RSPCA South Australia say that cat management policies by councils are totally ineffective

On my reading of the situation, RSPCA South Australia, are struggling to obtain the agreement of the federal government to instigate a comprehensive policy which they have devised and written up to “resolve South Australia’s cat crisis”. They describe the crisis as a cat overpopulation problem which puts pressure on councils, animal welfare charities and neighbourhoods. They are pressing for a statewide action plan to solve the crisis.

Australian feral cat. Photo: PoC.

RSPCA management disagree with the current situation in which councils in South Australia are able to create their own legislation to manage cat overpopulation. They argue that this creates a mishmash of different concepts and laws which as a whole are ineffective.

Marion Council, in March, voted to implement their Cats (Confinement) Variation By-law 2020 in which pets would be confined to their owner’s property during the night. In principle the RSPCA welcomed it. Keeping cats confined at night protects wildlife and the cats. It appears to be a compromise between full-time confinement and allowing cats to roam freely.

The Marion County bylaw indicated to the RSPCA that there is a need to improve domestic cat ownership responsibilities and it appeared to be in line with the RSPCA’s Cat Management Plan for South Australia which is a comprehensive plan. FYI – you can’t actually see the plan online in its entirety because you have to sign up to the RSPCA to do so. I disagree with that policy by the way.

The RSPCA didn’t like some issues of the Marion County bylaw because, for example, it allowed the destruction of apparently domestic cats who have been trapped, taken to a shelter and remained unclaimed for 72 hours. Ultimately, the South Australian government ruled that the Marion County bylaw was inconsistent with South Australia’s Dog and Cat Management Act. This has presumably paralysed the process of enacting the Marion County bylaw.

The RSPCA firmly believe and are committed to a statewide i.e. federal, cat management legislation and in doing so they have worked in conjunction with Animal Welfare League and come up with their Management Plan for South Australia which they consider to be a roadmap for the long-distance future.

Australian Premier wants to kill feral cats en masse

As I said that you can’t read the entire plan unless you sign up to the RSPCA but I can mention one or two points which are listed on their website:

  • The promotion of responsible cat ownership
  • Measures to stop unwanted breeding
  • Increase cat identification such as micro-chipping
  • Control roaming cats
  • Increase cat rehoming
  • Reduced surrenders and abandonments
  • Reduce the number of unsterilised cats in South Australia
  • Aim for consistent cat management practices across South Australia
  • Increase funding for cat management
  • Monitor and research to confirm that the plan is working and is effective

Comment: the story indicates an ongoing struggle by all the Australian governments be they local or federal to better manage domestic cat ownership and its knock-on effects with respect to feral cat populations. Australians have struggled with the feral cat and its presence on the continent. They don’t like to see so many feral cats preying on their native species. Australia has the keenest desire of all the world’s nations to restrict the freedoms of the domestic cat and to manage cat ownership through legislation. They are struggling, as mentioned, to achieve their objectives. There is a difficulty in enforcing any legislation regarding cat ownership. This is partly because a lot of cat ownership takes place behind closed doors. You can’t see what’s happening. And projects like this need the voluntary agreement of the participants i.e. the citizens of South Australia. If you haven’t got that it is not going to work because as I said you can’t enforce it very easily.

One problem with the RSPCA’s comprehensive action plan is that it is complicated. That might sound ridiculous but when something is this complicated, and the points that I have listed are quite general and unspecific, it is offputting. The mountain looks too high to climb. And when legislation is based upon such a complicated matter it too becomes complicated and far more difficult to make it work.

For me, there are two main things that can be done namely: ensuring that all cats, be they feral or domestic, are spayed and neutered. And all domestic cats should be identifiable through a microchip or some other means such as a tattoo. Confining domestic cats to the home is a secondary matter, certainly if all domestic cats are sterilised.

In addition, Australia needs to deal with their contribution to climate change. Arguably climate change is having a much bigger impact on their native species by destroying the habitat in which they live through fires and the simple change in the climate than the impact of feral cats are having. In short, there needs to be a parallel commitment to curb the excessive activities of humans in destroying wildlife habitat.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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