Cats and dogs now equal under the law

 The Tasmanian Cat Management Act 2009 received royal assent on 19 December 2009 and is expected to commence in July 2010.

This is perhaps Australia’s best cat control legislation, empowering those who want to control cats, and helping to reduce the number of unwanted and abandoned cats, whilst putting in place safeguards to protect peoples’ much-loved pet cats.

The TCT can take a great deal of credit for convincing the State Government, over more than four years of work, to proceed with this legislation and, in particular, for many of the approaches to cat management that have been adopted.

In order to allow cat owners time to prepare before July 2010, de-sexing and microchipping will become compulsory four years after commencement of the Act. From July 2014, if your pet cat strays from your property and is taken to a cat shelter, you must consent to it being microchipped and de-sexed before you can reclaim it. This only applies if your cat is over the age of six months. There is no fine system for having a cat which is not de-sexed or microchipped (which would have been difficult to police) but instead the cat owner must pay for the cost of de-sexing and microchipping to get their cat back. This results in immediate benefits which are paid for by the cat owner.

 From the commencement of the Act, if a cat strays and ends up in a cat shelter, the owner has three days to reclaim it if unmicrochipped and five days if it is microchipped, before it can be sold, adopted or euthanased. This is the same rule that currently applies to stray dogs.

The Act also allows for any cat, whether it is owned or feral, to be humanely destroyed (or taken to a cat shelter) by the landowner or manager, if it is found on:

·         public reserves (including formal reserves under the Nature Conservation Act, e.g. national parks, conservation areas, and public reserves under the Crown Lands Act)

·         forest reserves and State Forest

·         prohibited areas declared by councils under the Act

·         private land subject to a conservation covenant

·         private Timber Reserves

·         rural land primarily used for livestock production

·         remote areas (more than 1 km from a residence).

Areas where any cat may be destroyed cover more than 80 percent of the state and the TCT believes this is a great outcome. Cats should not be straying in these areas. Cat owners who live in or near these areas have a responsibility to keep their pets on their property, either inside or in a cat run. Owners and managers of these areas now have clear rights in relation to destruction of cats.

In built-up areas in cities, not a lot will change unless a cat owner lives near an urban reserve or an area declared under the Act. If a pet cat strays into a neighbour’s backyard in an urban area and is caught, it must be returned or taken to a cat shelter.

In peri-urban areas, where there are a large number of residences in rural land or near reserved land, all land managers will need to work together to control cats in a way which does not cause social conflict. Councils, State Government and conservation groups can help by coordinating community control programs.

The other key elements of the legislation are to:

·         provide a registration system for cat breeders

·         restrict sale of cats, i.e. a cat would need to be at least eight weeks of age, de-sexed and microchipped prior to sale (or giving away)

·         define operating procedures for cat management facilities.

In the TCT’s submission on the State Budget we recommended funding be provided for the RSPCA and DPIPWE to:

·         fund a subsidised cat de-sexing and microchipping program during the four years prior to these measures becoming compulsory

·         increase cat housing facilities to cater for the likely increase in cats being abandoned or handed to cat shelters and to dispose of them through adoptions or euthanasia

·         establish and maintain a state-wide cat breeder register and licensing system for authorised officers

·         establish and run a four-year educational program to encourage full community acceptance and compliance with the new cat control legislation.

Peter McGlone