Animal welfare agencies’ views on cat management 

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Recently several animal welfare, conservation organisations and government agencies submitted their thoughts on national cat management. It may be surprising that there was a lot of agreement – here’s what they had to say.

Parliament’s Environment Select Committee asked the organisations to share their views on the Petition of Erica Rowlands, requesting the mandatory registration and desexing of pet cats and kittens. 

Many of these groups have been working together for the past decade to bring about comprehensive cat law reform – agreeing on the need for a national cat management act to provide consistent guidance and rules across the country. 

The report from the Environment Select Committee is due to be released in the next couple of months.

SPCA – “Ad hoc management of cats is ineffective and inhumane.”

“There are gaps in responsible cat ownership resulting in problems with both welfare and cat overpopulation. Our centres regularly see the problems related to these gaps. We see the predictable cycle of unwanted kittens each year because there are too many cats roaming that are not desexed. We also see the number of cats and kittens that arrive that are lost or who have strayed, and we cannot find their owner because they’re not microchipped or that microchip is not registered. On average, we take in about 25,000 cats and kittens a year. This represents three-quarters of all the animals we take in at SPCA.

“We feel the solution is national cat legislation. It should be to provide for the welfare of individual cats and reduce the impact of overpopulation. Additionally, legislation should provide for the protection of the welfare of other animals in New Zealand, including wild and farm species and the reduction of cat-related nuisance in communities.” – Scientific Officer Dr Christine Summer

Watch SPCA’s submission

Read SPCA’s submission

Veterinarians for Animal Welfare Aotearoa – “Every cat in a lap.”

“Aotearoa can have safe, happy cats at home, and we can protect our biodiversity. It’s not an either-or.

“We just need to get some legislation in place to help us do that. Broadly speaking, we support the Rowlands’ petition, but it just doesn’t go far enough to really make a meaningful change. It would be a good first step as far as things we want to see happen with urgency, like desexing, registering and microchipping.” – Director Helen Beattie

VAWA writes in its submission that to make meaningful progress, a holistic, national-level approach to protect cats and native species is needed, i.e. a national-level statute allowing for local flavour and flexibility and the whole cat population needs to be considered (companion, stray and feral).

Watch VAWA’s submission

Read VAWA’s submission

Companion Animals of NZ – “Responsible cat guardianship leads to a good life for cats.”

“Despite differing motives, it is clear we [submitting organisations] are essentially working towards the same outcome. The welfare of [companion cats] can be significantly improved by the desexing of animals not kept for breeding purposes, and microchipping and registering with the NZ Companion Animals register to keep owned cats safe and happy at home.” – Welfare Manager Dr Sarah Olson

Companion Animals NZ runs a comprehensive and secure database used by vet clinics, SPCA and rescues, enabling immediate repatriation of cats to their owners. The organisation submits that the register could serve as an interim or long-term solution for maintaining a searchable database for managing cats.

Watch CANZ’s submission

Read CANZ’s submission

Predator Free NZ Trust – “We’re asking for a National Cat Act similar to the Dog Act.”

“What we’re currently doing isn’t working, and our biodiversity is suffering.

“Cat legislation is a grey area. Cats can be considered private property, so if you damage someone else’s property, you’re in trouble. Without compulsory microchipping, we can’t tell what cats are private property – what cats are owned and what cats are unowned.

“Without compulsory microchipping, we can’t actually operate on the ground and struggle to identify if it’s [a live trapped cat] an owned cat or a feral cat.

“This petition is limited to companion cats, and we think we need to take this further and to make any meaningful difference, we do need to look at legislation and policy to consider the three categories of cat [feral, stray, companion]… and they all need slightly different rules and tools around them and those tools do not exist at the moment.” – Chief Executive Jessi Morgan

Watch the Trust’s submission

Read the Trust’s submission

Forest & Bird – “Thirty years ago, dogs roamed the street, and everyone thought it was normal. The social license to own a cat and let it roam, have litters of kittens, eat birds and get into fights is waning, as it did for dogs.”

“Creation of a cat management act would go a long way to also operationalise Te Mana o te Taiao, the New Zealand Biodiversity strategy, giving it the teeth it needs to tackle one of our biggest challenges we face as a country which is reversing the decline of our biodiversity.” – Regional Conservation Manager Amelia Geary

Forest & Bird writes that by regulating domestic cats, New Zealand will be in a much better position to control feral cats in a way that protects owned companion cats. Microchipping and desexing owned companion cats would go a long way toward reducing a poorly managed domestic cat population that is contributing to stray and feral cat populations.

Watch Forest & Bird’s submission

Read Forest & Bird’s submission

Department of Conservation – “This would be an important step for minimising the impact of cats on our protected wildlife.”

(DOC is responsible for controlling feral cats on public conservation land) 

“The management of New Zealand’s cat population, both feral and domestic, is a critical issue for the restoration of New Zealand’s biodiversity.” – Acting Director Biodiversity Threats Michelle Crowell

DOC’s written submission says the nation has committed to investing in the goal of becoming predator free by 2050, but with no plan to manage companion, stray and feral cats. Requiring companion cats to be registered and desexed will help reduce their populations, enforce responsible cat ownership and protect our wildlife.”

Watch DOC’s submission

Read DOC’s submission

Ministry for Primary Industries –  “…population management through desexing of cats and kittens would require a change to the Act or establishment of new legislation specific to cats.”

(MPI is responsible for the Animal Welfare Act 1999 and the Code of Welfare for Companion Cats)

“The petition calls for the establishment of new legislation to require mandatory desexing and registering of cats and kittens. While individual Local Authorities can require this through the Bylaw process, it is clearly desirable that any approach is nationally consistent and resourced.

“To achieve national consistency, legislation similar to the Dog Control Act 1996 would be required in which standards and requirements are clearly set out and responsibility for enforcement delegated.” – Manager Animal Welfare Policy Gavin Romayne

Watch MPI’s submission

Read MPI’s submission

Taituarā – Local Government Professionals Aotearoa – “There is little in the regulatory toolbox.”

(Taituarā is the membership organisation for local government professionals)

“Knowing which cats are owned and unowned is a major problem for regional councils. They also have the problem of unwanted or abandoned cats entering domestic bush areas, which increases the feral cat populations, and a single change in legislation to define an unowned cat would greatly assist regional councils to manage pest cats.” – Senior Advisor Susan Haniel

Taituarā writes it welcomes national legislation to regulate cats on the proviso that funding be made available from central government for local government for the first five years, which would include funding to approximately double its animal control services. In subsequent years the registration fees may be able to cover some or all costs.

Watch Taituarā’s submission

Read Taituarā’s submission

Department of Internal Affairs – “The Dog Act in its current form would not be the appropriate vehicle to achieve [cat management] objectives.”

“To address the concerns of cats on wildlife, there would need to be considerable policy work undertaken to understand the interactions between [existing] statutes and identify the best regulatory tools to achieve policy objectives in line with good regulatory practice. We think this is a multi-agency approach with a policy response in nature of a strategy addressing issues with both domestic and feral cats.” – Senior Policy Analyst Philippa Casagrande

Watch DIA’s submission

Read DIA’s submission