Wellington City Council cat bylaw a win for the environment

Wellington City Council cat bylaw a win for the environment

Geoff SimmonsEnvironment4 Comments

It has been a bit of a soap opera, but today Wellington City Council agreed to include compulsory microchipping for cats as part of their animal bylaw. This is a massive step forward for both the welfare of cats and our native wildlife.

Decisions

After months of ‘will they won’t they’, today the Council confirmed compulsory microchipping as part of their animal bylaw. The recommendation for compulsory microchipping has appeared, disappeared and reappeared throughout the process. Following 89% support by public submissions and a legal opinion that the Council has the power to enact this change, an amendment supporting compulsory microchipping was proposed by Simon Woolf and Mayor Celia Wade-Brown, and passed by the Council. Only Jo Coughlan, Nicola Young and Helene Ritchie voted against it.

The Council also decided to stop feeding stray and feral cats on public property, which should bring an end to stray cat colonies in our reserves. However, they decided not to require desexing and limiting cat numbers to three (or fewer in sensitive wildlife areas), despite 77% support for the cat limit in submissions.

The new rules will have an 18 month transition period and there will be some funding in next year’s budget to provide help for people that can’t afford to microchip and desex their cats.

The changes have to be approved at a full Council meeting on August 17th. Cat curfews, limits on cat numbers and wildlife sensitive areas will be looked at further in the Animal Policy, which is slated for next year.

Why microchips are so important

Microchips are good for cats and good for wildlife. Cats found with microchips can be safely returned to their owners – already 50% of Wellington cats are microchipped and 2,000 are returned to their owners every year.

Cats found in reserves where our native species are breeding without a microchip can be rehomed or, if they are wild, humanely euthanised. Given the millions of dollars and thousands of volunteer hours that have gone into returning wildlife to Wellington City, there is simply no place for stray and feral cats in parks and reserves where threatened native species are breeding and living.

The arguments against

One submitter Kent Duston has already threatened the Council with legal action. He argued that under the law City Councils have no role to protect wildlife, and made legal threats of a judicial review if the Council tried to enact any form of mandatory identification. He argued that the Council has not demonstrated a problem, nor demonstrated why microchipping is the solution.

What Duston overlooked is that without microchipping, any management of stray and feral cats not only becomes far more expensive, but it also puts owned cats at risk. This makes clear Duston’s hidden agenda – he doesn’t want cats managed at all. His arguments amount to a desire to preserving the right of cats to wander unimpeded. It would also mean that there was no way to manage stray and feral cats in reserves where native birds are breeding. Judging by submissions and surveys this is a situation that the majority of wildlife and cat loving Wellingtonians simply won’t stand for.

Ultimately if Duston’s threatened legal challenge is successful and Councils can’t act in this area, then it is clear that central government legislation will be required before we have any hope of managing cats. Regardless the angst surrounding this decision should encourage central government to clarify the legal situation and give Local Authorities a toolkit to manage cats. Until that happens Predator Free New Zealand by 2050 remains a pipedream. Which makes you wonder how mayoral candidate Jo Coughlan plans to achieve her vision of a Predator Free Wellington when she opposes the most sensible first step toward cat management.

Wellington City Council cat bylaw a win for the environment was last modified: August 15th, 2016 by Geoff Simmons
About the Author
Geoff Simmons

Geoff Simmons

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Geoff Simmons is an economist working for the Morgan Foundation. Geoff has an Honours degree from Auckland University and over ten years experience working for NZ Treasury and as a manager in the UK civil service. Geoff has co-authored three books alongside Gareth.

  • SueJB

    If Council has failed to mandate desexing, they’ve abandoned the most important measure.

  • Ray

    People keep saying how will it help? The answer is simple but most people are too scared to voice it. Declare all non-chipped cats an invasive pest and kill them. Don’t say euthanize as its just a way of trying to hide the truth. Also roaming chipped cats should get a 3 strikes and you’re out rule. Apply the same to dogs. Just to be clear I have owned cats in the past and presently have a dog who doesn’t roam, bite children etc.
    If we want to make NZ back into a bird paradise we need to remove the problem species, excepting humans of course, as well as recreating habitats etc.

  • Martin Nicholls

    What Ray says is so correct, but it is inflamatory, nonetheless. Ray, I was threatened with more then legal action when I joined the cat debate on the Cats to Go webpage! Haha! This issue is so divisive. In 2008, Maureen O’Higgins published a study for Ark in the Park and she concluded that cat owners were generally hostile to any biodiversity recovery initatives that might impact on their cats’ freedom to roam, or any attempts at predator control. Ark in the Park has a major problem with straying cats, and the escape of kittens from entire breeding females into Centennial Regional Park. These become feral within eight weeks of being born, devoid of human company, and they become feral. This is where the problem starts and could end if somehow we can persuade cat owners to take the more responsible approach of dog owners and acknowledge that their pets can be a problem and that wandering cats need to be effectively managed as any other predatory mammal. Microchipping is only one necessary start and, were it not for the very high price of desexing (females especially) maybe there would be more of an incentive to do so. Maybe a mixture of carrot and stick is required.

    I’m not surprised that the Council is not implementing any compulsory desexing programme or limiting numbers per household. The cat lobby seems to have the same power that the National Rifle Association in the US has and anyone who messes with their ‘right to bear cats’ is asking for trouble. However, this is where things need to go and urgently if the Wellington Halo is to ever develop as intended. I’m wondering if the Council is awaiting any legal outome from Kent Duston before stepping up legislative measures.

    As for Mr Duston’s arguments, if the Wellington City Council do not have the right to impose restrictions and conditions on cat ownership I’m sure the regional council has the legal mandate to do so, as environmental managers. It is worth testing this out, I feel.

    For anyone who might doubt it, cats are deemed the fourth worst predator of wildlife in New Zealand and their toll on reptiles is particularly severe. Also, if robins and saddlebacks are ever to stand a chance in urban areas outside protected reserves, cat numbers would need to be drastically cut. One only has to observe the habits of these birds (spending a lot of time on the ground feeding during dawn and dusk) to realise that they are especially vulnerable to cat predation. I suspect that both these birds would be spreading into parts of Wellington outside the protection of Zealandia’s fence. Cats can also take adult kiwi so the Operation Nest Egg measures to protect young kiwi from stoats would be useless against cats.

  • Martin Nicholls

    Without rekindling the Cats to Go debate, there is one issue brought up there that could be reiterated. The presence of domestic cats straying into reserves can compromise legally attempts at ferret and possum control because the traps currently used are large enough to put straying pet cats at risk. These include TIMMS and Good Nature A12 resetting traps. So the microchipping argument, in this sense, is academic. Sometime we must bite the bullet and acknowledge that straying domestic cats could become collateral damage in any comprehensive war against predators, especially if we are working to save local kiwi from the larger predators. However, the Animal Welfare Act would have to be amended before this is ever legally possible. Then the cat owners will rise up and lobby the government. I have no doubt. But it is comprehensive predator control that is required if a predator-free New Zealand is ever to be any other than a pipe dream. ‘Cuddles Key’ I’m sorry if you feel offended because I renamed you, ‘Collateral Damage’.