Nanaimo, B.C. city council recently passed a motion to work on a bylaw that would require residents to license their cats, despite staff recommendations not to do so.

"It appears that we have a problem in Nanaimo with just sheer numbers with feral cats," said Mayor Bill McKay.

"What I'm looking is to determine what that bylaw would look like, how effective it might be and the impact it would have on service levels."

The decision was made in part due to recommendations from the local SPCA, which will be working on the bylaw with city staff.

"It's about getting pets home," said Leon Davis, the branch manager for the Nanaimo SPCA.

"We're not talking about huge licensing fees or creating revenues for the city. We're looking at a real cost-neutral model."

To listen to the full interview with Leon Davis, click on the audio labelled: Should cats be licensed?

Davis said licensing or mandatory identification in the form of tattoos or microchips is becoming increasing common throughout North America.

In B.C., 25 communities already have mandatory identification, including Surrey, New Westminster, Coquitlam, and Kamloops. Across Canada, a handful of cities like Calgary, Winnipeg and Toronto require cat licences.

So far, most people Davis has heard from at the SPCA have been supportive of the change, although one common complaint is from people with indoor cats who don't think they should have to register their pet.

But "those cats are more important to get licensed," he says, "because they get outside and they don't have a clue." 

According to Davis, a 2007 study showed that 41 per cent of lost cats were indoor cats.

'Knee-jerk reaction' to licensing

Davis compares the resistance to cat licensing to what happened when the same process was undertaken for dogs in the 1970s.

"There was a lot of knee-jerk reaction when licensing was first floated in North America," said Davis. "But you get that kind of normative societal change as people realize there are some benefits to the community."

Since the changes to dog licensing were implemented, 80 per cent of them make it back home when they're lost. Currently, only 11 per cent of cats do.

In Nanaimo, 750 stray cats end up in shelters each year.

"We need to do something because doing nothing isn't working," said Davis.

Take the poll: Should cats be licensed?


  • An earlier version of this story stated Nanaimo city council had passed a motion requiring cat owners to license their cats. In fact, it passed a motion directing staff to work with local animal advocacy group to draft a bylaw that could include mandatory licensing.
    Feb 06, 2015 9:49 AM PT