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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
Zohra 9:54 am 15 Apr 15

Evilomlap said :

I’ve got a solution. It’s a bit left field but hear me out…

BUY A DOG.

Sure, a dog. In my tiny, unenclosed back yard that has no real grass or shade trees. I’d take it for walks in the time my work and life doesn’t allow me, and when I travel for that work I’d feed it and walk it every day from across the country.

Apologies for the sarcasm, but such generalisations generally don’t work.

Alexandra Craig 9:18 am 15 Apr 15

Evilomlap said :

I’ve got a solution. It’s a bit left field but hear me out…

BUY A DOG.

Hahaha you sound exactly like my partner. He loves the cats but really wants a dog. As long as we’re living in a townhouse with a small tiled courtyard, no dog for us.

matt31221 said :

I am against total cat containment as stated in John’s thread but I like the idea of outdoor cat runs/enclosures for folks who actually want to contain their cats. Years back when I worked for a certain supply authority, I went to a house somewhere in Belconnen on a job. The owners had installed the most radical of cat enclosures I’ve ever seen. It consisted of caged runs that ran around the back walls, a large 1.5 story cage with a tree in the centre to climb at the corner of the yard with a mesh umbilical walkway going to it from the house network. One of the caged runs rose up diagonally till it reached the roof and there was an enclosure on top the roof with views to the street. It all started from a cat door on a back window so it was accessible to the cats anytime. Coolest thing ever.

Yes! I have seen some of these, so cool! It’s like the ultimate cat playground.

Cerdig said :

“The long term goal should be all domestic cats desexed and contained as well as Trap Neuter Release programs for stray and feral cats.”

Strays and ferals are vermin. It should be Trap Neuter & Euthanase.

Like I said in the post, it’s been proved that culling strays and ferals doesn’t work. They’re just replaced by more cats. The only way to stop cat colonies from expanding is to desex/neuter/spay the entire colony.

Cerdig 3:32 am 15 Apr 15

“The long term goal should be all domestic cats desexed and contained as well as Trap Neuter Release programs for stray and feral cats.”

Strays and ferals are vermin. It should be Trap Neuter & Euthanase.

matt31221 10:14 pm 14 Apr 15

I am against total cat containment as stated in John’s thread but I like the idea of outdoor cat runs/enclosures for folks who actually want to contain their cats. Years back when I worked for a certain supply authority, I went to a house somewhere in Belconnen on a job. The owners had installed the most radical of cat enclosures I’ve ever seen. It consisted of caged runs that ran around the back walls, a large 1.5 story cage with a tree in the centre to climb at the corner of the yard with a mesh umbilical walkway going to it from the house network. One of the caged runs rose up diagonally till it reached the roof and there was an enclosure on top the roof with views to the street. It all started from a cat door on a back window so it was accessible to the cats anytime. Coolest thing ever.

Evilomlap 5:41 pm 14 Apr 15

I’ve got a solution. It’s a bit left field but hear me out…

BUY A DOG.

Zohra 4:32 pm 14 Apr 15

Me again. Cat enclosures. I live in a rented property. One place I lived in I put a rope between two snow tent pegs and clipped the cat’s leash onto that. She had an oval shaped area she could roam, including grass and shade. Supervised of course – I was terrified of her getting caught around a shrub or something.

Now my system is somewhat more elaborate. I have one of these from Bunnings – http://www.modernpetdoors.com.au/sliding-door-doggie-doors-fast-fit-great-for-renters/. It leads to a net covered square frame “tunnel” made out of old skirting boards and these http://www.bunnings.com.au/peer-industries-2-4m-90deg-external-angle-plaster-trim-p90ex24plastic_p0730596. The netting is held on by cable ties. This leads out into an area with a metal shelf covered in carpet offcuts and bits like flyscreens and shade cloth I found at the Green Shed. None of it touches the house.

Zohra 4:23 pm 14 Apr 15

Teaching cat to walk on a leash – Alexandra is right, put the harness on the cat inside, and let the cat hang out with it for a while, just as you would a collar, then reward with a treat. Do this a few times and see how it goes. Once the cat is used to the harness, snap the leash on and carry the cat outside, putting it down.

Note that you don’t walk the cat, it walks you. Follow it around rather than trying to take it somewhere. I carry a pair of secateurs with me or pull weeds as we wander. If she tries to go outside the property boundaries, I simply stand still. She gets the message when she can’t go any further.

