UBC Undergraduate Research

A Sky Without Birds : Perceptions of Cat Predation in British Columbia Sidhu, Rawel; Gunawan, Evelyn; Ishikawa, Riko


Introduction While cats can provide an important source of companionship for many Canadians, they are also the single largest source of human-related bird mortality when allowed to free-roam - responsible for killing an estimated 100 to 350 million birds annually in Canada (Blancher, 2013). To better understand the perceptions surrounding this ecological concern, we sought the input of British Columbians and organizations involved with cat-related bylaws in order to inform the design of an educational intervention program aimed at reducing cat predation of birds in British Columbia – an initiative that will be implemented by the Stewardship Centre for British Columbia (SCBC). The current study sought to address the following objectives: 1. Assess the existing knowledge and attitudes British Columbians have towards allowing cats to free-roam. 2. Rank potential solutions (stewardship practices) based on how favorably they are perceived by British Columbians. 3. Determine what action has been taken by organizations involved with cat-related bylaws towards limiting or addressing cat free-roaming. 4. Identify whether there is any interest among organizations involved with cat-related bylaws in taking additional action to limit cat predation of birds. While the adverse impact of domestic and feral cats on the mortality of birds has been well documented, there are comparatively few studies examining public attitudes towards free-roaming cats. To our knowledge, this is the first study reporting the attitudes and perceptions British Columbians have towards free-roaming cats in their communities. Methods Using the Google Survey tool, we recruited 300 adults living in British Columbia to participate in a multiple-choice online survey consisting of ten questions. These questions determined participants’ knowledge and level of concern for this issue, attitudes on allowing cats to free-roam, and perceptions towards potential solutions. Organizations involved in the encouragement, implementation, and enforcement of cat-related bylaws were invited to participate in an interview. A total of six participants (three representing animal welfare groups and three representing local governments) completed the interview. Interview questions were designed to understand existing bylaw(s) on the free roaming of cats, actions taken to address this issue (if any), and whether there is any interest or capacity for the organization to take additional steps. Findings 1. Less than half (46%) of cat owners surveyed keep their cats strictly indoors. ❖ Cat owners either are not aware of the implications of allowing their cats to free-roam, or do not find it concerning enough to keep their cats from free-roaming. 2. The overwhelming majority (92%) of cat owners observe at least one stewardship practice. ❖ Spaying/neutering was the most popular response (68% of cat owners), followed by supervising cats when they are outdoors (29% of cat owners). 3. Less than a quarter of British Columbians surveyed (24.8%) find it inappropriate to allow cats to free-roam. ❖ Cat owners are more likely than non-cat owners to find it “somewhat appropriate” or “appropriate” for cats to free-roam. 4. All six of the organizations interviewed would consider offering their support for a public education campaign. ❖ Economic infeasibility and lack of awareness on the issue emerged as the greatest barrier for other stewardship practices. 5. Five of the six organizations interviewed found it "somewhat inappropriate" or "inappropriate" for cats to free-roam. ❖ Most of the interviewed organizations were aware of the environmental harm of free-roaming, but were unsure how to limit or prevent it. Recommendations • Municipal governments should consider an online public education campaign featuring information about bird predation, cat safety, and existing bylaws on free-roaming. • Education campaigns should focus on cat-welfare as the primary motivation to restrict free-roaming. • Education campaigns would likely find strong support in encouraging cat owners to spay/neuter their pets as opposed to a complete municipal ban on free-roaming. • Bylaw enforcement for municipalities with existing free-roaming bylaws needs to be better funded, with the activity and success of their officers documented and made publicly-available.

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