Man Incorrectly Punished For Not Having a Cat Licence?

This story illustrates the great difficulty in enforcing a law which creates an obligation on a cat owner to register her/his cat. Currently, throughout America (and Australia), there are discussions about how to minimise unwanted cats through better cat ownership. One proposal is to make it obligatory to obtain a cat license through registration. Such a law exists in Ottawa, Canada.

The law states that at section 53 (1) every owner of a cat, where the owner resides in an area of the city where the zoning permits residential land use, shall register the cat with the City…

Dan Smith goes to police
Dan Smith goes to police
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Dan Smith, 65, is facing jail for not paying a fine for his failure to register a semi-feral cat who is fed by his estranged wife, Elizabeth, with whom he still shares a home (in Gatineau) despite the fact that he also has a separate home in Vanier, not that far away. Both are suburbs of Ottawa.

Mr Smith is being hounded by animal control, the police and the courts and because he resolutely refuses to pay the fine and court costs or register the cat because he does not “own” her, he is now facing a jail term, which by the way, he does not mind because, “Maybe, I’ll have a rest for a few days”.

You can see the problem with laws creating obligations to register a cat because they must operate on the question of ownership. Once again this tricky question of “cat ownership” comes to a head because morally we don’t really own cats anyway which is highlighted in this case when a person regularly feeds a feral cat.

A surly SPCA Animal Control officer told Dan Smith that if you feed a cat you own the cat:

“You feed it, you own it.”

That can’t be true, surely? It would mean that people engaged in trap-neuter-release programs (TNR) anywhere in North America, which often incorporates feeding, own the feral cats in their care. Nobody’s ever suggested that these kind people own the feral cats that they are managing. They are simply caring for them in a specific way to gradually reduce their numbers. Under this Ottawa law, however, they would be deemed to be owners.

In the case of Dan Smith, not only is the cat a semi-feral cat and therefore technically has no owner in the conventional sense, his former wife has admitted that Dan is telling truth and that she has looked after the cat for the past 12 years. In fact, she describes this cat who she has named Winnie as a feral cat and her pet; a relationship difficult to define in law.

In the case of Dan Smith, the problem hinges upon the bylaw which places an obligation upon cat owners to register their cats. If the law is drafted with insufficient clarity then there will be problems enforcing it.

In this instance the bylaw describes “domestic animal” as meaning a “cat or dog”. It does not differentiate between, domestic, stray, semi-feral or feral cats. The law defines “owner” as someone who “possesses or harbours an animal” and “a person who is temporarily the keeper or in control of the animal.”

Does a person who feeds a semi-feral cat “control” the animal? No, must be the answer and certainly in this case as Winnie just turns up. Is Winnie being kept by Elizabeth? Well she is being fed and we don’t know the full facts but solely feeding a cat does not mean the person is the cat’s “keeper” in my view. The definitions seem to be inadequate to me.

Perhaps though, on reflection, the lawmakers of Ottawa decided that a person would own a feral cat if he/she fed that cat (based upon what the Animal Control officer said). That would seem to be far-fetched and going against the opinions of the vast majority of the public who would undoubtedly agree that feral cats are wild and therefore cannot be said to be “owned” by anyone.

Even if you could say that a feral cat was owned by somebody who fed the cat you will encounter the great difficulty of deciding what “feeding the cat” means. What if you put down a meal for a cat on one occasion and then never did it again. Would that constitute feeding the cat and therefore owning the cat?

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14 thoughts on “Man Incorrectly Punished For Not Having a Cat Licence?”

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  2. “You feed, you own” is a common response here.
    That’s the way it is.
    Why all of the drama is what my head is saying.
    Someone, estranged wife or husband, please just register the cat. Don’t place the poor cat in the midst of any personal battle.

  3. BArthur, your views and overt hatred toward Michael is despicable, as are your views about ownership of cats. Living near Boston, MA in the USA, we have a very healthy and active TNR program. Thank goodness our own police dept. is very active with our no-kill shelter, formerly the city pound.

