A Winnipeg city committee has sent a proposed pet bylaw back to administration, following a lengthy debate Monday about whether to license cats and allow backyard chickens, among other issues.

The protection and community services committee spent much of Monday afternoon and evening debating the responsible pet ownership bylaw, which proposed addressing the problem of house cat overpopulation by making owners license their felines or face stiff fines.

Following hours of debate, committee chair Coun. Scott Fielding said he supports the pet bylaw except for the part regarding cat licensing.

The committeee wants more consultations on the matter, so the bylaw is being referred back to city officials, with a new report due by May.

Under the proposed bylaw, cat owners would have had to pay $15 for an annual cat licence if the cat was spayed or neutered, or $50 for cats that were not. Those who did not license their cat would be fined $250.

The Winnipeg Humane Society was originally in favour of the bylaw, but it later opposed the proposal because it no longer calls for mandatory identification or for cats six months and older to be spayed and neutered.

"The two things that I was crowing to the skies [about] on Thursday are suddenly lessened on Friday, and that I can't stand by," Bill McDonald, the society's chief executive officer, told reporters earlier in the day.

The society, along with D'Arcy's A.R.C. and other no-kill animal shelters, asked the committee to implement a subsidized, stand-alone spay and neuter clinic.

Licences, penalties not the answer, groups say

The groups argued that cat licensing alone would not control the large cat population, with the humane society saying thousands of animals had to be put down last year.

The shelter officials added that penalizing responsible pet owners was not the answer.

The bylaw had proposed that 100 per cent of the revenue be directed to the Winnipeg Humane Society to expand spay and neuter programs.

But a group called Citizens Helping to End the Cat Crisis says the revenue generated by licensing fees should not go to the humane society.

Instead, the money be directed back to animal services to address the cat overpopulation problem, said Elizabeth Labelle, a member of the group.

"If the humane society cannot keep up with the cats that they're already supposed to be spaying and neutering through the program, how are they possibly going to handle all the thousands that need to be spayed and neutered through the city's proposal? I don't think that's possible," Labelle said.

Pet store owners also spoke out against the proposed bylaw, which would ban the sale of cats and dogs in stores.

The store owners told the committee that the bylaw gives a public perception that they sell cats that are not spayed or neutered.

Backyard chickens

Another part of the proposed bylaw that sparked debate was a ban on the raising of chickens within city limits.

A group of urban poultry proponents asked councillors to change the bylaw to allow any Winnipeg homeowner to keep chickens in their backyards.

The bylaw suggests "urban chicken keeping in Winnipeg will be allowed only in areas that are agriculturally zoned due to potential food safety, humane and neighbourhood livability issues."

But the Winnipeg Urban Chicken Association is upset and says fears that chickens are noisy and smelly are unfounded.

"I think that maybe they haven't done their research; that they're just following the mis-based fears," said WUCA member Jen Funk.

The Winnipeg Humane Society is siding with the city on this part of the proposed bylaw, recommending against the backyard chicken activity. It worries that some people won't know how to raise the birds humanely.