was not attained. It was reported however to have been of measurable benefit.
Subsequent to the April 10, 2017 Council Motion, Bergin Avenue residents petitioned Council to remove feral cats from their neighbourhood. Council referred this June 17, 2017 petition to administration for a report.
Note that according to OSPCA estimates, feral cats represent approximately thirty percent (30%) of the roaming cat population. Pet owners and their itinerant cats make up the majority.
Cat Over- Population
The Canadian Wellness Report estimates that approximately one third (1/3) of Canadian households have a domestic cat. Equating households to dwelling units, no less than 7,000 cats reside in Cornwall's 21,000 dwelling units. This statistic does not account for multiple pet cats per household or the exterior feral cat population which is an unknown.
A Canadian Federation of Humane Society public survey revealed seventy-eight percent (78%) of respondents believing cat over population to be a problem in their municipality. About fifty-one percent (51%) of animal shelter and rescues believe the problem to be even move severe.
While cats are reverened as desirable human companions, they are too often inhumanely treated as disposable. Uncontrolled propagation provides readily for replacement, often for free. A cat can bear three (3) litters of kittens per year, with 4 to 5 kittens per litter. Four month old kittens can reproduce. One female cat can be responsible for the production of forty-one (41) kittens in a twelve month period.
An OSPCA delegation in a November 27, 2017 presentation to Council shared the following statistics (a copy of the OSPCA presentation to Council is attached by pdf):
Cat Population Control
- The number of cats surrendered to the S.D. & G. facility is approximately thirty percent (30%) of the Ontario total. In one cat amnesty day in July 2017, seventy-three (73) cats were surrendered. Totally overwhelming the Cornwall facility, most had to be transferred/dispersed to other Ontario OSPCA facilities.
- In 2017, the local OSPCA stray cat intake was 764. Barrie's (pop. 147,200) intake was by comparison 360 and Markham's (pop. 329,000) was 217.
- The twenty percent (20%) provincial average for sick or injured cat intake is considerably lower than Cornwall's forty percent (40%) four year average.
- Vaccination rates against the likes of rabies is among Ontario's lowest.
Animal humane societies and animal rights organizations are unanimous in asserting spay/neuter programs to be primary to mitigating uncontrolled cat propagation which is principal in responding to the cat overpopulation tendencies commonly challenging many Canadian (and American) communities.
Accordingly, any legislated regulation must serve primarily to promote spay/neutering, which involves charitable organisations like the OSPCA and veterinary services.
Any regulation, most often in the form of a By-Law, can be ineffective if not integral to a community animal management strategy similar to that presented by the OSCPA at the November 27, 2017 Council session.
The City of Calgary is perhaps the recognised model for a collaborative approach in supporting for example income tested, no cost and reduced cost spay/neuter programs. Like Calgary, Markham (Ontario) sponsors responsible pet ownership education and hosts adoption events in City facilities.
Community Management Program Resources
The City of Cornwall through the By-Law Division will apply in August 2018 for a PetSmart Charities Grant to initially fund subsidised spay/neuter procedures. (A similar $50,000 grant application in 2017 was denied.)
The OSPCA has offered the services of their mobile clinic this Summer, for a three (3) day period. One of those days could be dedicated to cats trapped and delivered by the City to the mobile unit for Grant funded procedures. The unit's capacity is twenty-five (25) surgeries per day available to Cornwall resident owners at an OSPCA subsidised One Hundred Dollars ($100.00) (the market fee is approximately $320.00 for female and $200.00 for male cat).
With uncontrolled propagation prominent to mitigating cat over population, initially, de-sexing procedures should be limited to female cats to start, as they ultimately produce the kittens.
A Cat Registration/Control By-Law Proposal for Cornwall
It would be imperative for a legislated regulation to (a) cause cat spay/neutering as this is ultimate to controlling cat populations and (b) require cats to be registered with the City to capture relevant data identifying and linking cats to their owners, thus imparting responsibility on them for their pets.
Accordingly, a By-Law might regulate as follows:
- Within a generous grace period of five (5) years, require that all cats be spayed/neutered (excluding any certified/license breeding and fostering operations).
- Provide for a two year grace period including fee exemption in which to register a cat with the City. Residents could apply the registration fee savings ($35.00 per annum/per cat) to de-sexing procedure fees. Beyond this grace period, income tested municipally subsidised fees would promote the cause.
- Include a strong definition of cat ownership in order to mitigate well intentioned but maligned individuals who feed stray cats. In essence, feeding a stray cat would bestow ownership and accountability to register, vaccinate, spay/neuter and so on. Registered fostering operations would be exempt.
- Effective immediately, upon passing of a By-Law, that all cats be restricted indoors unless harnessed and tethered or within a secure safe enclosure. Doing so would offer some immediate effect to what is a longer term spay/neuter program, principal to mitigating uncontrolled propagation. Anticipated benefits might include less neighbourhood nuisance behaviours like raucous interaction, spraying, and preying on wild life and reduce public health hazard potential inherent with garden urination/defecation, flea infestation and similar.
Further, feral and roaming cats are prone to disease and abbreviated life spans so limiting them to indoors is in the interest of animal welfare. Mr. Dave Wilson, Director of Shelter, Health and Wellness for OSPCA, (and a retired veterinarian) has stated that no cat should go outdoors unsupervised. Otherwise, they can be victims of road traffic, wildlife (raccoons, coyotes, etc.) and the often unthought of hazard that garden and lawn chemicals present.
The Humane Society of the United States discourages letting your cat outside unless within a safe enclosure or harnessed/leashed.
The OSPCA has issued the following formal statement on restricting cats to be indoors: "The Ontario SPCA encourages pet owners to keep their cats indoors for the safety of their pet. In addition to the risk posed by wildlife, pets at large are also in danger of being struck by vehicles and could become lost. If your cat does go outdoors, we encourage you to supervise their time outside. It's also important to ensure all cats are spayed or neutered, up-to-date on vaccinations and are micro-chipped to help keep them safe, healthy and ensure they aren't contributing to the issue of pet overpopulation and unwanted animals."
- Limit the number of cats permitted in an apartment type dwelling to two,and four in a single family or semi-detached type dwelling.
- For a two year period, allow for a maximum cat limit amnesty to encourage registration of spayed/neutered cats not compliant with the cat limit regulation.
Presently, the Animal Control By-Law allows up to five cats per household where there are no dogs. Multi family dwellings are disproportionately represented in Cornwall's housing stock. A common four plex dwelling for example may legally house up to twenty cats.
Cat population challenges will be ever present but numbers can be maintained to manageable levels through permanent humane society/municipal partnerships within a community management program.
The cost of care for each cat captured/surrendered to the OSPCA is in the five hundred dollar ($500.00) range which includes vaccination, spay/neutering and follow-up medical care prior to being offered for adoption, or in the case of feral cats being released. Additionally, euthanasia fatigue can add considerably to animal shelter expenditures.
Last year, these costs exceeded $350,000 which is not sustainable for a charity organization in a community of this size.
Despite the one day July 2017 amnesty day targeted at the Bergin Avenue neighbourhood, (when seventy-three (73) cats were surrendered), feral and roaming cats are reported to remain a nuisance and potential health hazard there.
Bergin Avenue is perhaps a microcosm of too many Cornwall neighbourhoods particularly in the older, urban districts.
We will continue to work with the OSPCA, consider Council's comments and outreach to the public for theirs. A final report will follow.