Australian Capital Territory (ACT) acts humanely towards feral cats while the other jurisdictions do not

ACT government logo.
ACT government. Image: Wikipedia.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

As an introduction I would like to say this: the volunteers who manage feral cat colonies under TNR programs are very decent, kind people. They do their work without charge, freely and with a love of the cats. One TNR volunteers sums it up, “The amount of suffering is the reason that we do this”. They do it because they want to alleviate the suffering of the cats placed in a very difficult situation as a result of human carelessness. They are responding to bad human behavior with good human behavior. To rectify and wrong.

They feel an obligation to do the right thing by the cats. The attitude is diametrically opposite to that of the administrators of all the states and territories of Australia bar one: ACT. I discuss this below.

There are 16 states and territories in Australia. Australian Capital Territory (ACT) to an outsider looks like a rather unusual territory as it is effectively a city-state as I understand it. But it is also unusual in an important way for animal advocates in that it is the only Australian jurisdiction where they treat feral cats humanely.

In ACT, they have very strict rules about cats in general but there is at least a nod to their humane treatment whereas in the other territories and states there is no attempt whatsoever to act humanely towards feral cats; quite the opposite actually. “Kill ’em!” is the cry from the politicians, ministers and conservationists. And the best method is the fastest and most efficient. The sentience of the cats is irrelevant.

In ACT there is a cat containment law which mandates that all domestic cats born on and after July 1, 2022 must be contained on their owner’s premises 24/7. This means inside the home and inside the boundaries of the property with an effective cat containment fence. The objective is to totally prevent the creation of any new feral cats through abandonment or escape when domestic cats become stray cats and then feral cats.

And the unusual aspect of ACT is that this compact jurisdiction in the west of Australia is the only one where trap-neuter-release (TNR) is practised.

It’s legal in that jurisdiction but releasing stray cats into the ‘wild’ (to include urban places) is banned in the rest of Australia. I’m told that feral cat colonies are present in the industrial suburbs of Fyshwick, Hume and Mitchell in ACT where organised volunteers manage them.

Australian ecologists and environmentalists hate TNR, believing that it is crazy to put the cats back in the environment after desexing and a checkup as it leaves them free to prey on those precious, little Aussie mammals, marsupials, reptiles and birds. They say that it is ineffective.

But TNR is effective if carried out with state funding and with commitment. Above all it is regarded by the residents of ACT as humane. The government of that territory need to show their constituents that they want to act humanely towards animals who are the victims of human carelessness.

Morally there is only one thing to do: TNR. Killing feral cats compounds the problem originally created by human negligence.

In ACT, putting feral cats back on the ground after sterilisation does allow them to kill animals but my guess is that they serve a purpose in the industrial landscape where they reside in keeping down the rodent population.

In addition to TNR as mentioned, ACT has a comprehensive “cat plan” which includes the following:

  • promote responsible cat ownership
  • improve compliance and enforcement of cat laws
  • reduce the number of semi-owned an unknown domestic cat
  • continuously improve domestic cat welfare and management practices
  • expand cat containment
  • reduce impacts of feral cats
  • engage with rural landholders in improved cat management and
  • promote human health and well-being for responsible pet ownership.

Note: I don’t see any shooting and poisoning of feral cats in that plan and I hope that there is none. But it’s important to have this comprehensive, overarching plan to improve the relationship between humans and cats in the best interests of humans and cats and thirdly wildlife.

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