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Cat containment will work if implemented properly

By Alexandra Craig 14 April 2015 25

cat on leash

Cat containment is a hot issue in the ACT. After reading John Hargreaves’ piece last week, I’d like to explore a few arguments in more depth and also address some misconceptions about cat containment.

There are three types of cats: domestic, stray, and feral. I think everyone knows that a domestic cat is a pet. A stray cat is a cat that lives on the streets and has limited amounts of human interaction. For example, the Woden drain cats are strays. Feral cats are truly wild cats, they live in the bush, have never had contact with humans and they have to hunt all their food. I know some would argue that the Woden drain cats are feral because they’re born onto the streets, but they don’t really have to hunt as a survival method if they would either find scraps of discarded food, or perhaps be fed by members of the community. 

All cats are natural hunters. It’s in their instinct. Feral cats actively hunt for their food because they have to do it to survive. I’ve spent time observing stray cats in colonies and because they have a semi-decent food source, they don’t show much interest in hunting wildlife. They obviously still do it, most cats can’t resist pouncing on a smaller moving object, but their motivations aren’t as deep as those of a feral cat.

Domestic cats are similar. If something comes into their path they’ll probably jump on it. One of the points raised in John’s article and in the comments was about the distance cats can wander. It honestly depends on the cat. Some cats can roam 5 kilometres, others will wander next door and then come back. 

I am pro cat containment for all pet cats. While not all cats have an active interest in hunting and some will not venture far from their couch, we cannot have separate rules for separate cats. We have to generalise and assume all cats roam and all cats hunt.

Cat containment is good for so many reasons. Aside from the preservation of wildlife, cat containment keeps your beloved feline safe from dogs, traffic, those who derive joy out of torturing animals, baits and poisons, and safe from other wildlife such as possums or snakes. Keeping your cat contained will also lower the risk of it catching diseases like feline immunodeficiency virus which can lead to Feline AIDS. 

Yes, foxes, wild dogs and wild pigs also harm our wildlife. But we need to tackle each problem thoroughly and if that means doing it one at a time and starting off with cats – a species we have a greater control over than say, wild pigs – then that’s what we have to do. Fixing some is better than fixing none. Rome wasn’t built in a day and all that.    

cat inside

I have two cats. One is two years old and has extreme anxiety, so is happy to stay indoors and occasionally venture to our courtyard (while supervised) to lie in the sun and nibble on some cat grass. My other cat is six or seven months old. He LOVES going outside. You open the door for three seconds and he bolts out and over the courtyard fence. Fortunately our private courtyard backs onto a communal courtyard, so he is contained for the time it takes for me to bring him back. I’m still renting so can’t have a cat run built yet (bring on home ownership!), so I taught my littlest cat to walk on a leash. Yup, a leash. It’s possible to allow your cat outside time while still protecting them, and protecting our wildlife. 

cat on leash

The Government recently said that all inclusive cat containment would need to be introduced over a long period of time (probably around 10 years) to allow current cat owners to adjust (building cat runs/cat enclosures or transitioning their cat to the indoor lifestyle) and also so people intending on future cat ownership would know the policy was coming. Cats can live a perfectly happy and healthy lifestyle indoors with no behavioural problems as long as they get love from their humans and have sufficient mental stimulation.

We can’t keep every single cat off the streets or eradicate them in the wild, but cat containment would make a big difference. However, practical measures need to be put in place in the form of funding for cat desexing subsidies.

It is near impossible to keep an undesexed cat inside when they’re on heat. I know of a cat on heat that actually busted out of a screen window – she pulled the whole thing out, screws and all (unstoppable, this particular cat also only has three legs!)

Undesexed cats are also more likely to roam. As I said earlier, feral cats cause the most damage to wildlife. However, if undesexed cats are roaming around they will breed with stray cats and the stray cats will eventually breed with feral cats. The long term goal should be all domestic cats desexed and contained as well as Trap Neuter Release programs for stray and feral cats.

Desexing is mandatory in the ACT, however, the procedure can cost over $400 and some people can’t afford that. Any kind of government policy around subsidised desexing will take time to implement, no matter how many online petitions there are. Immediate action is needed so I’m working on a project called Canberra Cat Fix which raises money so low income households in Canberra will be able to have their cats desexed before next kitten season.

Our aim is to raise at least $6000 so we can desex around 50 cats. While this doesn’t seem like many, it will potentially prevent thousands of kittens from being born. The more cats we can desex, the less cats we’ll have on the streets which will mean less risk of spread of disease, and a greater chance of survival for our wildlife.

We’re doing this because you can’t teach your cat about safe sex. 

Canberra Cat Fix can be found on Facebook here.
You can donate to the Canberra Cat Fix here.

