Oakville cats now housebound


I had no idea that Milton had already passed a bylaw prohibiting free-range felines — especially with the amount of posts popping up each week on the Hawthorne Villager online forum from residents looking for their missing cats.

As a former owner of three cats, I have to say that the decision by the Town of Oakville to follow suit with Milton and Burlington is a good move.

Cats are natural hunters, yes. However, they are domesticated animals as well, hardly used to many of the perils of Halton’s untamed wilderness including other cats, speeding cars and larger predators such as coyotes, now quite common in areas of Milton.

A memo to cat owners everywhere: if you reeeally feel as if you need to let your cat out to explore, try your garage. Trust me, they’ll be more than happy to check out that ‘almost outdoor’ space; will love climbing up and sneaking around all of your garbage/recycling bins, garden tools, toys, boxes and more; and as for hunting, well, you might be surprised as to what they’ll find — mice are everywhere and usually have no problem entering your garage through tiny spaces around the bottom of the large doors.

From the Toronto Star:

The crucial question: Should cats, which are natural hunters, be allowed to freely to roam the streets?

As of Jan. 1, the answer in Oakville is no.

“If it’s your pet, you should have it under control,’’ said Johanne Golder, executive director of the Oakville and Milton Humane Society, which is contracted by Oakville to provide animal control services.

Oakville has joined neighbours Milton, Burlington and Hamilton in prohibiting cats from roaming free. The town has already banned dogs from running loose, but added cats to the list when it consolidated all animal bylaws last month.

Owners whose loose cats repeatedly end up at the Oakville shelter can be fined $105, plus a $30 town surcharge, a return fee of $25 and $15 for each day the cat stays at the shelter.

Golder said the mentality that cats are “disposable” pets (unwanted kittens are often abandoned or dumped at shelters) is to blame for the huge feline populations in urban centres.

The more cats, the fewer birds, said McGill University avian expert David Bird.

He said house pets are just as bloodthirsty as untamed ferals — homeless offspring of stray or abandoned cats raised without human contact.

Bird (his surname and passion are coincidental, he chirped) estimated well-fed pets alone destroy upwards of a billion birds annually around the world. The American Bird Conservancy estimates hundreds of millions are killed in the United States by cats each year but says an exact figure is unclear.

Bird, the author of The Bird Almanac and Birds of Canada, said the cat-on-bird carnage is as common in quiet residential cul-de-sacs as it is in the countryside.

“I’d created a killing field in my own backyard,” recalled the wildlife biology professor, who once spotted four neighbourhood cats stalking finches, woodpeckers, nuthatches, juncos, jays and cardinals nibbling at feeders around his west Montreal home.

“I didn’t think it was right for other people’s hobby interest, i.e., owning a pet cat, to impinge upon my interests on my own property.”

Bird advocates like him are up against a multi-million-dollar cat-care industry in an animal rights fight that has been tested in U.S. courts, written about in a best-selling novel and spawned an outdoor furniture business to erect enclosed “catios” to give kitty a breath of fresh air.

It’s an issue that’s gaining momentum in the GTA.

Last week, the city of Toronto announced plans expand a volunteer-driven program to capture, sterilize and return ferals to their colonies around the city. There are between 100,000 and 300,000 ferals around the GTA, according to cat rescue experts.

Maureen Palmer is the producer of documentary Cat Crazed, which examines cat overpopulation and its fallout. Even though cats are shown in her film savaging fledglings in their nests, she said humans are the real villains.

“The enemy is the irresponsible pet owner,’’ said Palmer.

“We have to lose the notion that cats are born to be wild if we live in largely urban communities (and) have a bunch of well-meaning owners who let their cats out.”

Palmer said one of the most “heartbreaking” scenes during filming was at a volunteer spay-neuter clinic in Los Angeles that sterilized 80 ferals a day. She said most of the cats had infections that never healed, as well as broken bones, large abscesses around their teeth and mange.

“It’s not a good life for those cats,’’ she said.

Sarah May, a volunteer at Toronto Cat Rescue, notes her organization believes the trap-neuter-release program is the best way to reduce colony populations.

“Our goal is to find a real solution to getting cats off the streets,’’ said the 20-year-old York University environmental studies student.

“It’s not like we want cats out there, whether it be for the cats’ sake, the birds’ sake or public health’s sake.”

Cats actually never roamed freely in North America until they were introduced by humans. The animals — rodent hunters in the wild — were first domesticated 7,000 years ago in the Middle East and Africa, according to researchers at the University of Nebraska. Those ancient cats evolved into a separate species called the domestic or house cat.

Since cats are not native predators in this part of the world, nesting North American birds have no natural defences against the agile tree climbers. Birds are already under stresses from habitat destruction, pollution, climate change and other animals, such as squirrels, who eat unattended eggs.

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