Then carry the cat inside, put it in a convenient place and remove the leash and the harness with a sound of some sort (like the bell attached to it). Then give the cat a treat. If the cat bolts at any point because it’s startled or scared, run with it, pick it up and take it inside with many reassuring noises and pats.

Persistence is of course the key. My cat is now so used to it that if I pick up the harness and the bell rings, she’s straight onto the cat tower and meowing to be trussed up.

Tenpoints 1:00 pm 14 Apr 15

I have two cats living at my townhouse in Queanbeyan. One male ginger domestic shorthair and one female tortoiseshell domestic shorthair. Both of my cats are desexed, vaccinated and microchipped. Both of my cats are rescue animals from the pound.
I have witnessed first-hand the struggle of effective cat containment. As a homeowner, I have invested in non-enclosing cat-containment systems. I have so far shied away from a full on enclosure for the following reasons:
*My courtyard is street facing, I am concerned about body corporate approval plus any neighbour complains.
*There is a large eucalyptus tree which rains a significant quantity of leaves into my yard. Any enclosed netting type structure would quickly be inundated with gum leaves stuck in the netting, a significant fire hazard unless cleaned regularly – which is a not insignificant task.
A small enclosure or ‘cat run’ is also unacceptable for the sole reason that the only reasonable place to put a cat door would force an enclosure to restrict space on the patio and block access paths around the courtyard.
The following is a history of my attempts to reach a reasonable quality of life for both myself and my cats through methods including but not limited to cat-containment.
Henry -the ginger DSH- is an avid adventurer. His number one priority every day is to leave the property and go exploring. Who knows what he gets up to, I can only speculate. He has brought home several birds as ‘presents’, usually on occasions when I have forgotten to lock the cat door at night. The single worst occasion was when he brought home someone’s pet canary – absolutely terrible. I tried to find the owner to offer compensation but was unsuccessful.

In addition to the damage to local bird life, Henry has also gotten into serious trouble at times, once going missing for four days in a storm and in a separate incident, ingesting rat poison which resulted in an extremely stressful and expensive weekend at the Animal Emergency Centre.

As a result of these dramas, I attempted to contain him indoors for a couple of weeks. However he made my life miserable in a number of ways including but not limited to urinating in various places around the house irrespective of the litter box, and meowing through the night at irregular intervals, scratching and banging on the doors until you let him in, at which point he would go and sneakily pee on my carpet. Additionally to the behavioral peeing, the litter tray suffered from significantly more use, which resulted in the house more or elss perpetually smelling of cat faeces.
I should also say that I have not one but two large indoor ‘cat towers’ that my cats use extensively when I am home, along with a number of toys and of course each other to stimulate activity.

I have also attempted to cat proof the courtyard of my townhouse with an Oscillot Cat containment system (http://oscillot.com.au/) featuring rotating paddles, which I thought was an acceptable balance between utility and aesthetics. After body corporate approval, the system was DIY installed. Combined with some bird slope (http://www.birdbarrier.com/products/birdslide/) material on the retaining wall (which would otherwise be an easy ‘step’) this was effective for a few days in containing Henry within the courtyard, however he soon worked out weaknesses in the structure. The 1.8 metre fence is only just tall enough to contain him. Any platforms inside the property like compost bins or raised garden beds are high enough to allow him to vault straight over the paddles. After a month or two of ghetto adjustments to patch access routes, I discovered that he was easily capable of scaling the clothesline and jumping onto the dividing fence (the highest wall) to exit the property.

So basically from that point on-wards I decided not to sink any more money into cat-containment infrastructure and instead I focused on bettering my routine to mitigate the risk to local wildlife and my own personal and monetary stress levels. I now have:

1. A bell and name tag on Henry’s collar, and a spare for when he inevitably loses it somewhere.
2. Pet insurance with Petplan (which has saved more money than the cost of premiums to date).
3. A policy of “In only” on the cat door after dark, with ~6pm feeding to bring him inside. The door opens again after breakfast.

To this date including the whole saga, I have not received any complaints about Henry’s behaviour from my neighbors, nor have I seen any evidence of damage or stress to Henry from possible abuse.

