Roaming house cats a source of tension in Prince George, B.C., study finds
Academics find polarized opinions on domestic cats that leave their yards
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."
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.
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."
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.
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.