British Columbia

Roaming house cats a source of tension in Prince George, B.C., study finds

A survey conducted by university researchers in Prince George, B.C., found polarized opinions on felines on the prowl. 

Academics find polarized opinions on domestic cats that leave their yards

Opinions in Prince George, B.C., are polarized when it comes to domestic cats that roam outside their backyards, according to researchers from the University of Northern British Columbia. (The Associated Press)

The fur is flying over free-roaming house cats in Prince George, B.C, according to a survey conducted by university researchers that found polarized positions about felines on the prowl. 

Researchers with the University of Northern British Columbia surveyed almost 1,500 people in Prince George about their perceptions toward a little known and rarely enforced city bylaw that prohibits the owners of all animals, including domestic cats, from letting them roam beyond their backyard unless under control on a leash.

"It's an issue that raises a lot of anger and aggression in some people," said Annie Booth, a professor in environmental and sustainability studies at the University of Northern British Columbia.

"There's a real hate on for cats."

A house cat in Prince George.
A house cat in Prince George, B.C., looks over the fence of his owner's backyard. A city bylaw requires cats to stay indoors, remain in their backyard, or be on a leash. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC )

The research found little common ground. 

Most cat owners argued their pets need to spend time outside for their physical and mental health. Many of those who didn't own cats thought they were a "nuisance and a pest," complaining about cats urinating in gardens, hunting at bird feeders, scratching patio furniture and creating an "awful stench" by spraying, said Booth.

The co-author of an academic paper said the issue of free roaming house cats "raises a lot of anger and aggression in people." (CBC)

Booth said many respondents reported "personal initiatives" to address the issue, from trapping and dumping cats to deliberate killings. There were suggestions that all free-roaming cats should be euthanized.

"In my neighbourhood, other places in the city, we know there are a lot of people saying, 'My cat has disappeared and not come back,'" Booth said. "Some of it may be because your neighbour is trapping them and dumping them."

Many cat owners believe house cats need time outside for their physical and mental health. (Sue Morrow/Sacramento Bee/Associated Press)

Booth said there are several known cat dumping sites outside the city limits.

"We had a lot of qualitative information and people were suggesting violence towards free-roaming cats," she said.

Booth said some cat owners reported that neighbours had threatened, injured or killed their cat. 

Booth said there's no consensus on whether there should be mandatory licensing of cats or active enforcement of the bylaw.

Any plans to introduce fines or beef up bylaw enforcement should be introduced gradually, she said. 

Annie Booth of the University of British Columbia says academic research on house cats is long overdue. (Submitted by Annie Booth)

She said any solution will require a community-wide approach that includes greater access to low-cost spay and neuter facilities.

Other municipalities, such as Richmond and Nanaimo, have grappled with the issue of free-roaming cats. Victoria says cats must be on a leash in public areas.

Research cited by Booth says there are about eight million domestic cats in Canada, with more than a third of Canadian households owning at least one cat. 

The paper, "The Law and the Pussycat: Public Perceptions of the Use of Municipal Bylaws to Control Free-Roaming Domestic Cats in Canada," was co-authored by Booth and UNBC Professor Ken Otter co-authored and published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science in October 2022. 


Betsy Trumpener

Reporter-Editor, CBC News

Betsy Trumpener has won numerous journalism awards, including a national network award for radio documentary and the Adrienne Clarkson Diversity Award. Based in Prince George, B.C., Betsy has reported on everything from hip hop in Tanzania to B.C.'s energy industry and the Paralympics.