A city committee has decided to take a 'pawse' on a newly proposed pet bylaw amid backlash from animal-welfare groups who claim Winnipeg's plan to license cats will not address the overpopulation problem.
On Monday, three of Winnipeg's largest animal shelters and more than a dozen animal-welfare activists urged council's protection and community services committee to reject a proposed overhaul of Winnipeg's pet bylaws. Last week, the city released a report that recommends Winnipeg enact a cat-licensing program that would require pet owners to purchase an annual licence for their feline at a cost of $15 if the animal is spayed or neutered or $50 if it is not. The net profit from the fees -- an estimated $21,000 after administrative costs if 5,000 cats are licensed in 2014 -- will go to either the Winnipeg Humane Society or partner organizations to help expand spay-and-neuter programs.
The cat-licensing proposal is part of a massive overhaul of Winnipeg's pet bylaws that includes a proposed ban on the sale of cats and dogs in pet stores and requires anyone who sells puppies or kittens to register for a $300 annual licence. The report also includes a list of approved animals that may be kept in Winnipeg and recommends "urban chicken-keeping" will be allowed only in areas zoned for agriculture.
City officials touted the new bylaw as progressive and said the cat-licensing program will help Winnipeg tackle its cat overpopulation problem.
The city's largest animal shelters -- the Winnipeg Humane Society, D'Arcy's A.R.C. and Winnipeg Pet Rescue -- said the new regulations do not devote enough resources to spay-and-neuter programs and may even make the cat overpopulation worse.
Winnipeg Humane Society executive director Bill McDonald said the new bylaw eliminates the stipulation pet owners must spay or neuter all cats over six months -- something he says is key to reducing the city's overall population of stray and unwanted cats. McDonald said the three organizations take in a total of 10,000 lost, unwanted or stray cats a year. The humane society euthanized 2,235 cats in 2012.
McDonald said Winnipeg should be embarrassed by that number, and called on Mayor Sam Katz to create a task force on cats and create a free or low-cost spay-and-neuter clinic by 2016, calling the additional funding from licence fees for spay-and-neuter programs a "drop in the bucket."
He said city officials have talked about emulating Calgary's animal-services model, but the proposed bylaw leaves out some of the most important things Calgary has done, namely spending $1 million on a clinic that now performs 10,000 free spay-and-neuter surgeries a year.
"To throw $21,000 my way is just not good enough at this point," McDonald said.
Animal services chief operating officer Leland Gordon said Winnipeg's old pet bylaw did not mandate cats over six months old must be spayed or neutered, as people could obtain a special permit if they did not want to get the surgery done on their animal. He said Winnipeg is the only major city in Canada that does not license cats, which he says is a "cornerstone" in reducing the number of unwanted and stray felines.
Right now, Gordon said the city gives the humane society $500,000 a year to look after stray cats, including $75,000 to operate a spay-and-neuter program. He said other cities such as Calgary have used the fees from licences to fund more free or low-cost surgeries, which in turn, has reduced the overall population of cats.
"Why have cats essentially had a free ride for over 100 years?" Gordon asked council's protection and community services committee. "Cats have a bigger impact on animal shelters than dogs do."
Protection and community services chairman Coun. Scott Fielding (St. James-Brooklands) said he could not support the proposed cat-licensing program if three of the city's shelters had concerns. The committee voted to lay over a decision on the bylaw until May after a 12-hour meeting Monday so animal services can conduct further consultation on the bylaw.
"I think we really need to take a breath and look at something that's going to work for everyone," Fielding said.
Other animal-welfare groups took issue with the proposed bylaw, including members of the newly formed Winnipeg Urban Chicken Association, who told the committee chicken-keeping can be done in a safe, responsible manner within the city limits. About 130 municipalities in North America, such as Vancouver and Minneapolis, allow urban chicken-keeping and Louise May said she estimates there are already an estimated 50 Winnipeggers who keep backyard hens, even though they are currently illegal.
Series of complaints
about proposed law
ANIMAL-welfare groups took issue with a number of proposals in Winnipeg's new pet bylaw:
The proposal: Require Winnipeggers to purchase an annual licence for their cat. It would cost $15 if the cat has been spayed or neutered or $50 if it is not.
The criticism: The new bylaw eliminates a previous requirement that mandated all cats over six months old must be spayed or neutered. Animal-welfare activists say spaying and neutering -- not licensing -- is the key to reducing the overpopulation of cats.
The proposal: Anyone who sells puppies or kittens must register for a $300 annual vendor's licence.
The criticism: The vendor's licence would not dissuade backyard breeders from getting a licence, and may actually add credibility to unreputable pet sellers.
The proposal: Winnipeg only allow urban chicken-keeping in areas zoned for agriculture.
The criticism: Urban chicken groups say there are already an estimated 50 illegal chicken-keepers in Winnipeg, and backyard hens can be kept safely. Another 130 municipalities across North America -- including Vancouver and Minneapolis -- allow urban chicken-keeping.
The proposal: Winnipeg have a list of approved animals that can be kept within city limits.
The criticism: The list would be an "enforcement nightmare" and eliminates some common species of reptiles that are not dangerous to the public. Animal activists said it would be simpler to have a list of prohibited animals.
The proposal: Winnipeg ban the sale of cats and dogs in pet stores.
The criticism: Most pet stores no longer sell cats and dogs and partner with rescue organizations to adopt animals. Petland officials said the ban is not necessary, and portrays pet stores in a bad light.
-- Jen Skerritt