Why Wellington Council’s cat management consultation is groundbreaking

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This blog looks at why what the Wellington City Council is proposing in their consultation is so groundbreaking, and what that means for the submissions that people are putting forward. The key point is that when making a submission, you have to emphasise the “nuisance” factor.

Remember that you can submit here by 5pm 2 May 2016.

Existing cat management by Local Authorities

The main justification used by Local Authorities to manage cats using existing Animal Bylaws is ‘nuisance’. Those Local Authorities that manage cats using this justification tend to have limits on the number of cats. We understand these limits are currently in force around the country:

  • Far North District Council – Limit of 5 Cats
  • New Plymouth District Council – Limit of 5 Cats
  • Marlborough District Council – Limit of 4 Cats
  • Hastings City Council – Limit of 4 Cats
  • Buller District Council – Limit of 3 Cats
  • Invercargill City Council – Limit of 3 Cats
  • Masterton District Council – Limit of 3 Cats
  • Palmerston North City Council – Limit of 3 Cats
  • Rangitikei District Council – Limit of 3 Cats
  • Proposed in Wellington – Limit of 3 Cats, possibly fewer in sensitive wildlife areas

Limiting cat numbers allows Councils to manage cat owners who hoard cats such as the infamous Invercargill case last year. These cases are easily justified as causing nuisance because a large number of cats in one area are a problem for the surrounding community – unless of course the cats are contained. Animal hoarders also often pose challenges from an animal welfare perspective.

So what Wellington City Council is proposing around limiting cat numbers is not new but something we should definitely have in place. However, proposing compulsory identification of owned cats, particularly through microchipping, is new in NZ although common throughout Australia.

What is “nuisance” behaviour?

What constitutes a ‘nuisance’ behaviour by cats is very much open to interpretation but could include defecation and digging in people’s gardens, fighting cats, spraying or the mere existence of stray cat colonies.

Recently the term “nuisance” has also been linked to wildlife predation, as communities are increasingly trying to protect native birds from cat predation. , A lot of native NZ birds are highly vulnerable to cat predation as they didn’t adapt to have such highly skilled hunters around. We saw this last year with Wellington’s kaka cam. A live feed camera was put inside a kaka nest late last year, and the chicks became an internet hit dubbed the “kaka-dashians”. The trouble was that as the kaka fledge they spend 2 weeks on the ground in an area that was found to be frequently visited by cats. Without microchips it was impossible to tell who owned the cats, and therefore keep the kaka safe. In the end, the locals undertook a vigil to watch over their precious native birds. These efforts all took considerable time and energy and can’t be repeated for every kaka nest near populated areas.

A survey conducted by the Wellington City Council found that 45% of respondents had been “bothered by cat behaviours, including digging and toileting in gardens and lawns, attacking and killing wildlife and other people’s pets, fighting, getting into rubbish, stealing property and producing unwanted kittens”.

How can microchipping reduce nuisance behaviour?

If a cat is causing any nuisance behaviour, the first barrier to resolving it is identifying the cat and who owns it. It is impossible to know if a cat is owned and if so by whom without microchipping and registration. Cats can lose collars and harnesses and tattoos don’t show who the owner is.

Once ownership can be clarified, it becomes possible to deal with a cat causing nuisance. Owned cats can be returned to its owner with a message that the cat is causing a problem. Unowned cats can be rehomed or humanely euthanised. Either way, without microchipping nothing can be done.

In making a submission to Wellington City Council, if you want to see cats managed we recommend emphasizing the nuisance issue, and point out that regardless of the problem microchipping is always the first step.

Remember that your views count, and you only have a few days left to make a submission. The form is relatively simple – you can submit here by 5pm 2 May 2016.