British government briefly considered ordering all domestic cats to be killed

Cast your mind back to the Covid-19 pandemic which incidentally has not entirely finished. People are still dying of it. And remind yourself that this is a zoonosis or a zoonotic disease, one that can infect animals and the human-animal alike and transfer from one to the other which is how it started in the first place.

Killing domestic cats during the Covid-19 pandemic.

At the time, in Britain, Lord Bethell was Matt Hancock’s deputy in the Department of Health from 2020-21. Leaked WhatsApp messages between Hancock and senior government figures during the pandemic reveal they were unclear as to how the disease was transmitted and whether domestic cats could transmit the disease to their owners. As it happens, we still don’t know for sure if domestic cats transmit the disease to owners but we do know that zookeepers gave it to lions and we do know that it is a zoonosis so it is possible for cats to give it to us. It’s just that it is unlikely.

Lord Bethell said to Channel 4 News, “In fact, there was an idea at one moment that we might have to ask the public to exterminate all the cats in Britain. Can you imagine what would have happened if we had wanted to do that? And yet, for a moment there was a bit of evidence around that so that had to be investigated and closed down.”

The British government actually discussed issuing a command that all domestic cats in the UK be killed in order to slow the spread of Covid-19. They decided against it! But imagine if they hadn’t and the history of the disease had unfolded in an entirely different way.

Imagine the government issuing the order to kill all domestic cats. There would have been outrage and terror. And it wouldn’t work. It couldn’t work. They couldn’t enforce it. The government doesn’t know where the cats are. There is no obligatory registration in the UK of cats. To enforce such as law would require government personnel forcibly inspecting all British homes which would require a warrant from a magistrate. And then some cat owners would hide their cats when they came around.

In short, an order from on high to all kill domestic cats in the UK would fail. Although there would be many nervous and concerned cat owners who are not in a great relationship with their cats who’d probably abandon their cats which would flood out the animal shelters or just leave them in parks or on the roadside for the RSPCA to pick up and euthanise. It would have been chaos.

Some would even kill their cat as happened in China. There was a lot of animal cruelty in China at the time both against cats and dogs. Many cats were abandoned in homes to starve. Many were killed by government officials and some were thrown out of high-rise apartments to their deaths.

The experts say that there is a distinct possibility that there could be another pandemic because humankind’s relationship with wild animals is too close but not in a nice way. Humans are still killing wild animals in an unregulated way and eating them. Think bushmeat in Africa and cat meat in China as two examples.

That’s the scenario for the transmission of a zoonotic disease. It remains a threat. As does the mass killing of domestic cats.

In the next pandemic the killing of domestic and stray cats would not happen under a government order because as mentioned that’s unworkable but it is plausible to suggest that there might be some killing nonetheless but not only in China but in the UK.

Having gone through Covid-19 which according to newspaper reports has left millions mentally ill (I can’t really believe it) people are going to be more sensitive to the dangers and the risk to their lives. Some people have been left mentally scared by Covid-19. This might lead them to take irrational or extreme steps in another pandemic which, in turn, might lead to the killing of cats.

Humankind has to improve its relationship with animals. It is still dire in many countries. Wild animals harbour a lot of diseases (as do humans). Some of these disease are unknown to humans and some are zoonotic. We have no defence to them at present.

Humankind has to find a way to leave wild animals alone, to allow them to live their lives and to stop abusing and exploiting wildlife. We need to share the planet with these animals. Yes ‘share’ the planet with them and respect them not unendingly exploit and abuse wildlife.

Because if we don’t – and we won’t – another pandemic is entirely possible and there’d be more chaos and more killing of our innocent domestic cat companions who live in a human world.

We create their world; their environment. The domestic cat is at our mercy. They have to soak up what we throw at them. Even without a pandemic there is far too much cruelty against domestic and stray cats. So much that it points to a failure in the entire story of cat domestication.

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Effect of Cat Registration Tested in Australia

The registration of domestic cats with the local authority is quite widely discussed as a way of reducing the number of stray and therefore, ultimately, feral cats. In short, cat registration is a way of improving the standard of cat ownership. However, many see it as too intrusive on a person’s freedoms. It is a form of the “nanny state”.

Whyalla, where there is obligatory cat registration.
Whyalla, where there is obligatory cat registration. Photo: Michael Coghlan

Australia leads the way on this and the third most populous city in the state of South Australia, Whyalla, has a law that requires people to register their cat.

We have a news report on what is described as a “huge success” by the Whyalla City Council.

In the first month of the law, 680 cats were submitted for registration. They expect the number to rise significantly but they see this as a good start. I can’t assess that figure because we don’t know the number of registrable cats in Whyalla. However, the human population of Whyalla is about 20,000. 27% of households have a cat(s). That does not really help. To me 680 seems like a small number. To the council spokesperson, Matt Werner, it is much more than the council had anticipated.

Euthanasia had risen, which was expected. The average has risen from 5-6 per month to 14-21 per month after registration. Both figures seem low compared to what I am used to reading with respect to US figures but the increase is substantial (3X approximately).

We don’t have a report as to why there is such an increase but it must be because cat owners who are uncommitted, let’s call them “casual cat owners”, decided that registration would place to much of a burden on them. There are probably penalties in the law for certain offences in relation to cat caretaking. I expect some cat owners were unable to see themselves as being able to comply with the law and gave up and decided to relinquish (abandon) their cat(s).

The council expects more cats to be abandoned over the coming months but thereafter to see a reduction. I suppose they mean that the genuine cat guardians will remain and these people will be willing to comply with the law.

Part of the law includes obligatory microchipping. On July 5th, a microchipping day, 185 animals were microchipped in four hours. They considered that a good day. Clearly a lot more people are microchipping their cats. This is a good thing as it allows stray cats to be returned to their owners. The question is should the cat’s owners remain the cat’s owners?

Cats that are not microchipped are held at an animal rescue center for 72 hours max. and if no one claims the animal he/she is “taken to the vet” (a euphemism for killed humanely).

The council say the purpose of cat registration is to return cats to their owners. I expect it is much more than that: it is about improving the standards of cat caretaking with the intention of removing cats from the streets and common land to reduce preying on wildlife.

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