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Catfights resume

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Halifax council decided Tuesday to revisit the potentially absurd cat issue, and held a contentious, if brief, debate on pesticides.

Two years ago, councillors brought much public scorn and derision upon themselves by spending dozens of hours first debating, then implementing, a cat registration system, only to reverse themselves when it was discovered that expanding the animal shelter to handle the influx of unregistered felines would cost upwards of $2 million.

Tuesday, councillor Jim Smith suggested that council take a look at adopting a trap, neuter and release program for feral cats. Although such a program wouldn't intrude on citizens' complex relationships with their feline friends, it is arguably even more ambitious than the aborted cat registration scheme---Smith seems to belive that he can reverse 250 years of history and turn Halifax into a port city free of feral cats.

There is in fact evidence that trap, neuter and release can work; Pierre Filiatreault has successfully lowered the feral cat population on DND properties along the waterfront (see Lezlie Lowe's profile of Filiatreault, "City of cats," from April 9). But it's anyone's guess what a city-wide program would cost---one expert told Lowe it'd cost some $33 million.

In the end, council voted 14 to eight to direct city staff to investigate that cost and bring back a report detailing how a trap, neuter and release program would work. Expect a catfight at some future, as yet unscheduled council meeting.

Emotions also ran high Tuesday when councillor Jennifer Watts asked council to endorse a Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities resolution calling for the provincial government to ban the sale of pesticides.

In 2001, HRM banned the cosmetic use of pesticides within HRM limits, but there are wide exemptions---for golf courses, for example---and the banned chemicals are still for sale in garden supply stores. Judging by brisk sales at the those stores, many residents simply ignore the ban.

The UNSM resolution is vague (see unsm.ca) and not likely to be considered by the province in any event, but councillors spent 10 or 15 minutes in a heated argument about it anyway, before voting 13 to nine to sign onto the resolution.

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