Does your killer kitty roam free? Maybe it's time for a 'catio'

Safe Wings Ottawa is urging cat owners to help protect the city's bird population by keeping their felines fenced in.

Safe Wings Ottawa urging cat owners to help protect birds by keeping their felines fenced in

Mobi the Maine Coon enjoys the outdoors from his 'catio', an enclosed space that keeps him from killing birds. (Submitted by Louise Vessey)

An Ottawa organization that looks out for the welfare of birds is urging cat owners to stop letting their killer kitties roam free and consider building a "catio" — an enclosed outdoor area for felines.

Safe Wings Ottawa is proposing the city adopt a bird strategy to protect against the three biggest threats to birds: loss of habitat, glass collisions and predation by cats.

"It's not anti-cat, it's anti-letting-cats-roam-freely-outside," said Anouk Hoedeman, the group's co-founder and coordinator. "It's wanting to ensure that if they are outside, they'd be in a 'catio' or … harnessed on a leash."

Other municipalities have beefed up their pet bylaws, Hoedeman told CBC's Ottawa Morning, while the City of Ottawa's rules regarding felines are largely complaint-driven: if a neighbour's cat is disturbing you or damaging your property, you can call 311. 

House cats kill as many as four billion birds each year in the continental United States alone, according to some estimates. (Vishnevskiy Vasil/Shutterstock)

Hoedeman compares the campaign to ban free-range cats to the one that ended smoking indoors.

"That used to be just the norm. That was the default. It's taken a long time to get people to not assume that's OK," she said.

They actually don't belong here. They do a lot of damage to native species, including the birds.- Anouk Hoedeman, Safe Wings Ottawa

But is Ottawa really ready to keep our cats fenced in for the sake of our feathered friends?

"That's a bit of a tough sell at this point because … people love their cats. I mean, I'm sitting here with my two cats. People see them as part of the city and part of our environment," Hoedeman said. "But they actually don't belong here. They do a lot of damage to native species, including the birds." 


In addition to controlling killer cats, Safe Wings Ottawa is recommending the city's strategy include bird-friendly building design guidelines, and more research about the health of the local bird population.

Hoedeman said it's in Ottawa's best economic interest to form a more robust plan to help birds, and therefore bird tourism.

"We see a lot of potential … for making the birds an attraction for people coming to Ottawa."

Safe Wings Ottawa co-founder Anouk Hoedeman scours the city streets for injured birds, often on her bicycle. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Birds also provide "environmental services" such as pest control, plant pollination and seed dispersal, she said. 

"Think of the turkey vultures that we see eating roadkill. They're cleaning up," Hoedeman said. "They're taking pathogens out of the environment, and that makes it safer for us."

Not to mention the boost birds can give to "our well-being and mental health" at a time when it's sorely needed. 

"People are noticing the birds in their backyards," Hoedeman said. "The pandemic is actually an opportunity for people to become aware of the wildlife that surround them, and to appreciate it."

Serena the British longhair cat takes a load off in her 'catio.' (Submitted by Louise Vessey)

With files from CBC's Ottawa Morning.

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