For option 3 which is arguably the best mitigating factor, i cannot enforce complete rigidity without compromising my lifestyle, but I have largely made peace with the limitations of my design. At the end of the day, yes I am harboring a killer kitty, but I am giving him a good life with good food, love and regular attention. I cannot put a price on what my cat’s life is worth against the lives of the birds he’s murdered, so I simply do what I can to mitigate the risk of future incidents.
The only saving grace of my cat-containment infrastructure is it keeps the female cat within the property… for now. I can see her frustration when Henry escapes the yard leaving her with no-one to play-fight with. I will continue to monitor the situation.
Sure, you can say that I have under-estimated the amount of effort I would have to put into maintaining my pet. That’s a valid argument, but it’s a moot point. I didn’t have the knowledge and experience of the problem that I do now. I totally wouldn’t get any cats at this property if I had known the issues I would have.
I guess if there’s any point to this story, it’s to say that cat containment is far from a simple issue to fix. Cats are -by and large- highly agile creatures and will have no trouble exploiting any surface or edge to get where they want to go. The task of imprisoning your cat within the exterior bounds of your property without actually making it look like a prison is challenging. I wouldn’t even say my place is a worst-case scenario for cat containment either. Cats can also have very different personalities to each other, and I believe their desires and ‘emotions’ can be more complicated than simply meeting demand food and play.
If it becomes mandatory to keep a cat indoors it may well be less popular to own a cat. This could reduce the number of adoptions while massively increasing the amount of abandoned cats. If you’re mandated to contain your cat… but you can’t, what are you going to do? Most people wouldn’t sink thousands of dollars into a compromising solution. Ultimately as cat-containment advocate this will be the unfortunate side effect – more cats abandoned and/or destroyed.

Long term I hope to move to a place where it is easier to contain my kitties, or -depending on a number of factors- find another home for them.

In summary, I would tread carefully when applying cat-containment policies. Not everyone can feasibly contain their cats. I think the best way forward would be to implement a trend towards breeding ‘less adventurous’ cats to facilitate better indoor livability, and further subsidise the cost of desexing and microchipping.

Alexandra Craig 12:19 pm 14 Apr 15

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?

That’s awesome that you’ve trained her to do that, well done.

According to Minister Rattenbury: “The Bill amends the Domestic Animals Act 2000, to replace the term ‘curfew’ with ‘cat containment’, to better reflect the intention of the legislation for cat owners in designated areas to contain their cats to their property.”

http://www.cmd.act.gov.au/open_government/inform/act_government_media_releases/rattenbury/2014/amendments-to-clarify-cat-containment-legislation

Testfest 11:45 am 14 Apr 15

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?

Alexandra Craig 11:00 am 14 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.

Rather than going for 100% containment 24/7, how about first making it a rule that all cats have to be contained at night (their primary hunting period) and seeing what effect that has on preserving the local wildlife?

I live in a rental property. You can get free standing cat enclosures that dismantle, as well as some cat runs that don’t have to be fixed to the house. Or you can try your cat on a leash 😉

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.

Testfest 10:47 am 14 Apr 15

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.

Rather than going for 100% containment 24/7, how about first making it a rule that all cats have to be contained at night (their primary hunting period) and seeing what effect that has on preserving the local wildlife?

Milly Withers 10:07 am 14 Apr 15

Alexandra Craig said :

Milly Withers said :

I tried training my cat to go for walks on a leash, but she wouldn’t have a bar of it. Did you train your cat from when he was a kitten? I think it’s too late for my old moggy.

Yeah, I did. Generally it’s much easier to train kittens than it is for older cats but it’s not impossible. The way to do it (and this is what I did with my kitten) is to put the harness on him/her inside the house for an 1/2 hour or so every day for about a week. Then try him/her on the leash outside in a quiet area and you’re good to go.

You could try your kitty on the harness inside and see how you go. You can get the traditional strap harness, but you can also get ones that are like a fabric vest which might be better for an older cat – I imagine it would help them feel a bit more secure.

Good advice. Thanks Alexandra 🙂

Alexandra Craig 9:51 am 14 Apr 15

Milly Withers said :

I tried training my cat to go for walks on a leash, but she wouldn’t have a bar of it. Did you train your cat from when he was a kitten? I think it’s too late for my old moggy.

Yeah, I did. Generally it’s much easier to train kittens than it is for older cats but it’s not impossible. The way to do it (and this is what I did with my kitten) is to put the harness on him/her inside the house for an 1/2 hour or so every day for about a week. Then try him/her on the leash outside in a quiet area and you’re good to go.

You could try your kitty on the harness inside and see how you go. You can get the traditional strap harness, but you can also get ones that are like a fabric vest which might be better for an older cat – I imagine it would help them feel a bit more secure.

Milly Withers 9:36 am 14 Apr 15

I tried training my cat to go for walks on a leash, but she wouldn’t have a bar of it. Did you train your cat from when he was a kitten? I think it’s too late for my old moggy.

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