Humane Society plans program to keep cats off streets

By David Kawai

The Ottawa Humane Society’s new cat-awareness campaign, to be unveiled in January, will focus on encouraging owners to register their cats with the city so that strays can be returned to their owners more easily.

According to Sharon Miko of the Ottawa Humane Society, only five per cent of about 3,500 stray cats that came into the society last year were claimed. In contrast, she says more than 50 per cent of stray dogs were claimed.

“People are starting to do a really good job with dogs now, but the same thing isn’t really happening for cats,” Miko says.

She says paying the approximately $40 in fees to get cats licensed with the city is one of the best solutions.

“Cats that are licensed are microchipped. If a cat is microchipped, we stand a better chance of finding its owner.”

The microchip can be safely implanted into the cat and contains information on the owner that can be accessed by animal rescue workers.

Ottawa residents Michele and John Storey own three cats, none of which are microchipped. In September, Bangle — one of their youngest cats – found his way over their backyard’s four-foot fence. Six weeks later, he turned up at the Ottawa Humane Society.

“He had hypothermia, he was malnourished and severely dehydrated,” Mrs. Storey says. “They were actually going to euthanize him, they told us, but because Bangle is de-clawed, they realized that it was someone’s cat.”

Had there been no sign that Bangle was domesticated, the sickly cat might have been euthanized — something the Ottawa Humane Society only does if a cat is deemed “not adoptable for health or temperament reasons,” according to Miko.

Storey says she was lucky with Bangle and says her backyard will have a seven-foot privacy fence built around it to keep the cats from escaping.

“They will also be microchipped, all three of them before the summer,” she says.

Since Ottawa’s Animal Care and Control bylaw came into effect in April 2003, owners must have their cats spayed, neutered and microchipped. However, the Ottawa Humane Society estimates there are still thousands of unregistered cats in the city.

Osgoode Ward Coun. Doug Thompson, who sits on Ottawa’s licensing committee, agrees that pet registration is important, but says enforcing the registry bylaw is nearly impossible.

“When this (bylaw) was first brought up, there was some humour attached because we didn’t feel it was enforceable,” he says.

“We only have about 50 per cent of dogs licensed. If we have problems licensing dogs, we’re going to have a huge problem getting people to license their cats.”

Thompson says he “doesn’t see any sense in spending a lot of money enforcing or having cat patrols” because the problem is unmanageable.

“I’ll be very surprised the first time I hear about someone being fined for not licensing their cat,” he says.

As for Bangle, Storey says she may have been too late to save him.

“We’re not sure we’re going to be able to keep him, he’s very sickly. They don’t know if he has feline leukemia or…a feline version of AIDS.”

Storey, who has spent more than $500 in medical costs on Bangle since getting him back in November, doesn’t think microchipping would have made a difference in her case, but encourages all cat owners to pay the relatively inexpensive fee to license their cats.