My cat campaign may have got some people’s backs up, but it is attracting a growing level of support. Meanwhile the beleaguered SPCA, in the gun for its policy of supporting stray cats that wander and slaughter, is facing a revolution from within its own ranks.
When I first spoke out, many asked me if I had lost it completely. Since then many of New Zealand’s top experts have come out in support of the fact that wandering cats pose a serious threat to our wildlife and need management. Most notable supporters include Dame Ann Salmond, (New Zealander of the Year) and Professor Charles Daugherty ONZM, (Professor of Ecology at Victoria University of Wellington and a Trustee of Wellington’s Zealandia). Experts from the following organisations have also agreed we have a problem and that cats need to be managed:
- The Department of Conservation
- School of Biological Sciences, Victoria University
- Forest and Bird
- Landcare New Zealand
- The Veterinarians of Massey University’s Wildbase Hospital
- Biodiversity teams in the Auckland Council, and Wellington and Southland Regional Councils
- Auckland University, School of Biological Sciences
- Department of Zoology, Otago University
- Department of Natural Sciences, Unitec Institute of Technology
- Companion Animal Society of New Zealand Veterinary Association
The majority of Kiwis now seem to agree. When faced with information about the damage caused by cats, only 20% of Kiwis maintain that we shouldn’t reduce the cat population. This is the same vocal minority that have howled throughout the campaign at anyone who dares question the sacrosanct moggie. But the fact is that the majority of cat owners are reasonable people and most people agree with sensible measures like compulsory chipping, registering and neutering cats, which would allow us to take care of the stray cat problem. There is also broad support for banning cats around sensitive wildlife areas – a result that was confirmed by a public meeting we held in Karori. These changes would be a massive leap forward in cat management in New Zealand, and I see that result as a huge win for my campaign.
While most people agree we need fewer cats, the tough bit is deciding how. This is where some of my suggestions have been more controversial. Ridding our cities of stray cats again seems a popular start, but ideas like confining your cat (indoors or in an enclosure as is popular in Australia) or not replacing your cat when it dies have met with more limited support. That is not surprising, most new ideas take time for people to get used to. Most non-cat owners seem to want the right to keep cats off their property, but haven’t tied that idea to cat owners actually taking responsibility for their pets. However it should not be such an alien idea – we already manage dogs the same way. Indoor cats are now the norm in many countries overseas. While many Kiwis view this as cruel for the cat, keeping a cat inside from when it is very young has been shown to improve their health overall as they avoid accidents and fights.
In contrast the SPCA is struggling to find any credible support for its championing of the rights of wandering cats. In their advocacy and practice of trap, neuter and return of stray cats Bob Kerridge and the Directors of Wellington SPCA, arguably New Zealand’s worst, are increasingly being isolated. They arrogantly ignore the science and put cat rights above those of all other native wildlife. Even their fellow cat lovers have come out against this policy, which not only condemns our native wildlife to slaughter but also leaves the cats living dangerous and diseased lives. Examples of the schism appearing include:
- The entire Australian SPCA movement
- Waikato SPCA
- Nelson SPCA
- Lonely Miaow cat charity in Auckland
In the past politicians have been scared off by the sheer size of the cat-owning fraternity (47% of households own cats). But the good news is that the majority of cat owners are responsible, and once made aware of the damage wandering cats do, have no issue with managing the problem. Of course any social issue of this type always attracts an ignorant rump of self-centred objectors, but as our public meeting in Karori showed these are a loud but small, entrenched minority.
This presents a significant opportunity for local or national politicians with an environmental conscience, if they can discover their courage. Cats need to be managed just as dogs are; the only reason they are not is because dogs hurt humans and cattle whereas cats ‘merely’ pose a threat to our native wildlife. The majority of people want local councils to take cat control out of the ‘too hard’ basket and start to manage the damage by stopping cats wandering. Australia is miles ahead of us on cat control. New Zealand needs politicians with courage to take on the rabid cats’-rights lobby and protect the rights of the silent majority and New Zealand’s natural heritage.
Meanwhile I’d appreciate as many organisations coming out and publicly supporting me as we try to get the SPCA to pull its head in and local councils to get their City Pounds to start managing the wandering cat problem.
References and further reading