By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – Karen Trembley loves cats – so much so that her family has three of them. What Trembley is not so thrilled about is how some cats in her neighbourhood are allowed to roam freely, something she does not allow her own animals to do. It’s not that she’s bothered about neighbourhood cats coming onto her deck for a visit – it’s what sometimes happens as a result of those visits that is the cause of her concern.
“They all end up in my backyard and on my deck,” Trembley said of the three or four regular roaming cats she sees in the neighbourhood. “I know they live in the neighbourhood. It just seems like it is a reoccurring event that these cats are just left outside overnight.”
Trembley said while the roaming cats are just doing their thing, that thing has caused problems for her own animals. “My cats like to lay by the patio door,” she explained, adding she leaves the door open with the screen closed. “These cats approach my cats and it’s just an all out war. They are fighting each other through the screen. I’ve had instances where animals are marking by my front door because if my windows are open they know I have cats. They’re marking their territory, which caused my cat to mark inside my house in the basement. Now I have [the] problem of getting rid of the odour and the urine.”
Though Trembley is concerned by how roaming neighbourhood cats are affecting her own animals, she said her biggest concern is the wellbeing of the cats strolling around outside.
“I want people to understand that you adopt a cat for life and they are a part of your family,” she said. “You don’t let your kids roam outside all night. It’s the exact same thing. When you get this cat into your household it is your responsibility that you have this animal for life. You give it the best care you can. Letting it roam outside where it’s left to fend for itself. That’s not fair for the cat, and it’s not fair for the neighbourhood that has to hear it and see it go on.”
Roaming is what some cats do
For Morinville resident Tasha Watson, letting her cat roam a bit when it meows to go out is a common occurrence, one she sees little problem with.
“They sit on my driveway, or they roll around, or they go to the backyard,” she said. “Sometimes they walk along the fence or across the street and sit in some other people’s driveways. We’ve lived here long enough that people know whose cats they are.”
Watson said she has never had an issue with her animals not returning or with neighbours complaining about her cats going for a stroll. “My neighbours know them,” she said of her cats, adding they never wander into people’s backyards – always staying close to her own property.
She feels whether a cat stays in or out should be up to the owner and the situation. “For us, I knew being next to a field we would have a mouse problem,” she said. “That’s why we let our cats out. I grew up on a farm and we’ve always had cats and never had mice. When we bought our house, we knew we needed a cat.”
Watson said she was not aware that Morinville’s Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw did not permit cats to be at large, and said she understood its place if cats are tearing up people’s gardens or strayed several blocks away. “I’d keep them on a leash or something, but they are good about just staying in this area,” she said.
Morinville’s Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw is clear on the matter of cats being at large. Morinville Community Peace Officer Sergeant William Norton said the bylaw prohibits both cats and dogs from being loose.
“The rules respecting cats are really no different than the rules respecting dogs,” Norton said. “They are to be on your own property. They are not meant to be running at large, and they can’t be in any public space or any property other than your own.”
Norton said when dogs run loose it is generally because they got out of the yard or away from the owner during a walk. Cats are a different matter. “There’s still the common conception that cats are meant to be let out the back door and retrieved when you come home,” Norton said, adding the pendulum is swinging. “That’s just not the expectation any more. Your cat is expected to be on its own property.”
Though cat and dog owners are both penalized for their animals roaming free, Norton said cat owners receive a larger fine because of the increased costs associated with cats. “Whenever we have an at large or even unlicensed situation it takes away from town resources,” Norton said, adding it takes longer to find a cat owner – if at all. “The officer has to spend more time finding the owner. The fines are generally there to offset those investments.”
Norton said the costs of impounding a cat or giving it medical treatment is always the responsibility of the owner; however, in the case of cats, the owner is seldom found. As such, the Town of Morinville and its ratepayers incur those costs.
Only 14 of the 97 cats impounded in Morinville last year were returned to their owners. By contrast, 71 of the 83 dogs impounded throughout the year were returned to their owners. Norton said the low return rate on cats is the reason the fine for cats at large is $120, double the amount levied for a dog at large.
Norton encourages people who encounter a seemingly lost cat or dog to contact Bylaw Enforcement rather than try to capture the animal. “If people have cats approach them when they are walking, we ask that they just leave them alone,” he said. “They’ll general go home. Whenever you pick up a cat and remove it, it has a hard time. They don’t track like dogs do, so once you disturb that, then we basically have to take the cat in. We have a low success rate getting cats home.
Impounding seldom results in reunion with owner
Morinville Veterinary Clinic Practice Manager Denise Gallant said the clinic recently obtained a cat that has been missing for six months. Though the animal was returned to its owner, Gallant said it is seldom the case.
“When cats come in here they are generally not micro-chipped,” she said, adding the clinic holds the animal for three days on behalf of the Town of Morinville, after which time they revert to the clinic’s ownership at a cost to the Town. “Every time a cat gets surrendered here, it costs the Town. We keep that cat until we can find it a home.”
Gallant said surrendered cats either find homes through their adoption program or through the Barn Buddies program; the latter is utilized if the cats are feral or not particularly good with people or other animals.
With respect to residents letting cats roam loose, Gallant said many people are still of the belief that is good for the cat to roam outside.
“There is no need for a cat to be outside,” Gallant said, adding her own cat – originally an outdoor cat – has been an indoor cat for the past fifteen years. “People that think it’s natural and that’s where they need to be – cats are a domesticated animal now. There is no need for them to be outside.”
Morinville’s Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw can be found online at morinville.ca/downloads/responsible-pet-ownership-bylaw-2.pdf.
Above right: Morinville Veterinary Clinic Practice Manager Denise Gallant holds a cat that has been lost for six months. The animal was reunited with its owner June 12. – Stephen Dafoe Photo