It really wasn’t my fault. I did not intend to get on the wrong side of the law. But it happened none-the-less. It all started sometime after the pandemic showed up. In addition to a virus gone viral, COVID-19 also brought people to suburbia. In the “before time,” at approximately 7:12 each morning, the suburbanite car-pod-people would emerge from their garages and head south to participate in some kind of commerce. Then at about 7:12 in the evening, the car convoys would return, redock in the garage, and that would be that. In between, as I went about my business, walking back and forth to the gym, I rarely saw another human that was not in a car.
These days, each driveway holds at least three cars and one or two more are parked on the curb. Formerly invisible neighbours pass by my house three or four times a day, walking formerly invisible dogs. The house directly behind mine, which shares the chain-link fence that marks the property line, was previously inhabited by a single woman of a certain age. Her household has now expanded to include a thirty-something couple and their two small children. And her backyard amenities have expanded to include a recently constructed play structure, complete with swings, slides, ladders, etc., which towers about eight feet above the top of the fence, and is snuggled into the back corner of her yard less than a arms’ length from the fence that demarks it from mine.
When we moved here, I thought it kind of odd that we never saw any cats (other than our own). Perhaps cats are more of a city thing, I surmised. Our inner-city-kitties settled into suburban life like pros: lounging on the decks, inspecting the progress of the garden, and looking disdainfully at the state of the lawn.
But back to the fence. As you are likely aware, a chain-link fence is more of a permeable membrane than a barricade. The vegetation along the edge weaves itself back and forth and the trees spread their arms across the air-space with abandon. And Henry, a fluffy orange tabby cat nobody in their right mind would ever consider less than adorable, discovered enough room under the fence to slink into the neighbouring yard. Which, like most things these days, was all fun and games until COVID-19 showed up.
Last week, when I opened the front door to do something innocuous like put the recycling bin out, there was one of those tags that looks like a hotel “do not disturb” sign hanging on the doorknob. Only it was, in fact, very disturbing. It was from Hailey, an animal control officer, informing us that our cats had been reported for wandering unsupervised, and if we did not call her forthwith to discuss, there would be dire consequences.
My first impulse was to call Hailey and say there must be a mistake. We don’t have any cats. Nobody could have seen cats. And you can’t prove it anyway. I was talked out of this response by the more law-abiding member of my household. We got Hailey on the phone. “Your neighbour is concerned about the safety of your cats,” she said. These are cats who lived without incident in two downtown Toronto neighbourhoods, despite starting their life as feral rural barn kittens. It’s the safety of large and small rodents that is more in question. Hailey went on to tell us there is a bylaw that requires cats to be contained on your property, and if they are not on your property they must be under your control at all times. The fine for such transgressions is $490. Per cat. Also payable in Bitcoin. Or probably also by pound of flesh.
At this point, I must mention that my cats have been conducting their (largely contained to our yard) free-range behaviour for the entire two years we have lived here, with nary any neighbourly concern. And in my own defense, I was not aware of the bylaw, otherwise I would never have (regretfully) agreed to move here in the first place. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, I’m sure Hailey would say. But Hailey has nothing whatsoever to say about the Rottweiler next door that charges the north-side fence and snarls as it tries to breach the perimeter every time I retrieve my bike from the shed. It’s a guard dog, after all, making sure to keep the world safe from the two wheels of my Miele. Perhaps the bylaw should be amended to say you cannot have a guard dog unless you also have a crack-house or meth lab. Hailey helpfully suggested we might attach leads to the clothesline so the cats can exercise outside. Hailey, I looked it up. There’s also a bylaw preventing clotheslines. Unsightly (and unsafe), you know.
So, as of last weekend, the delinquent cats have been spirited away to the cottage to terrorize Muskoka rodents until at least late in the fall. In the meantime, the behind-the-house neighbours may get a visit from another bylaw control officer: the one who governs play structure size and placement. Couldn’t have been me. I’m at the cottage. As Yogi Berra said on the internet, “it’s not the end. It’s not the beginning of the end. But it’s the end of the beginning.”