Wolfville, an idyllic university town located in the stunning Annapolis Valley. However, like most superficially perfect settings, it hides a dark secret. Every year, throughout our town, students are purchasing and neglecting domestic cats (Felis catus). Cat ownership can be something of a surprisingly touchy subject, with feline owners often not understanding the accountability they have taken on with their new furry companion. Throughout our society cats are viewed as surprisingly disposable, and yet at the same time we regard them with perhaps the same god-like status as did the ancient Egyptians. However, as research is swiftly showing, our perceptions need to change, for cats, human health, and wildlife.
As the weather starts to turn colder with the onset of the crisp fall weather I’m sure many of you are starting to see the start of a yearly tradition here in Wolfville, the posting of lost-and-found cats on student Facebook groups. I have lived in Wolfville for many years, and am well aware, through discussions with locals and through postings on local student message boards, that many cats purchased by students are allowed unattended outside and are abandoned when students graduate. This is an ongoing and reported problem, which prompted the local shelter to update their adoption policies in response. These outdoor cats must survive recorded local winter temperatures as low as -20°C and often attempt to gain admittance to campus buildings and personal residences to survive these harsh conditions.
Not only do unattended outdoor cats face risks from the elements, they have shorter average lifespans. Cats that are allowed to roam unattended outside often die prior to reaching five years of age. In comparison, indoor or fully attended cats can live for over 20 years! Unattended outdoor cats are also more prone to catching deadly diseases, which can result in a high vet bill for their (probably broke) student owners and potential liability if their cats pass these pathogens on to humans. Some common contagions cats frequently pass on include rabies and toxoplasmosis. Unattended outdoor cats are also at an increased risk of injury or death from altercations with traffic, dogs, and humans. This can once more result in swiftly mounting vet bills for caring owners, or heartbreak if your furry companion goes missing and dies.
If you, or someone you know, owns a cat that is allowed to roam free now is the time to consider transitioning that animal to a safer, more loving, indoor life. As the days shorten and the weather cools start slowly keeping your pet inside for longer periods of time. Invest in toys and other stimulating indoor options to keep your kitty engaged. An indoor cat is not a sad cat if you provide adequately for it. If, for some reason, you feel that your feline companion needs to be outside there are a variety of safe and attentive methods you can provide for it. If you own your house consider investing in a catio, a sort of cat patio that will keep your cat safe, healthy and happy while letting it remain outside without your attendance. If you’re a student, the cheapest and likely easiest option is to invest in a cat leash and harness. With this simple addition you can ensure your cat remains supervised when outside, make sure that no harm befalls it, and guarantee that it does no harm while enjoying the great outdoors. As a cat owner you may previously have been unaware that free-ranging cats are the single greatest source of anthropogenic mortality for wildlife and have already contributed to the extinction of 33 species worldwide.
If the thought of saving vulnerable wildlife, lowering potentially expensive vet bills, and ensuring a long and quality life for your cat is not enough, consider the potential fines you may face for letting your cat roam. Many bylaws, those of the Municipality of the County of Kings included, contain a provision governing stray and at-large cats. Much like municipal dog bylaws, cat bylaws ensure that if your cat roams off your property unattended it can be live-trapped and held until you pay a fine.
So don’t be catty. Keep your kitty inside or supervised to ensure a long and happy life for it, the local wildlife, and your struggling finances.