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25 Responses to
Cat containment will work if implemented properly
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Kalfour 3:40 pm 22 Apr 15

For all the people saying ‘cat containment is hard’, or ‘it’s ok if they’re outside during the day, as long as they’re locked up at night’ – no! It’s not ok.
I’ve had my pets attacked numerous times, and two killed, by cats. Domestic cats. In my yard. Attacking my pets. It’s never ok to let your animal roam the streets. Ever. If I catch them (I sometimes leave a cat trap in my yard) they go to the RSPCA, and the owners have to pay a fine to get them back.
I don’t care that cats mostly hunt at night. I don’t care that well fed cats don’t need to hunt for food. If they hunt ever (which all cats do), they should never be allowed out.
Your lazy, irresponsible, self-entitled attitudes do not trump the right for my yard to be cat free, or for my pets to be safe.

carnardly 11:25 pm 18 Apr 15

bring them in at tucker time and they’re in for the night. it’s not too hard.

plus, from day dot I had a ‘food call’ verses regular calling her name. while you might have a general conversation where the royal highness may or may not come, if you give the food call and reward it each and every time with even 3 or 4 crunchies, that’s enough to get most of them running.

but if she wanted out for the late night wee, i’d give her 10 mins and then call ch-ch-ch-ch-ch and she’d come dashing back in as it meant tucker. it’s not too hard to train them if you’re consistent.

but yes, the obvious desexing and microchipping and breakaway collar and bell is important too. in winter its not too hard to manage as its cold outside and they’re happy to come in, but on a warm summer evening madam tended to blob in the garden until it got dark. if I moved feeding time back to say 8.30 or 9 pm when it was getting dark they’re usually happy to come in.

I don’t want them out getting beaten up by neighbourhood thugs and getting abscesses or FIV…

m_ratt 1:24 pm 18 Apr 15

Testfest said :

What if you have a cat but live in a rental property? That might make it difficult to install a cat run. It’s hard enough to get a rental property when you have pets, this could make it even harder.

Tenpoints said :

I am concerned about body corporate approval plus any neighbour complains.

These comments are further signs that landlords and Owners’ Corporations in Canberra need to recognise modern realities.
Tentants in Australia are hard-done-by in that approval for installation of things like cat runs is unnecessarily withheld. (Changes will be rectified upon vacation of the property – if they’re not, that’s what the bond is for).

Similarly, OCs often have restrictive rules that impose unnecessary restrictions on their very members.

Chippie 6:48 pm 17 Apr 15

TestFest – I think you’ll find the suburbs you quote have cat containment not cat curfew – in Bonner we have street signs with cats inside a house.

I’m a past cat owner. The thing I object to is having other people’s cats destroy my garden beds when they dig them up to do their business in. Ground hog day every day, time consuming to clean it up and expensive to keep replacing plants. We’ve tried putting wire over the plants, electric fences etc with no success. Consequently our garden beds are bare, hard dirt and kitty stays away.

Testfest said :

Alexandra Craig said :

Re the night time rule; I’m not sure if this would work from a logistical point of view. In my experience, if you don’t bring a cat inside before 6.00pm, you’ve missed your chance and they won’t come back for hours. Might be difficult to implement especially in Canberra where a lot of people work long hours and might not be home to bring their cat inside. I wouldn’t be against it though if it was implemented. Partial cat containment is better than none.

It depends on the cat of course, but what I have done is train my cat to expect to be fed around sunset. As soon as she hears the food hitting the bowl she comes running and from that point it’s been pretty easy to contain her inside.

Obviously it gets dark earlier in winter, but I find that the cold weather usually means that she is waiting at the door to come inside and get into the warm house as soon as I get home. But my cat is super lazy…

One other thing I did – stick a collar with a bell on your cat. Makes it a lot harder for them to sneak up on wildlife that way, then hunger encourages them to come inside for the food waiting for them in a bowl. Bit like people really, cats will take the easy option if it’s available.

What I am curious about is why the cat curfew has been replaced with cat containment? These are the suburbs affected: Bonner, Crace, Coombs, Denman Prospect, Forde, Lawson, Molonglo, Wright and The Fair in North Watson.

Was the curfew just not working? What evidence did they have of the damage being done to local wildlife?

smeeagain 1:35 pm 17 Apr 15

There is a project already underway in SA where cats are fitted with tracking collars and their movements recorded. It’s quite interesting how far some cats will travel. Their movements can be viewed on this link

This project followed a similar one in the UK, which showed some very interesting behaviours and also had a camera on the cats collar to show what they were actually doing.

Cat containment can only be a good thing for the local wildlife populations.

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