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Nancy Swaine pets Kato, one of 26 cats she has been granted permission to keep in her River Heights home.


Nancy Swaine pets Kato, one of 26 cats she has been granted permission to keep in her River Heights home.

The proverbial fur is flying at city hall after a council committee decided 26 cats can live inside a River Heights home but nine kitties are too much for a Charleswood residence.

In an unusual move, city council's protection and community services committee agreed on Thursday to grant Elm Street resident Nancy Swaine the right to keep 26 cats -- 23 more than the city normally allows.

If you want to have more than three cats or three dogs in your home, you must apply for what's known as an excess animal permit, which is routinely granted to people who breed small numbers of pets in their home.

Swaine, however, is on a self-described mission to "clean up an uncontrolled cat population" at the University of Manitoba.

When she came before city council's City Centre community committee in February, councillors turned down her application for an excess animal permit. On Wednesday, Couns. Mike Pagtakhan (Point Douglas) and Grant Nordman (St. Charles) reversed the committee's decision after Swaine promised to work with Winnipeg's Animal Services agency to reduce any odour caused by her collection of felines over the next year.

She was given until April 30, 2011 to keep her cats.

During an hour-long public hearing, several of Swaine's neighbours complained bitterly about odours and the city's responsibility to prevent what amounts to an animal-rescue shelter from operating within a residential neighbourhood.

"Some of their complaints are specious. Some of them are legitimate. But I think they've been grossly exaggerated," said Swaine, who began rescuing what she describes as feral and stray cats from the University of Manitoba in 1996.

The vote that allowed her appeal to stand was made possible by the absence of Daniel McIntyre Coun. Harvey Smith, who could not hear Swaine's appeal because he took part in the earlier decision to deny her excess animal permit.

Smith was present, however, when Kersey Bay resident Henry Festner appeared before the committee to appeal a February decision by the Assiniboia community committee to deny his own request for an excess animal permit.

Nordman, who took part in the Assiniboia decision, was not in the room when Pagtakhan and Smith failed to come to an agreement about Festner's appeal.

So the end result was the Charleswood resident was told to find new homes for six out of his nine felines -- or destroy them.

"Which one do I put to sleep?" said an anguished Festner, complaining of unfair treatment from city hall.

"I find it absolutely sickening. My wife is heartbroken," he said.

"This has nothing to do with cats. It's a feud between one neighbour and it goes back 30 years."

As was the case with Swaine, some of Festner's neighbours appeared before councillors to complain about odour from cat feces and urine.

Committee chairman Pagtakhan said he would have preferred to find a way to reach an accommodation between Festner and his neighbours. He also said he lamented the incongruity of allowing Swaine to have 26 cats but restricting Festner to only three.

"I was disappointed about that," said Pagtakhan, who brushed off the suggestion his committee should have merely upheld the city's pound bylaw in both cases.

"We could say we're not going to have any excess animal permits," he said.

"In Calgary, you can have as many cats and dogs as you like, as long as nobody complains."