Nature Alberta is leading a local effort to improve the welfare of local birds and pet cats in Edmonton. With the generous support of the Edmonton Community Foundation, they are convening a committee of local stakeholders to figure out how best to address the issues for cats and birds. The Alberta SPCA, Edmonton Area Land Trust, Wild North Rescue & Rehabilitation and the Beaverhill Bird Observatory are donating their expertise, and City of Edmonton’s Animal Care & Control Department is sitting in ex officio. Nature Alberta is inviting several other area partners to join the effort, and Nature Canada is supporting the initiative with advice, information on best practices and communications tools.
One of the first steps was to do some research to better understand the attitudes and practices to help the local committee shape their messaging. Forum Research was engaged to conduct a random telephone poll of area residents. The margin of error is 5.5, 19 times out of 20.
Edmonton has had a no-roaming-off-property bylaw for pet cats in place since the late ‘90s. The bylaw reads, in part, “The Owner or any other person having care or control of a Cat shall ensure the Cat does not enter onto private property other than that of the Owner.” But our research reveals that while most Edmonton residents (70%) feel it’s inappropriate to let pet cats roam at large, only 49% are aware that it’s mandatory in Edmonton to keep cats on your own property (29% believe it’s not mandatory, and 22% are unsure). A narrow majority (56%) of cat owners keep their cats safe from roaming off property. This is in contrast to Gatineau, another community in which we did research, where 75% of cat owners keep their cats from roaming.
Licensing / ID
Licensing is also mandatory in Edmonton (unless the cat wears permanent ID such as a tattoo or microchip), and a much larger proportion (72%) of surveyed residents were aware of that regulation.
Why do some let their cats roam?
As well as looking in to cat-care practices and awareness of local regulations, the survey also examined why cat owners let their cats roam at large. It’s fairly well known at this stage that outdoor cats are exposed to increased levels of risk – from cars, poisons, pests and parasites, diseases, fights with other cats, dogs and wildlife – and we wanted to understand why owners continue the practice when cat-care organizations advise against it.
One of the most interesting areas of the research revealed why cat-owners let their cats roam. The results indicate that the top reason (30%) is that “it’s natural,” followed by “they need the exercise” (22%) and “they meow to go out” (19%).
Threats to Birds
The last section of the research explored the public’s understanding of the dominant threats to birds. Residents assessed cats (or more correctly, cat owners!) to be the second highest human cause of bird mortality– after habitat loss – which is consistent with Environment and Climate Change Canada research. Habitat loss was assessed as the worst threat for birds, but only 33% of survey responded that it was an extreme or quite extreme threat, while 45% judged habitat loss as a negligible or quite negligible threat. Cats were assessed as an extreme or quite extreme threat by 29%, while 46% felt it was negligible or quite negligible.
We’ll provide this research to the committee of local stakeholders in Edmonton to help inform their decisions about what messaging is most appropriate in their community. We’ll recommend they consider promoting awareness of the regulations and perhaps even more importantly, why those regulations exist in the first place: it’s better for cats, better for birds and wildlife, and better for their community.