Recently, the city has been looking at the prospect of licensing for cats. Has the city conducted research on how other municipalities have handled this issue? Of so, what have you found? If not, why not?
As part of our research, we surveyed various municipalities in Ontario and across Canada to discuss their animal licensing programs. Programs were measured not only by the amount of licenses issued, but how the money was being used.
Municipalities with successful programs have the capability to help the community with controlling the cat population problem through affordable and accessible spay/neuter programs, responsible pet ownership education programs and adoption programs. Successful programs have a combination of education and enforcement. Owners need to know what the benefit is of a licence and how the fee is being used effectively.
Through cat licensing, the City of Hamilton would be able to become involved in helping cat owners with the responsibilities of being a pet owner and addressing the city’s cat population problems without affecting the City’s tax base.
Why are there different rules for cats verses dogs and are there plans to harmonize these issues.
The City of Hamilton has a “Responsible Animal Ownership” by-law that applies to all owned or kept animals. Currently, the by-law requires that only dogs and pot-bellied pigs be licenced. Staff are recommending that cats be included in this requirement.
This by-law supports responsible pet ownership in that it prohibits all pets from roaming free when
off of the property. When a dog or cat is allowed to roam freely through a neighbourhood, it not only can be a nuisance to neighbours, but can also cause safety concerns if it runs onto the road. Through licensing, the City can educate the owners on responsibilities of owning a cat; providing the pet with identification; the need for spaying/neutering; and preventing your pet from being a nuisance.
Dog licensing has been around for many years. A licence is a pet’s identification that contains vital owner information to have them returned home safely if they should stray. The revenue generated by dog licensing helps to support the operation of the municipal animal shelter. Dog licensing fees are used toward feeding and caring for all animals that are brought into the shelter. However, over 60% of the domestic animals that come into our shelter are cats and the majority of these cats are unowned.
Some argue that these types of pet licensing fees are more of a tax grab than anything else, citing their ineffectiveness of dealing with the population issues. There are also other ways of ensuring lost pets are identified and returned, thus suggesting licensing is not an appropriate response. How do you respond to these suggestions?
Licensing is an investment into a pet’s safe return home if it should become lost. The municipal licensing database is available to officers 24/7 and provides the most up-to-date owner information. Also, our licensing database has a section for owners to include any medical/special needs information regarding their pets such “cat has diabetes”.
Microchipping is a good source of identification. We encourage owners to provide the microchip information with the licence application so that it is in City’s files. There are concerns with using microchipping as a pet’s only identification. Owners do not remember to update their contact information, the microchip cannot be traced, the chip is not registered or information changed when an animal is rehomed. Also, there are many different microchip companies on the market. Valuable time is lost tracking down the microchip company and requesting owners information.
Animal Services is responsible for the lost and found animals in the city and has much experience with trying to track down owners through a microchip company. Time is lost waiting for a response from a company and this is a concern when vital decisions need to be made regarding an injured pet.
A consequence of this effort may be to unduly burden those who are on low incomes. How do you respond to that?
Cat licensing will operate similar to dog licensing in that seniors over 65 years of age, ODSP and CPPD owners will be given a discounted rate. Also, spayed/neutered pets will be given a discounted rate.
The money generated by cat licensing will be used to allow the city to be actively involved in cat management initiatives such as providing low cost and accessible spay/neuter programs, rabies vaccination clinics, supporting trap-neuter-vaccinate-return initiatives. Also, the money generated by the Cat Licensing program will be used to support programs that help the city’s vulnerable with becoming a responsible pet owner.
Low income pet owners understand the need to alter their pet;however, they may not be able to afford to see a veterinarian. By supporting affordable and accessible spay/neuter programs and rabies clinics, the city will be assisting the vulnerable with achieving this goal.
Do you have a sense of how many dog owners comply to licensing requirements?
The City of Hamilton has one of the best compliance rates in the province. It is estimated that there are about 70,000 dogs in our city. We have issued approximately 38,000 licences, which is a 54% compliance rate. The City offers a one year free licence with all dogs rescued from our shelter and adopted out by the HBSPCA and rescue partners.
Is there a cost benefit to enforcement? If so, can you share the results of that study and the cost/benefit implications for dog licensing enforcement.
Yes. Licensing fees work similar to user fees. The money that is generated is used for animal-related programs. Dog licensing fees are used to support the municipal shelter and to maintain and create dogs parks in our city. Cat licensing fees will be used to support cat population management initiatives.
The cost benefit of the City of Hamilton Cat Licensing program is that all net surplus revenue generated through licensing fees will be directed into City Wide Cat Initiatives. Staff met with cat community partners and it was identified that a collaborative effort is needed to manage the cat population in the city. The City of Hamilton needs to become actively involved. Cat licensing could provide the revenue needed without an increase to city wide taxes. It was also identified that the City’s vulnerable need assistance with the cost of being a responsible pet owner. Through licensing fees, the City will be able to support low cost and affordable spay/neuter programs, low cost rabies clinics, etc.
By supporting and being involved in programs that reduce the cat population, there will be less unowned cats coming into our shelter and less free roaming cats in neighbourhoods. It may take years to change the mindset of the about the value of a cat. Licensing is the first step.