    It is certainly my hope that the gentleman in Canada fights this foolish law and gets it abolished. It is just too stupid for words.

    • Agreed on both counts. BA (Bloody Arse**le) Arthur is banned from today. And this law is a fail as indicated by Dan’s firm commitment to not play ball and his willingness to go to jail.

  4. The only thing your own denial of responsibility is getting you is more dead cats. Yeah, you sure do love cats, don’t you. We all see through this song & dance act of yours today. Everyone now cares about your cats just as much as you do — not at all.

    “Words may give weight but actions give luster, and many more people see than weigh.)

  5. This is why people legally kill all stray cats. If the feeder does not want to claim ownership of that cat then the cat has no owner who can sue whomsoever kills that cat. You either want protection of the law for your cat by declaring it yours and bringing it under protection of the laws of humans, or you care so little about that cat that you don’t care if someone else legally kills it. You can’t have it both ways.

    This way if someone is attacked by that cat or contracts any diseases from that cat or that cat destroys any property, the person harmed by that cat can then sue the owner of that cat. Do you want to be responsible for that cat? Or do you want to let others legally kill it. It’s up to you.

    Dog owners enjoy bringing their animals under protection of the law and act as responsible adults when claiming all responsibilities for their animal when their animal breaks any laws.

    Why don’t you want the same legal protection for your cats? Admit it, you don’t care what happens to your cats or what they do to anything else. 5-year-olds who want want want without wanting to be responsible for what they want.

    Most people now realize that you’ll never take responsibility for any of your cats, so they just kill as many cats as they see and there’s nothing you can do about it because you claim those cats aren’t legally yours. You make every excuse in the world why it’s not your fault that cat was roaming free. Read the news.

    • Not owning a cat does not mean you don’t care about the cat. If someone kills a cat you don’t sue the person who did it because that would make it a civil matter and killing a cat is a criminal matter. If you sue a person who kills a cat all you can claim is a paltry £35 or US$35 which is what the law would value a random bred cat at because in general the law do not take into account the emotional context. I have not read the rest of your comment due to time constraints.

      I could go on but I haven’t got the time. Your comments demonstrate a jumbled up way of thinking. It is not clear thinking and there are so many errors in your comments but I haven’t got the time to correct you, or the energy or inclination for that matter.

  6. More insanity, in my opinion. What does the license do? Can the license holder of a feral cat sue if someone shoots or intentionally harms that cat? This business seems like a sticky wicket, besides being irrational.

    I doubt if it offers any protection for the animal, but mostly a means to collect fees and vaccinate actual pets.

    In my area, cats have to get yearly rabies boosters, in order to get their “license”, which is required by law. Since I live in a mobile home, I have to provide proof of yearly license re-issue to management.

    I don’t agree with yearly rabies boosters, and even some vets agree it’s not necessary, but it all “boosts” their income. The vaccine boosts the vet’s income, and the license boosts the city’s income.

    Again, it comes down to money.

    • Why yearly Rabies boosters or is your vet using Purevax 1? Out of curiosity I looked up the Rabies vaccination requirements for California, and they do allow 3-year interval for vaccine licensed for 3 years or one year interval for vaccines licensed for a year.

      By the way, in case you haven’t heard, Purevax has no 2 versions now – one year version and a three year version, but most vets don’t offer the 3-year Purevax yet. Some say it’s too new (2014) and they want to be sure it’s safe (LOL), but others told me it’s very expensive and they don’t know if people would pay as much, yet others simply worry people wouldn’t come for yearly checkups. The clinic I go to only carries one year Purevax.

      If your city has more stringent requirements than the vaccine labeling by manufacturer, I’d question that, maybe write to them and cite California law. I’d do it even if your vet uses one-year Purevax since it’s like that at some point more vets will carry 3-year Purevax e.g. if Merial reduces the price.


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