The Cat Protection Society of Victoria (CPSV) would like to address the following Terms of Reference:
a. The prevalence of feral and domestic cats in Australia
g. Public awareness and education in relation to the feral and domestic cat problem
h. The interaction between domestic cat ownership and the feral cat problem, and best practice approaches to the keeping of domestic cats in this regard.
The CPSV believes that it is important for the deliberations of the Committee to:
• Understand the important role domestic cats have as companion animals
• Note CPSV’s work and values actively seek to address uncontrolled growth of the cat population and the impact of cats on native wildlife and habitats.
The Cat Protection Society of Victoria (CPSV)
Operating for over 70 years, the Cat Protection Society of Victoria is a not for profit animal welfare organisation committed to working with the community to ensure that every cat has the opportunity for a loving, safe and healthy home. Our adoption shelter and veterinary clinic are based in the outer northern suburbs of Melbourne, providing pound services for two Councils in the neighbouring areas. Each year, approximately 1,400 stray/abandoned and surrendered cats are cared for at our adoption shelter. In addition, the CPSV humanely euthanises feral cats that are brought to us, as required by Victorian law.
The Prevalence of Feral and Domestic Cats in Australia
While it is difficult to obtain precise figures on domestic cat ownership, a survey conducted by Animal Medicines Australia in 2019 estimated that approximately 27 per cent of Australian households have cats.1 These figures accord with a special feature undertaken by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in 1994 which found that one in every four households in Australia owned a cat at the time.
The prevalence of domestic cat ownership in Australia means more than a simple statistic; it reflects the important role cats play as companions too many Australians. The CPSV considers any challenges associated with domestic cats should not be considered in isolation from the social and mental health benefit to and the responsibilities of cat owners. Indeed the cat problem, as termed by the Committee, is very much a human issue and any strategies to mitigate environmental impact of cats must take account of cat welfare concerns and legitimate human welfare needs.
Many personal stories shared with the CPSV over its 70 years attest to the important role cats play in the lives of their adoptive owners whether single people, the elderly, or families. Presented below is one such story shared with the CPSV in 2020.
My parents adopted Harry in October last year after losing their beloved cat (another Cat Protection Society adoptee). Although very shy at first, Harry slowly started to come out of his shell after a few days. He started his time under beds but soon found his food and cuddles. He is particularly close to his human Dad who recently retired from work and they spend most of the day together. We are so glad that we chose him to be a part of our family and we hope he feels the same. Thank you to the Cat Protection Society and all the work you do. We have adopted all three of our family cats from here and each have been incredibly special to our family.
Moreover, organisations like Beyond Blue reinforce the important role played by companion animals in supporting the health and wellbeing of their owners.
Beyond Blue Testimonial:
“I have a black cat named Buddy and he’s my life, basically. I have no friends or contact with family currently, so he’s it. Knowing he’s around is a great comfort and during bad periods he’s generally the only thing that gets me out of bed.”
Launched in 2017, CPSV’s “Seniors for Seniors” program offers a cat cuddling session to residents in nursing homes and villages while providing a pathway to older cat adoptions. The feedback from these sessions has been overwhelmingly positive, underpinning the value of human/cat connection to people who are otherwise socially isolated. The success of this program reinforces national and international research on the physical and emotional health benefits of pet therapy.
The social benefit of cat ownership has never been more apparent. The CPSV has witnessed a high level of interest in cat adoption during the current COVID-19 crisis receiving more than 1,400 enquires between mid-March 2020 to July 2020. CPSV’s experience is not unique in this regard. We know that other shelters have found it difficult to keep up with the demand for adopting cats and kittens: shelters have recently been contacting each other seeking to transfer cats to meet demand in the areas they service.
Public Awareness and Education in relation to the Feral and Domestic Cat Problem
The CPSV provides all individuals and families adopting cats with a comprehensive handbook which includes essential medical information explaining that the CPSV has provided their cat with necessary vaccinations, has been de-sexed, wormed and microchipped. While the CPSV acknowledges that Victorian Councils have different local laws in respect of cat management/containment, our adoption booklet recommends that cats are never left outside overnight. In addition, the CPSV promotes responsible cat ownership by providing information about cat enclosures and tips to provide cats with a safe and stimulating indoor environment.
The role of shelters such as CPSV in providing such vital information distinguishes us from cats and kittens purchased through other means. A national education campaign would help to reinforce the message of responsible cat ownership delivered by shelters such as the CPSV.
The Interaction between Domestic Cat Ownership and the Feral Cat Problem, and Best Practice Approaches to the keeping of Domestic Cats in this Regard
The CPSV is cognisant of the toll taken on Australian wildlife by the proliferation of stray and feral cats in particular. The CPSV is dedicated to meeting its legal obligations to euthanise feral cats that are brought to the shelter. CPSV notes that it can be difficult to distinguish between a cat that has become stray and a feral cat.
The CPSV has a duty of care to make a thorough assessment of each and every cat and we rely on expert opinion from our veterinarians and, where appropriate, animal behaviourist before categorising a cat as stray or feral. Most cats are stressed when they arrive at a cat shelter, so our vets look for trends. If the cat shows no progress and actively resents human attention (swiping, lunging, ignoring), it is considered to be feral, dangerous and unlikely ever to adjust to life as a companion animal.
CPSV actively seeks to reunite a stray cat with its owners, a task made possible when the cat has been microchipped. Pending adoption, our network of foster carers and behaviourists work with:
• strays to identify and manage problem behaviours and to re-socialise them to a human environment
• kittens which may be young enough to be socialised with humans:
• The period to socialise kittens to humans is approximately three to eight weeks of age.
CPSV is dedicated to reducing the problems caused by uncontrolled cat population growth. All cats and kittens available for adoption from CPSV are de-sexed, vaccinated and microchipped before being offered for adoption. These are the most important measures available to address uncontrolled population growth.
We recognise that not all cats and kittens are purchased through animal shelters like ours and not all domestic cats available for sale or for homing are de-sexed or microchipped. This poses a significant risk to animal welfare and the environment as cats can have three litters a year, with an average of four kittens per litter. Strategies to increase de-sexing rates and microchipping are therefore of paramount importance.
Significantly, the ABS 1994 survey found that 46% of respondents cited cost as the reason for not having their cat de-sexed. It is therefore important to focus resources at the source of the problem rather than just focussing on the efficacy of other methods to control stray or feral cats.
The CPSV recognises the challenges posed by feral cats to native wildlife and habitat. However, we argue that responsible domestic cat ownership provides an overall good to the Australian community and that shelters such as the CPSV play a vital role in reducing the risk of uncontrolled growth of the cat population through de-sexing, microchipping and education. We further argue that cat welfare and environmental concerns are substantially aligned. We encourage the Committee to consider options that recognise the social benefit to people of companion cats while helping to protect native wildlife and habitats.
The Famous Felines will be announced on the 8th of September, so be sure to check back then.