Cat costs

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What should St. Albert do about its stray cats?

This week City Council approved up to $20,000 to cover the cost of a survey and resulting report about creating a cat bylaw.

Coun. Sheena Hughes had initially put forward a motion to have the city enter into an agreement with a rescue group to take the city’s stray cats. But she modified her motion and decided it needs to be determined which cats have homes and which ones don’t.

“That involves a bylaw. It involves licensing to say, these ones have owners, these ones don’t,” said Hughes.

The city will survey the public about what should be done about outdoor cats. Council will receive the results and a report in 2019.

Hughes raised the issue after more than 1,000 people signed an online petition started last month for a cat bylaw and safe shelter for cats in St. Albert. But the survey and report will not do anything to help the stray cats in the city now, which is the more pressing issue.

This summer, Edmonton Humane Society changed its policies and it’s now more difficult for people to bring in stray cats because they need an appointment first, so it’s not a viable option for St. Albertans. To solve this issue, the city should partner with either a rescue group or a veterinarian to have a designated place for these stray cats to be taken. The $20,000 that council approved for a survey and report could have gone a long way toward that solution.

Bringing in a cat bylaw means bringing in enforcement, which will require licensing to help offset some of the costs. The issue of roaming cats will always be a problem and it isn’t going to go away, even with licensing. Even in jurisdictions that have a cat bylaw, there are roaming cats. It’s hard to convince cat owners to license their cats each year when their cats are ‘indoor cats.’ It’s an opt-in system.

Responsible pet owners should already have identification for their pets and/or have them microchipped, so adding a license does little to aid in determining which ones are strays.

Council did look at creating a cat bylaw in 2012.  The report in 2012 noted an estimated cost of $160,000 to $200,000 in the first year to create and enforce a cat bylaw, as well as an ongoing operating expense of $100,000 to $130,000 per year. In 2012 administration recommended against any new cat control or licensing due to mixed public feedback and the financial expense.

It’s hard to imagine much has changed since 2012; why spend $20,000 on a survey and report? It doesn’t do anything to help the cats on the streets this winter, and it’s not going to result in a panacea for cat control.

Council won’t get the planned cat report until 2019 and then it’ll either have to decide to spend even more money on the issue through enforcement or continue to do nothing, meaning the thousands of taxpayers dollars on a survey and report were spent without any gain.

Given our current budget situation, it makes no sense for council to even consider getting into a costly licensing scheme. We need cost-effective solutions and a place to bring stray cats. Council should not wait until 2019 for direction.

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