A new bylaw, governing pet owners’ responsibilities toward their pets and even how many pets a person can own, is in the works in Nanaimo.
Karen Robertson, deputy city clerk, presented a draft animal responsibility bylaw to Nanaimo city council at a governance and priorities committee meeting Monday, with delegates Alison Cuffley, B.C. SPCA government relations officer, and Leon Davis, Nanaimo and District B.C. SPCA branch manager.
Cuffley and Davis were among the consultants who contributed advice and feedback for the bylaw, patterned after the B.C. SPCA’s bylaws, and includes recommendations that arose from the city’s recent animal control service review. The bylaw covers animal welfare, control, licensing, duties of animal owners, penalties and enforcement and will replace Nanaimo’s existing licensing and control of animals bylaw adopted in 1995.
Under the new bylaw, owners will need to have cats, dogs and rabbits spayed or neutered and have permanent identification in the form of a tattoo or microchip.
Davis said at the meeting that the Nanaimo SPCA’s biggest challenge is cats. Since 2011, the branch has taken in more than 8,700 cats, including 3,500 strays and more than 1,600 unwanted kittens, compared to more than 2,800 dogs over the same period.
B.C. SPCA’s SNIP spaying-neutering program, partly funded by the city to help low-income pet owners and control stray cat populations, has helped lower numbers of unwanted cats since it was started in 2008, Davis said, but its effectiveness has tapered off, leaving hundreds of cats still being dealt with annually by the SPCA and CatNap, which looks after feral cat colonies.
Cats roaming freely can spread disease, Davis said, citing a case of a cat that was brought to the branch when a boy contracted ringworm after the stray was taken into the boy’s home.
“We took the cat in and it took us six weeks, I think, to resolve the ringworm,” Davis said. “I don’t know what it is, but in the province we don’t know anywhere that has ringworm like Nanaimo. It’s a really hard thing for us to treat and deal with.”
One recommendation for the bylaw is a prohibition against cats at large, meaning owners would have to keep cats indoors or on a leash outdoors to keep cats from roaming to prevent them from being injured by other cats and dogs or even eaten by wildlife, injured or killed in traffic, exposed to contagious disease and parasites and extreme weather, poisoned, stolen or harmed through animal cruelty.
Roaming cats, Robertson said, also cause problems by digging in gardens, spraying to mark territory and preying on songbirds.
“This was a particular concern expressed by a couple of councillors and it’s also been the subject of a number of complaints by Nanaimo citizens,” she said. “North Cowichan, Duncan, Victoria and Esquimalt bylaws, which were primarily used as examples, all prohibit cats from being at large.”
Pet hoarding is another problem the SPCA encounters. There is currently no upper limit in Nanaimo on how many animals can be kept in a home. Davis said he likes a provision in the draft bylaw that will impose a limit of six companion animals, including no more than four dogs over the age of 16 weeks and no more than five cats over the age of 12 weeks. It also recommends a per-household limit of four small animals, such as hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs and small birds. Exemptions will be made for people temporarily fostering dogs and cats.
“I’ve attended properties that have had over 100 cats,” Davis said. “[Two summers ago] a whole lot of illegal venomous spiders had been brought into the country and the same property also had hundreds of illegal Dubai cockroaches, hundreds and hundreds of them, and they grew and they grew because they were a seizure so we have to wait until the appeal process goes through and these cockroaches were multiplying and growing and it was unpleasant.”
Limits on allowable numbers of companion animals likely won’t affect too many Nanaimo pet owners. Of 7,239 people who took out dog licences last year, only 32 residents have more than four dogs, according to city statistics.
The reference to restricted dogs in the existing bylaw, a term referring to pit bull terriers, Staffordshire terriers, or dogs of mixed breeding that includes the bloodline of those breeds, will also be removed and replaced with a new provision reflecting current legislation around aggressive dogs in general that will require owners to hold liability insurance, muzzle dogs deemed aggressive and post warning signs on their properties.
The governance and priorities committee voted unanimously to have city staff forward the draft bylaw as a report to council this Monday, Nov. 16.