Canberra’s love/hate relationship with cats has intensified, with reports of a dramatic increase in the number of threats against pets and their owners as the ACT Government pushes ahead with its draft cat plan.
Almost 20 suburbs around Canberra have already been declared cat containment areas to protect local wildlife, with residents in those areas required to keep their cats on their premises at all times or risk a $1500 fine.
A cat containment area can be declared where felines pose a serious threat to local wildlife species, but residents outside these suburbs have reported receiving letters threatening their pets.
The debate over the impact of cats on the environment appears to have polarised the community.
One O’Connor resident – a suburb not on the containment list – this week received a letter warning her to “keep your cat contained”.
“If your cat comes onto my property again, it won’t be coming back, ever!” the anonymous letter said.
“This isn’t something you should ignore – do so at your own peril.”
The woman said she was told by Animal Control Services that there were “an awful lot” of these types of threats going around.
“The RSPCA inspector called me and confirmed there has been a massive increase in threats like this across Canberra,” she said.
“I’ve lived here for 25 years, most of the neighbours have cats as well.
“The note is gutlessly anonymous.”
ACT Policing has urged the public to report any threatening behaviour by calling police on 131 444 or visiting the nearest police station in person.
“Maintain copies of any threatening material both physical and digital (emails, voicemails, screenshots and social media messages) as this will assist police,” a spokesperson said.
“Try to handle physical evidence as little as possible in case forensic analysis is required.”
The containment laws have led Wright resident Emerson Riley to start a change.org petition to allow cat owners to walk their pets on a leash in these areas, saying that “with apartment living, this [law] doesn’t give cats a chance to enjoy the outdoors”.
More than 1500 people have signed the petition.
The petition resulted in City Services Minister Chris Steel visiting Ms Riley and admitting cats not being able to be walked on leashes was an unintended consequence of changes to the Domestic Animals Act.
A spokesperson for the ACT Government said it was considering changes to the Domestic Animals Act later in the year, following the finalisation of the Cat Plan.
“The current wording of the Domestic Animals Act may be interpreted that cats cannot be walked on a lead in containment suburbs, which was not the intention,” the spokesperson said.
“The ACT Government will consider amendments to the Act to clarify that cats may be walked on a lead and harness in all suburbs, including containment suburbs.
“Any potential changes to relevant legislation will be made in the interests of animal welfare and environmental protection grounds.”
Visit City Services for more information on the Government’s containment policy.