New Brunswick

Celebrity cat in Sackville prompting debate and demands for animal bylaw changes

Sackville resident JP Lavoie hopes neighbours will rally together to oppose the bylaw change.

A cat named Donald has been the talk of the town ever since he was adopted this summer

Donald photographed in a carboard box. (Reese Nowlan)

A celebrity cat known for roaming around the Town of Sackville is igniting debate over whether cats should be kept indoors.

A long–haired black cat named Donald has been the talk of the town ever since a Facebook page devoted to his wanderings was created. 

Now the town could be considering changes to its animal bylaws.

"It's not something we really want Sackville to be known for," said resident Susan Gourley, who made a powerpoint presentation to town council on Dec. 6 urging for updated animal bylaws. 

She's hoping the the town will not allow cats to roam freely, a measure that's already in place in many other New Brunswick municipalities.

According to Gourley's estimates, the population of pet cats in the town is already capable of killing over 100 birds per week. 

"This reason I'm here is to keep birds safe," she said. "Here in Sackville, we have the opportunity to stop 134 birds a week from dying — what are we going to do?" 

The debate over whether cats should be kept indoors has been taking place in community Facebook groups ever since residents started posting about the cat in the summer, at first unaware it had an owner, said Sackville resident JP Lavoie.

"He was making his way into various people's homes and businesses, and campus," Lavoie said. "He would go into the grocery store, into the brewery, a bit everywhere."

Lavoie created a Facebook page to track the cat's whereabouts in town, and it wasn't long before he became a sensation. The group has since amassed close to 1,000 members, including a large number of Mount Allison University students.

Lavoie is hoping neighbours will rally together and write to the town to oppose the bylaw change. He said he's also been invited to attend council in January to present counter arguments from the community.

"Being that this motion of amendment inherently opposes the values shared by this group and its membership, we would like to ask that you present your opinions on the matter to the Town of Sackville," he wrote in a post on Dec. 14.

Donald has a forever home with Tobias Paul, also the owner of Barnyard Bicycles, Lavoie says. 

Bagtown Brewing Company created a milk stout in Donald's honor. The cat has been a frequent visitor ever since stumbling upon one of their outdoor trivia nights in the summer. (Anthony Maddalena)

Paul couldn't immediately be reached for comment, but he is a frequent contributor on the Facebook page, which he uses to remind neighbours not to feed the cat or let him indoors. The page also gives him somewhere to turn in case Donald gets caught in the cold or goes missing. 

"Big Don is going to spend a little time indoors for now, all this attention is getting to his head," Paul said in an update to neighbours on Dec. 6.

"I would love for him to be able to go out, but unfortunately it's not possible all the time," he added in another.

Gourley wants the town to enforce registration for cats, which is already mandatory for dogs, and suggested cats be affixed with a collar attesting to this. She also encouraged the town to enforce spaying and neutering.

"In four years, one female cat who is pregnant can produce 20,736 cats," she said. "That's a lot of cats."

Gourley claims a cat by the name of Tulip has been using the area around Gourley's bird feeder as its personal hunting ground, despite efforts to resolve the problem. (Town of Sackvillle)

A cat by the name of Tulip has been using her bird feeder as its hunting ground despite Gourley's efforts to resolve the problem, she told council. 

She installed a camera that blares an alarm whenever it detects her neighbour's cat nearby, hoping it would scare the cat off, but said unfortunately it has not been successful. 

"Obviously she's not afraid of the alarm," she said.

Gourley couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Miriam Lafontaine is a journalist with CBC Montreal. She has previously worked with CBC in Fredericton, N.B. She can be reached at miriam.lafontaine@cbc.ca.

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