When domestic cats are not adequately regulated, the keeping or accumulation (through uncontrolled breeding) of a large number of cats at a premise) is more likely to occur. This can create health and welfare problems for the occupants of the house, the cats and the local community. It can also have a significant detrimental impact on local wildlife (through predation and the spread of disease).
Extreme cases are known as ‘animal/cat hoarding’, which is an identified mental health issue. It involves keeping, or accumulating a large number of cats and failing to care for them adequately, while at the same time denying the inadequate care (Patronek 1999). The physical and mental welfare of the person/s involved is also often extremely poor (Ockenden et al. 2014). They may believe they are helping the animals but are blind to the harm being caused. A Victorian study investigated 22 cases of animal hoarding and found premises with between 10 and 180 cats (Ockenden et al. 2014).
Animal hoarding is complex, involving mental and physical health issues, animal welfare; social, environmental and housing issues. Addressing individual cases requires a multidisciplinary approach including mental and public health, social and legal services and animal law enforcement (Snyder 2009). In most cases, intervention is very expensive; it is also often unsuccessful and the behaviour continues (Ockenden et al., 2014).
While the incidence of animal hoarding is not known, it is understood to be under-reported. Preliminary Australian research indicates that it contributes annually to tens of thousands of unwanted animals across Australia, and that keeping excessive cats is the most common type. A Queensland study found that up to 40% of animal management officers had dealt with animal hoarding (Billman 2005).
Current Tasmanian legislation relevant to the management and welfare of cats, and the public and health nuisance potentially caused by domestic cats, does not provide Councils or state agencies with the necessary powers to cost effectively address the problem of excessive numbers of cats at a premises or ‘cat hoarding’. This leaves the family and community carrying the burden. Current legislation includes the Cat Management Act 2009, Animal Welfare Act 1993, Public Health Act 1997 and Local Government Act 1993 (nuisance provisions).
Under the Dog Control Act 2000 households are restricted to two dogs; to keep more a kennel licence is required. Comparable regulation for the keeping of cats, along with compulsory desexing, would both help prevent the development of new cases of cat hoarding and enable councils to more effectively intervene in known cases. However, in the absence of this requirement in state legislation, council by-laws may be required to fill the gap.
Cat hoarding is a hidden issue. People who are aware of such a situation commonly misunderstand the behaviour and may fail to report it until conditions become tragic. Early intervention is the key to preventing the suffering caused by animal hoarding. However, a Victorian study found that there is a lack of co-ordination and poor communication between services (including council, animal welfare organisations and mental health services) to effectively intervene (Ockenden et al., 2014).
Government authorities and health services need to be notified of any cases, so that they can begin to understand the extent and impact of these issues in the community. And ultimately develop appropriate laws to regulate domestic cat ownership and offer co-ordinated services to address any cases humanely and appropriately.
Kaylene Allan Cat Management Officer, Kingborough Council