Not quite man’s best friend, the domestic moggy is a well-loved family pet. But our feline friends are also a threat to Australia’s native animals. Some wildlife campaigners are now calling for the nation’s cat flaps to be shut for good by a 24-hour curfew on cats. Anthony Laughton reports.
By ANTHONY LAUGHTON
CATS should be confined indoors under 24-hour curfews enforced by state and federal governments, according to leading wildlife campaigners.
Melbourne-based AWARE Wildlife said campaigners were concerned that current restrictions determined by local councils were neither tough enough nor sufficiently well policed.
Janet Wheeler, a rescuer working for the organisation, said cats were preying on native animals, especially in bushland, and many had to be put down as a result of their injuries. “It’s a huge problem,” she said.
AWARE Wildlife took 11 different species of native animals into care last year after they were attacked by domestic and feral cats, she said. Sixty-nine per cent died or had to be euthanised, and only 31 per cent recovered and were released.
No Australian state or territory imposes mandatory lock-up and release times for cat owners.
In Victoria, the 1994 Domestic (Feral and Nuisance) Animals Act gives local government the power to either prohibit or regulate the presence of cats in “specified areas”.
Some councils, including the City of Greater Geelong, have introduced dusk to dawn restrictions, but this does not apply in daylight hours.
Wheeler said native animals were not equipped to deal with an introduced predator, like a cat.
“We’d like to see a 24-hour cat curfew…I’d love to see it as a state or federal law, that cats had to be confined.”
Cats Victoria President Trish Newman said her association also wanted to see cats housed indoors.
“There is no need for them to roam, it creates more disease out there and makes cats more susceptible to illness.
“They’re safer and drivers don’t have to worry about road kill. They’re quite happy inside.”
Newman said a state law would be appropriate to implement mandatory cat curfews, as councils would be obliged to follow suit.
She said any new law should fall under the umbrella of Victoria’s Legislation for the Welfare and Management of Domestic Animals, which was changed last year to make it a requirement for newly-registered cats to be microchipped.
“There is a lot in the community that think cats should be banned outside all together. Any vet will tell you they live longer,” Newman said.
The RSPCA outlined its agenda on the issue in a document last updated in 2009. It stated that the organisation “encourages the containment of cats in an enclosed area, at a minimum from dusk until dawn”.
But Dr Richard Gowan, an executive member of the Australian Veterinary Association, said 24-hour cat curfews were not the solution.
“Studies have failed to back up claims that domestic animals impact significantly on native animal populations. Money will be better spent on public awareness campaigns and in some council areas, dusk to dawn curfews may be appropriate,” he said.
The Victorian Greens said they supported the implementation of cat curfews in the state.
But Rohan Leppert, a Green Party councillor in the City of Melbourne, said councils should first ensure that registration of the animals was up to date.