Local Authorities are confronted with the responsibility of developing proposals for the management of cats, largely due to pressures placed upon them by the conservation movement, including Predator Free NZ.
This has resulted in a variety of measures currently being considered, which are inconsistent, legally dubious and at worst inhumane, says respected animal welfarist, Bob Kerridge, who has produced a ‘Blueprint for Humane Cat Management’ to assist councils.
“It is important to develop a scientifically and ethically well-founded consensus on how to manage cats – strategies built on this consensus are most likely to be developed through constructive, collaborative engagement between those in animal welfare and conservation.” Humane Society United States, (HSUS).
The variety of categories of cats are described in the Code of Welfare for Cats published by the Ministry for Primary Industries, (MPI), who administer the Animal Welfare Act, to describe their legal status.
These cannot be altered under any circumstances, as any other description ‘does not remove their welfare protection’ under the Act. The approved categories can be loosely described as:
COMPANION – live with, and are dependent on humans for their welfare and care.
STRAY – lost/abandoned/colony cats, live near and around habitation, and who are partially dependent on humans for their welfare.
FERAL – live in remote areas, not near habitation, and are not dependent on humans for their welfare.
Identifying companion cats by means of a microchip for their own safety and security is strongly recommended.
However, suggestions that this should be mandatory for stray and/or colony cats has met with strong resistance given they are ‘un-owned’, may involve large numbers in a colony, and are cost prohibitive, (unless sponsored by council).
There is indeed no legislative power that exists to allow a council to enforce that measure, and a mandatory method of identification, where unidentified cats can be targeted for destruction, is neither humane nor practically possible.
De-sexing cats and kittens is a pre-requisite of ‘best practice’ for all cat owners/guardians in the prevention of ‘unwanted’ animals, however at present this relies on the voluntary compliance of individuals.
The Code of Welfare for Cats recognises this by recommending it, and suggests that cats/kittens adopted from shelters and animal welfare groups, or sold though pet shops, be automatically de-sexed, and that local authorities promote this to their communities.
Unfortunately because compliance is voluntary, and not strictly enforceable, the importance of de-sexing is such that it should be presented in a way that implies it is a mandatory requirement of responsible cat ownership, so as to ensure a wider public acknowledgment of this responsibility.
In managing stray cats/kittens, the only internationally recognised, and accepted, system for their humane management in the community is known as Trap/Neuter/Return, (TNR), which attends to three essential ingredients, namely de-sexing, identifying, and their long-term care. This is achieved by volunteers who trap the strays, arrange veterinary treatment, including de-sexing, arrange various forms of identification, and return them to their original place of habitation where prevailing conditions are familiar, safe and sheltered.
These volunteers then continue with an organised feeding regime whilst attending to any health issues that may occur.
In a number of countries mechanisms exist to support those volunteers who undertake TNR activities in the community, often providing funding to defray their expenses in recognition of the tangible contribution they make in substantially reducing the numbers of stray cats by natural attrition once their breeding is controlled, and their welfare maintained.
A similar partnership between volunteers and councils would illustrate a commitment to humane cat management.
There are increased pressures on Territorial Authorities to undertake lethal measures to control companion and stray cats in the name of ‘conservation’, and such activities are without foundation and carry some legal implications that need to be considered.
The setting of kill-traps, or the laying of poisons, requires qualifications to ensure the humane, safe and ethical use of such measures bearing in mind that the animals are protected under the Animal Welfare Act.
The setting of traps, their locations, and baits used to lure cats, all have stringent conditions placed upon them to reduce the resultant pain and suffering the animals will endure as a result of being trapped, and also to protect untargeted animals and children, particularly when set in public parks and reserves.
Illegal leg-hold traps, and other kill traps, have their own inherent risks associated with them, whilst cage traps for live capture have acceptable conditions of use applying, in particular relating to the methods used to kill captured cats/kittens.
The indiscriminate distribution of traps to the public is also of concern, as there is no way of monitoring either the catch, or the method of dispatch, and the risk of offences under the Act are greatly exacerbated.
Territorial Authorities have a legal responsibility when authorising the use of poisons or trapping devices to control cats to ensure the conditions of the Animal Welfare Act are not compromised in any way, and sound advice should be sought in this matter.
Ecologically sensitive areas, including mainland fenced predator free areas where some species may be under threat do exist under the auspices of various authorities, and if clearly signposted with regulations applying to these areas they will need to be respected by cat owners/carers, and enforced.
In the Code of Welfare for Cats there is a reference to the caging of cats, with specific minimum standards applying to them, however there is no requirement to confine cats indoors, which would severely inhibit their natural patterns of behaviour.
It is generally accepted that, given the natural instincts of cats to roam, this would be difficult to enforce, but should apply only to designated sensitive ecological areas.
Some discussions have taken place on limiting the number of cats allowed in any one dwelling. However, only nine councils have so far enforced this, largely due to the variables such as urban versus rural locations, and exemptions for breeders, cat carers and foster homes whilst cats and kittens are housed awaiting their new homes.
As a measure to curb cat-hoarding, which can cause neighbourhood concerns in matters of health and hygiene, there is some merit in providing councils with a mechanism to deal with those situations specifically on those grounds, but it is impractical to have blanket limits on cat numbers.
It should be remembered that minimum standards of care apply in the Code of Welfare for Cats, which are enforceable under the Animal Welfare Act, and guided by whatever practical local regulations that may exist, but that the most potent method of ensuring the maximum welfare of the country’s most popular companion animal is through knowledge, and the self-discipline that results from that knowledge.
It is our collective responsibility to make the very ‘Best Practices’ of cat care known to every owner/guardian of cats in the country, thus ensuring their humane management will automatically be provided by those who care for them.
A full transcript of the ‘Blueprint for Humane Cat Management’ is available on request from email@example.com at no charge.
Bob Kerridge has had a long and distinguished career in animal welfare in New Zealand as the Chief Executive/Executive Director/Board Member of SPCA Auckland, Board Member/National President of the RSPCA, Founder/Chair NZ Companion Animal Council, NZCAC, and Director of the World Society, WSPA. He was honoured (2018) as an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit, OMZM, for services to animal welfare and governance.