Breaking Bylaws: Is your cat living in Toronto illegally?

Breaking Bylaws: Is your cat living in Toronto illegally?
By Melissa Wilson
OpenBlog Toronto
May 22, 2012

I’ve been harboring a fugitive.

Though the legality of my sass-filled tuxedo cat’s habit of murdering houseflies is still up for debate, she’s been squatting in my humble abode for years now without properly registering with the City of Toronto which is, according to the City’s Municipal Code, illegal.

Like, I suspect, many Torontonians, I never had my cat licensed with the City, because I didn’t really recognize that I had to, given that she’s been microchipped and, like any good shut-in, has never been outside, ever. But according to the City’s bylaws, even indoor cats need to be licensed, and it’s something the powers that be take very seriously, says Elizabeth Glibbery, manager of Toronto Animal Services.

Chapter 349 of the City of Toronto Municipal Code reads:

“Every owner of a cat shall register the cat with the Municipal Licensing and Standards Division and pay a tag and registration fee…obtain a new tag for the cat prior to the expiration of the tag issues for the cat which shall expire the following year on the anniversary date of its initial issuance…[and] keep the cat tag securely fixed at all times on the cat.”

The same applies to all dogs, under Chapter 349.

The annual cost to license your cat or dog is $50 or $60, respectively, if the animal is unaltered, and $15 or $25 if your furry pal has been spayed or neutered. There’s also a 50 percent discount offered to senior citizens (senior people, that is, not really old cats). You can license your pet online, by mail or by telephone.

Like many bylaws, including others written about as part of this series, the City of Toronto enforces pet licenses based on public complaints, but also has park patrols on the lookout for unlicensed pets.

At one point in time, the City also had a program that saw summer students skulking around residential neighbourhoods looking for pets that might not be licensed, so the City could collect its fee, according to a story in the Toronto Star.

According to Glibbery, the “enforcement team” consists of 19 officers that provide service 24/7 for the City, though issues such as wild animals, dead animals, bites, quarantine and park patrol also fall under this jurisdiction.

If someone is found to be harboring a fugitive cat or dog, as I apparently was, the bylaw officers will issue a notice to comply, after which a charge can be issued. The fine for neglecting to license Fido is $240, or the person can be formally charged with the offense, which would mean having the penalty assigned by a judge, to a maximum of $5,000.

Last year, the City issued 2,781 new licences, 2,191 warnings for unlicensed pets, 12 tickets (for $240) and six charges (up to $5,000).

If all this sounds like a cash grab, it’s because it kind of is: the City generates some pretty decent revenue from pet licensing, to the tune of $2,029,000 last year alone. Glibbery couldn’t confirm the cost to manage the program, however said that the City “spends less than the revenues.”

Outside of Toronto, the municipalities of Ajax, Oshawa, Brampton, Markham and Mississauga all require licenses for dogs and cats (and, in the case of Oshawa, ferrets). Hamilton, Burlington, Oakville and Milton only require dogs to be licensed. Annual fees range from $10 to $67, though Oshawa offers lifetime licences for $40–$60.

The City of Hamilton also specifically requires Vietnamese pot bellied pigs to be licensed, but that’s probably a topic for another day.

If the City of Toronto happens to catch you with a menagerie of unlicensed animals, your best bet is to pay up, because when they come a’knocking, they’re not just going to walk away if you neglect to answer the door. “Should the owner not be home, a notice is left. We will continue to attempt contact until we hear from the owner,” says Glibbery. “Our officers are fairly persistent and we don’t often fail to obtain compliance.”

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