Review of the Cat Management Act

The Cat Management Act 2009 and Cat Management Regulations 2012 commenced in July 2012 as Tasmania’s first ever legislation for the control and management of cats.

About a year after the legislation commenced the Minister for Environment, Parks and Heritage Brian Wightman announced that his department would be assessing the effectiveness of the legislation through a formal review. The TCT, along with other stakeholders, met the DPIPWE staff to identify key concerns but also what we like about the existing legislation. In early 2014 we will be invited to comment on a discussion paper and we understand that the review is expected to conclude in the middle of 2014.

The TCT sees this as an important and positive opportunity to review a piece of legislation very shortly after it has commenced. But we are also concerned that key elements of the current legislation and the reasons for them may be ignored or misunderstood and changes might be attempted that will work against the intent of the current Act.

It is vital to remember that it took 20 years of trying to get cat legislation and the key to the success of this Act was to avoid including provisions that would result in key stakeholder groups opposing the legislation, in particular councils, cat owners and breeders, and animal welfare interests. Some compromises and innovative approaches taken in the legislation were deliberate and most are still necessary.

Before rushing into changing the legislation, DPIPWE must enforce the existing provisions more actively. For example, we have noticed pet shops selling undesexed cats over the age of eight weeks in contravention of the Act but have seen no active enforcement, despite informing DPIPWE. Regulators are often tempted to seek changes to legislation which will make their life easier but may not help achieve the objectives of the legislation.

The TCT wants section 24 of the Act to be immediately enacted. Section 24 enables cat management facilities to refuse to hand an un-desexed cat that is over six months of age back to its owners unless they agree to pay for the animal to be desexed. Refusal can result in the cat being desexed and adopted by a new owner, or euthanased. This is a far more direct and effective penalty than alternatives such as council-managed fine systems, because the result is always going to deliver a desexed or euthanased cat.

Section 24 relates only to cats over six months of age; this should be significantly reduced. Most cats reach maturity before then; the age is probably set very high to appease some vets who do not like desexing young cats. The age for desexing should be as close to the normal age of weaning as possible, i.e. eight weeks.

A new provision is required, to cap the number of cats that can be kept at one household or property. The TCT and other groups have found that, under the current Act, they are powerless to deal with cat hoarders unless the cats are sick or clearly not being treated humanely. Hoarders concentrate a large number of cats in one place, often enticing feral cats by feeding them, where they can significantly affect local wildlife and adjacent landowners.

In principle, if cat owners look after all their cats and prevent them from straying, they should be able to have numerous cats – but the legislation should have some reasonable maximum number. We have dealt with a landowner with 50 cats, most of which were ferals enticed onto the property with food, which is clearly unnecessary, and in our view, unreasonable.

Perhaps cats should be treated in the same way as dogs: under the Dog Control Act, owning more than three dogs at one property requires a council kennel licence. A licence requirement for owners wanting more than three cats should be then provision of a secure cat enclosure.

The current Act provides significant powers to most rural land managers, public and private, to dispatch any cat found on land under their control. In urban areas, where wildlife may be impacted or cats are a nuisance to other landowners, the scope of the Act is very limited. There is no explicit power granted to a member of the public to trap cats in urban areas. You are within your rights to take (trapping is not mentioned) a cat found on your land and return it to the owner or take it to a cat management facility. There is nothing to stop the cat being returned to the owner and the problem being repeated.

Nuisance cats are not a priority for the TCT but in urban areas, especially where cats are likely to impact important wildlife and firearm use is prohibited, the Act should be amended to give members of the public powers to trap cats. This is problematic because it would be difficult to determine whether the cat was trapped in an important area of habitat or in the trapper’s backyard.

Unless trapping in urban environments is strictly regulated and closely supervised, we can see little benefit for wildlife and likely warfare erupting between cat lovers and cat haters. Social conflict would only discourage councils and the state government from trying to control cats.

If a way can be found to include a trapping provision in the Act which ensures that it is directed to benefiting wildlife, then we would be supportive of it.

On the other hand, shouldn’t the responsibility for controlling the cat lie with the cat owner? Perhaps we need instead to look at encouraging the use of cat enclosures and fencing and to investigate making such provisions compulsory.

Responsible cat-ownership survey

At the recent Sustainable Living Festival the TCT carried out a survey to determine:

-          the level of support for compulsory desexing and microchipping of pet cats

-          the level of support for a range of measures to control the movements of pet cats

-          whether cat owners had desexed their cat/s and, if not, why not

-          whether owners controlled the movements of their cats.

The results of this survey (minus any personal details) are being collated and will be provided to the state government to inform the review of the Act and will be sent to TCT members and the respondents.

A preliminary analysis shows that more than 90% of respondents supported compulsory desexing. This is particularly welcome given almost half the respondents were cat owners however, it is notable that only a minor of cat owners stated that they had actually desexed all their cats.

Peter McGlone