News / Halifax

Don't let the cat out: Expert on new ways to handle the Halifax 'cat crisis'

With roaming domestic cats and feral ones killing millions of birds a year and adding to disease risks, experts say long-term strategies and a shift in attitude are needed.

A feral cat in Halifax.

Metro file

A feral cat in Halifax.

While many Haligonians let out their cats out to roam, one expert says it’s actually detrimental to humans and other animals - so Fluffy or Mittens should stay inside.

Susan Kelly, manager of animal services with Vaughan, Ont., is one of three speakers at Tuesday’s public talk at Saint Mary's University called Responsible Pet Ownership: How to solve the cat crisis.

With roughly 60,000 feral cats in Halifax, those felines plus many more stray, abandoned and roaming unsterilized outdoor cats run into each other and breed, contributing to the growing population and adding a strain on shelters, spreading disease, and impacting on birds and wildlife.

Cats in HRM kill anywhere from 1.7 to 4 million birds annually, according to the Ecology Action Centre, who is hosting the presentation alongside other groups.

“Put them on a harness and take them for a walk, treat them like your dog. Don’t let your cat out at 10 o’clock at night and go to bed,” Kelly said. “Cats live quite fine indoors, they don’t need to be free-roaming, they really don’t.”

She added that cats can get plenty of fresh air in an enclosed back yard or cattery structure where they’re safe from predators, cars, and diseases - while also helping delicate bird species.

“It wouldn’t be ok, I’m pretty sure, if we had free-roaming feral hogs or boars or even dogs running in packs killing whatever they felt like - but yet but society has made it okay for cats,” Kelly said.

Changing bylaws to be more restrictive is a good step, Kelly said, like in Vaughan where cats must have identification like dogs so the municipality could actually enforce fines if they cause property damage and return them to their proper homes.

They also have a three-cat limit per person, Kelly said, and a few times a year offer affordable microchip workshops so people can track their cats just like dogs.

In HRM, the municipality doesn’t pick up stray cats at all, and does not require licensing. There are three rules for cat owners in Halifax’s municipal bylaws, and five rules around dog licensing as well as about 12 duties as a dog owner.

Kelly said once people change their behaviour around domestic cats and keep them from adding to the feral population, then cat colonies can be better addressed and hopefully see the numbers start to drop through adoption and sterilization - but until then trap-neuter-release (TNR) programs like those funded in HRM aren’t getting to the root of the issue.

“Let’s elevate the feline species a little closer to the way we hold our dogs … then we’re going to have happy wildlife rehabbers, happy bird people, it sort of expands to the community,” Kelly said.

How to go: Public talk on Responsible Pet Ownership with Susan Kelly, Hope Swinimer and Hope for Wildlife, and Dr. Helene Van Doninck of the Cobequid Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Scotiabank Conference Theatre in SMU’s Sobey Building, 903 Robie Street.

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