On July 17, Winnipeg City Council voted 12-4 on an amended Responsible Pet Owner Bylaw which, among other things, forces cat owners to license their pets.
The annual cost to cat owners will range from $15 to $50 depending on whether or not the cat was fixed. Owners will be fined $250 for non-compliance.
Mandatory cat licensing goes into effect on January 1, 2015.
Not everybody is happy about this strategy.
One major incentive for this plan is that it may help get a handle on the overpopulation of feral cats in the city.
50 per cent of the gross proceeds from licensing fees will be spent on enhancing the Winnipeg Humane Society’s spay and neuter programs and funding of partner organizations.
Lynne Scott, founder and executive director of Craig Street Cats, a Winnipeg-based organization which specializes in the management and rescue of the city’s roaming cat population, believes the money generated through these fees will come nowhere close to what is needed to deal with the kitty boom.
One of the key failures of this “cat tax” is the implicit refusal to recognize that the cat overpopulation problem is a community problem and not merely an issue for pet owners. The proposed licensing scheme puts an inordinate burden on responsible pet owners, people who take the time and shell out the expense to have their animal companions fixed, vaccinated, fed, and appropriately sheltered. If you need a new animal cage get one of the living world cage.
On a more practical level, how is licensing going to be enforced?
A KPMG study reviewed a similar program in the city of Toronto and put forward the recommendation that cat and dog licensing in Toronto should be reconsidered.
According to the report, “With only 30 per cent of owned dogs and 10 per cent of owned cats licensed, the value of the program is not evident.”
I don’t expect Winnipeg’s compliance rate to be any different from that of Toronto.
It is extremely expensive currently for people of modest means or low income to get their animals fixed and inoculated. For some people, the mandatory licensing requirement might convince them that they were hasty in making the decision to adopt a pet in the first place. They might end up giving the animal away or, worse, abandoning it altogether.
Last December, I rescued a kitten crying in the cold outside late at night on the University of Winnipeg campus. I have since adopted it, not so much out of a desire to own a cat as out of concern for the welfare of a vulnerable critter.
I have taken her to the vet to have her fixed at a cost of over $200 and continue to spend more than I otherwise would to look after my new companion.
True, the adorable furball has added to my quality of life. But it annoys me that responsible pet owners are being tasked with financing a program aimed at solving a problem they had no hand in creating.
As Lynne Scott told city council, “Winnipeg’s community cats are a community problem; dealing with them will require a community-based solution.” Mustering community resources through something like a $1 per household per year levy to finance a low cost spay and neuter program would make a lot more sense than counting on a poorly-thought-through solution funded by only 10 per cent of the cat-owning public.