Cat calls for law overhaul as ferals wipe out natives


Researchers call for changes to cat laws. Picture credit: 42 North on Unsplash

Key recommendations in a four-year-old government report stating cats should be confined to homes by law, have not been enacted, despite devastating impacts on native wildlife.  

A 2019 Statutory Review of the Cat Act 2011, that received 5822 online responses and involved rangers and local government staff, found strong support for laws to force homeowners to confine their pets using state legislation. 

Feral cats are killing machines, wiping out millions of reptiles, birds, and small native mammals each year in Australia. A University of Sydney study found that 71 per cent of all pet cats are able to roam and hunt.

At the moment, cat rules vary between councils. While some councils have created cat-free ‘green’ zones – where owners receive a fine if their cat is scanned there – none have forced owners to lock their pets at home.

“Regulations to restrict pet cats to their owners’ property will, undoubtedly, improve conservation benefits for a diverse range of species utilising urban, suburban and peri-urban environments,” the report states.

The Cat Act commenced in 2013 and was introduced to control and manage cats and to promote responsible ownership.

Murdoch University wildlife biologist Professor Trish Fleming says that the law needs to change to treat cats like dogs and better protect native species.  

“There is clearly a need for stronger legislation, which enables city councils to require that people look after their cats, in the same way that we have dog legislation that means you cannot let your dog roam around,” Prof Fleming said.

Although cats are required to be microchipped, registered and sterilised, there is little compliance with these laws, she says.

“We need to have something which enables us to manage cats in the same way as dogs,” Prof Fleming said.

According to researchers at the Threatened Species Recovery Hub, one pet cat kills 110 native animals and feral cats collectively kill 3 billion Australian animals every year, on average.

One-quarter of Australian households, or 27 per cent, have pet cats and about half of cat-owning households have two or more cats, according to UoS.

The City of Fremantle says it has been trying to push forward for change for the last few years, but Prof Fleming says the council has faced problems with cat owners refusing to pay fines and choosing to disown their pets instead.

MU predation biologist Professor Michael Calver says in WA, there is a very vocal cat lobby group.

He says research shows 70 per cent of non-cat-owning people want cat owners to keep their animals at home.

“Canberra has already implemented the ACT Cat Plan 2021-23, which requires cats to be confined to premises,” Prof Calver said.

“This is the most progressive approach and an excellent prototype for other states.”

Cats that are confined to their homes also live longer than free roaming cats.

“Cats that are not contained are likely to have a lifespan of only 20 per cent as compared to the lifespan of a cat that is contained,” Professor Fleming said.

The City of Fremantle, City of Bassendean, Cat Haven and RSPCA were contacted but were unable to provide comments at the time this article was published.