Freewheeling felines okay for some, less so for others

roaming cat-web
Under Morinville’s Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw, the fine for a cat at large is $120, an amount double that issued for a dog at large. – Morinville News File Photo

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.

denise cat-webBylaw is clear

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

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7 Comments

  1. Karen, your comparison between cats and children is neither accurate or fair. Cats roam, especially at night, because it is inherent in their DNA. That is what they do. Humans, on the other hand, are not programmed to roam during the night. We are programmed to rest. Children don’t go half crazy scratching at the doors and meowing all night to go out. We are completely different than cats.

    For the record, I do not agree with the bylaw, for numerous reasons, none of which I care to comment on at this time.

  2. Phil, I consider you to be WAY off the mark with your comments. I personally believe Karen’s comparison between cats and kids to be a pretty accurate assessment. MOST humans may be ‘programmed’ to rest at night, but a significant number are not. No, kids don’t scratch at the door or meow all night to get out – they simply open the door and leave!

    Re: the statement that you don’t agree with the by-law, am I correct in assuming that you made your thoughts and ideas public during the discussion phase of enactment? You DIDN’T?? Pity…

    My next door neighbour has had two cats (not the same two, by the way) and all four have ALWAYS been harnessed, on leashes – no problem WHATSOEVER.

    A neighbour living about one hundred metres from us allows their cat to roam freely, which is a disgusting problem for our front flower bed, one which I am very close to resolving, either with or without Animal Control assistance…

    Have a nice day!

  3. James, the comparison that you allude to is not accurate. Cats roam at night to hunt, mark territories and mate, children do not. Try reading a book or two on human vs animal physiology. Carnivores will typically roam during darkness. Their eyesight is made for night vision. Human eyesight hasn’t changed since the neandrithals. Many, including myself, “program” ourselves to nighttime mode, but it isn’t conducive to a long, healthy life. Studies have shown that people who work nights can expect to die 5 to 7 years prematurely.
    What Karen is really suggesting is that we should treat our cats like our children. Our children belong in safe shelters at night, where they get their proper rest. This isn’t a natural lifestyle for a cat. When Bylaws like this are enacted, we are, in effect, removing them from their environment. Most people seem to think this is a good thing. Yet many of these same people will sit on their couches and feel terrible when the National Geographic channel reports another extinction of a species. Or the effects to an ecosystem when we remove all the predators.
    James, I will not profess to being a cat lover, yet I’ve lived with them my entire life. Cats haven’t changed their behaviours for thousands of years. I honestly have no recollection of my parents, or the citizens of the town I grew up in, wanting a bylaw to eliminate cats because they go in their yard. It is our tolerance levels that have changed. We are in a society now that tolerates very little, and our solution is usually the same. Get rid of the problem, or move it. Many wild animal species have either been removed, or put in zoos. In Morinville, cats are now living in a zoos.

    And James, some info for you. No, I wasn’t at a discussion phase during this bylaw enactment. Like many others I know, I was sidetracked by the smoke and mirrors that council used to disguise what the bylaw was really about. Page upon page of bans on exotic pets and farm animals. It was an embarassment to this community, which made Morinville the brunt of many jokes for months.
    I did go to the one previous though James, where I stood in the hallway with many others. That’s when our former mayor was honest, and proposed it as a cat bylaw. James, guess how many people out of the 150 there were there to support the bylaw. That’s right, zero.

  4. Sorry, Phil, but I’m with James on this one. Biometric digressions aside, your argument about letting cats run free to hunt rodents at night, etc, doesn’t hold today.

    As James can likely attest to, in the past, cats roaming free weren’t a problem at all. People who didn’t like animals in their yards either shot at them, poisoned them, sicked their killer dogs on them, or trapped them and released them in the country, etc. I don’t agree with doing any of those things; I’m just saying the way it was when I was a kid. But as I said, times have changed.

    Like James, I’m sick and tired of someone’s cat who has no right to be on my property crapping in my flower beds or tormenting my dogs who are often indoors. We used to put up with people letting their dogs crap all over the place, but we now fine people who don’t clean-up after their pets. Maybe we should do the same with cats, especially when you know which cat it is? With the number of cell phones out there, Fluffy would get busted quite quickly. Maybe that would solve the problem. I hope it isn’t a matter of the weight of the problem. Are you advocating that we go back to that? Many would consider it a health issue.

    The bottom line is that people are responsible for their animals, no matter what size, breed, species, or type they are. If they choose to let them roam free, they risk losing them. If not to predators with four legs, then to people with two. I love my pets and have had cats in the past, which is why I either kept them inside or put my cat on a leash, which she loved. For the 150 people who showed up at the bylaw meeting, there were likely a thousand who have had an unwanted cat pee on their car or crap in their flower beds.

    My two cents (from back when we had pennies).

  5. Brent, what you just said is in agreement with what I said. That is, our levels of tolerance. In generations past, most people had bigger and more important problems to deal with, we have become much more sensitive, and in many cases we make decisions without thinking of the consequences. Brent, I am not making an argument about letting cats out at night to hunt, I am submitting that is what they do, and why being outside is natural for them.
    Part of the sad truth about a bylaw like this is that it does little to nothing about feral/stray cats, the cats one would target in terms of causing the possible health problems you refer to. It becomes somewhat of a cash investment, picking up people’s healthy pets. There is no money in eliminating strays. In the end though Brent, if that’s what people here want, no outside cats, so be it. We will see what the consequences are in a short time.

  6. Cats should be kept indoors as it’s not fair for other people to clean up after their cat craps in you garden or flower bed , private yards are just that private , what gives cats permission to tresspass , yes the bylaw is a good one , how would cat owners that let their cats roam feel about someone comming in there yard at nite and hollaring waking them up , or relieving themselves in their flowerbeds or garden?

  7. Cat’s kill the local wildlife. Birds, gophers, mice, frogs, salamanders, rabbits..anything they can get their paws on. Heck, I saw one last week torturing a baby goose near the fishing pond. It’s what they do and that is a fact.

    I don’t mind cats if they are indoors, but outdoors…they cause more harm than good. A pet is the owners responsibility. This means setting boundaries. I don’t let my dog roam the neighborhood alone. That would make me a irresponsible pet owner.

    We live in houses surrounded by other houses, not on a farm. It’s sad that we actually even have a bylaw to enforce common sense on this issue.

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