Requiring feline owners to get licenses could prove as difficult as herding cats.
In an effort to protect small birds and mammals, BC Nature, which represents over 52 nature clubs throughout the province, wants to see municipalities implement cat licensing. It is also advocating additional control over cats, such as keeping them indoors, on a leash, or in an outdoor run.
“The most significant thing that we look at is the fact that cats are animals that kill a significant number of birds,” said Fred McMechan, northern B.C. regional coordinator for BC Nature.
Cats are responsible for up to 3.7 billion birds and 20.7 billion mammals being killed annually in the United States alone, according to an article published in the journal Nature Communications.
“Our main concern of course is the tremendous loss of life of birds because of cats and not just domestic cats, but of course feral cats as well,” said McMechan.
While stray cats cause the majority of the deaths, according to the report, cats belonging to families also contribute to the high bird and mammal death numbers.
BC Nature has suggested that licensing cats and requiring owners to keep cats inside, or outside and under supervision, could help solve the problem.
“There is a need to control cats within each municipality in regard to where they frequent,” said McMechan.
The suggestion of licenses for cats has been brought up in both Fort St. John and Dawson Creek, but has never been implemented.
Mike Bernier, mayor of Dawson Creek, explained that it would be hard to enforce.
“It’s always been one of those tough debates, because cats seem to be the one animal – unlike dogs – that seem to just wander free. It’s always been one of those challenges municipalities have faced,” he said.
While council has looked at this issue before, it’s something that has never been put into place.
“It would be very difficult and costly to enforce … when you’re talking about most rural communities, there’s very few that have been successful,” explained Bernier.
Education, as opposed to enforcement, would be the best solution, Bernier believes.
“For me, we need more education than we do restrictions, because we could make as many policies or bylaws as we want, (but) if we don’t have the mechanism to enforce them, then it wasn’t worth the time.”
While Bernier is allergic to cats, he does have a dog.
“I always keep my pets inside,” he said.
For the city of Fort St. John, the issue of cat licensing is also an issue that has been brought up in the past.
“It’s come up before and what we’ve decided is that it’s almost unenforceable,” explained councillor Larry Evans.
“It would just be a law that we passed that would be on the books that wouldn’t really have any teeth in it because unless somebody had a real problem cat and could point it out to the bylaw enforcement office, it’s really hard to enforce.”
Evans, who is a pet owner himself, explained why some suggestions might be hard to implement.
“Have you ever tried to walk a cat on the leash? It doesn’t work. Inside cats would be something that you might be able to enforce. My cats are inside cats or if they go out they stay on their property … we’ve got a pretty big fence and there’s dogs in the neighbourhood so they don’t roam too far – we make sure of that,” said Evans.
While Evans admitted that cats killing birds is a problem, he’s not sure keeping cats in their own yard would fix the problem.
“Even cats that are kept in their own yards will kill birds. We feed the birds out here, but our cats are too old to bother with them.”
Cat licenses are not a suggestion that many people in the Peace would like to see enforced.
Responsible cat owners could feel that they are paying a price for the actions of others.
“My cat’s not a hunter and I have indoor cats,” said Kevin McCaffrey.
For more rural residents, the suggestion seems even more untenable.
“Licensing your cat, I don’t think it would work,” said Coleman Schmelyk. “I grew up on a farm. I’ve never had an inside pet in my life.”
Many others simply saw it as a misguided attempt to control a cat’s natural instincts.
“It doesn’t seem right to walk a cat on a leash,” said Alanna Sharp.
“It’s natural predator kind of thing. They’re just balancing nature,” said Doreen Robinson. “Are they going to license birds too?”
Neither Fort St. John nor Dawson Creek is presently looking at licensing cats or requiring that owners keep them inside.
“Cats aren't as likely as dogs to attack people and actually cause any damage. Unless we're in a position of running out of all birds or something … I don't see the point," Margaret Little said.
"It's the circle of life.”