Plan to ban cats roaming freely outdoors in Toronto

“If you love your cat, keep Fluffy indoors.”

These were environmentalist and former Scarborough city councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker’s words to Toronto City Council Wednesday as a city committee discussed a plan that could prohibit cat owners from allowing felines to roam freely outdoors.

The motion, moved by Councillor for Ward 17 – Don Valley North Shelley Carroll, is rooted in the belief outdoor cats can be a danger to local ecosystems, hunting bird and rodent populations, and are themselves at risk of being hit by vehicles or attacked by wildlife while roaming.

Currently, city staff are proposing bylaws be changed to prohibit pet owners from allowing their pet to roam “at large” in the city, with the exception of cats and domesticated pigeons. Carroll wants to scrub cats from the exception with her motion, while still allowing pigeons to remain at large. Under the proposed bylaw, cats would still be allowed outdoors while on leash.

Members of council on the city’s economic and community development committee voted in favor of the motion by a show of hands.

“I’m moving [this motion] today because, truly I think people don’t want free-roaming cats,” Carroll said. “It is horrendously traumatic when you find a cat that has met with misfortune.”

However, the bylaw change hasn’t received final approval. It was not included in Wednesday’s staff report featuring potential rule changes to the chapter of the city’s municipal code dealing with animals and would still need the majority support of council before it could go into effect. Council is scheduled to debate the issue in two weeks.

Executive Director of the Toronto Wildlife Centre, Nathalie Karvonen, was present to speak on the subject Wednesday.

Addressing the committee, Kavonen cited a 2013 study conducted by Environment Canada researchers stating an approximate 200 million birds are killed by cats in Canada annually. She called outdoor cats a “massive problem” for Toronto-area wildlife.

Conversely, Carleton Grant, executive director of the licensing and standards division at the city, expressed he didn’t believe the plan was feasible, calling it “impossible” and “problematic.”

Current bylaws allow the city to impound cats that are causing damage or creating a nuisance.


Andrew Holland, spokesperson for the Nature Conservancy of Canada, told CTV News Toronto Thursday domestic cats are considered one of the 100 most invasive species in the world.

“After habitat loss, cats are the number one human-caused reason for the loss of birds,” Holland said in a statement. “It is estimated that over 2.6 billion birds are lost annually in Canada and the US from being killed by cats.”

Holland says keeping your cat inside and using a leash when outdoors, is a “small, but important” conservation effort.

If your cat requires a higher level of enrichment, he recommends building “a catio” – a cat patio – which is an enclosed outdoor space that allows cats to remain contained while outdoors.

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