Brisbane City Council continues cat culls - declares G2Z success

July 21, 2017

Brisbane City Council has a history of celebrating the killing of cats. Since 2012 they started proactively seeking out cats to impound and kill, with a regular reports to the media about the "success" of their efforts.

The Herald Sun - Brisbane City Council action plan for feral cats (June 2012) - archive article

Feral cat numbers are on the rise at Wynnum and bayside business owners are blaming a serial cat feeder. They say up to 30 feral cats have been seen roaming Bay Tce at night… Business manager <remvoved> contacted Brisbane City Council a month ago and while 14 cats had been caught she feared the problem had only just begun.

"Someone is feeding these animals every night and for this reason we aren't able to catch them any more.”

She is pleading for the "cat feeder" to stop. Another business owner, who did not want to be named, said feral cats were an ongoing problem but it had been exacerbated.

"People think they are doing the right thing by feeding them, but they only make matters worse," she said.

A Brisbane council spokeswoman said there was a strong action plan at Wynnum on feral cats.

"Council has implemented a successful trapping program... and caught 14 non-domestic cats," she said.

The catching program started at the end of May and before then the council's records indicated five cat captures between 2008 and 2011.

The spokeswoman said it was an offence to feed a declared Class 2 pest animal... Residents should report sightings of non-domestic cats in their street to council.


Courier Mail - Brisbane City Council to install cat traps (June 2014)

More than 20 feral cats were caught as part of Brisbane City Council’s cat trapping program last month.

“They come looking for food which means someone around here is feeding them. Residents need to learn not to feed them,” <resident name removed>

Biota St resident <removed> said the planned cat traps at his house had been successful.

“I was expecting just two cats to be caught, but they managed to get four,” <resident name removed> said.

“It’s been a big problem in our street, you have to always make sure your doors are shut otherwise they get in and jump on the tables looking for food.

He said this was the second time Brisbane City Council had set the traps at his property.

Richlands Ward councillor Milton Dick said: “Non-domestic, or feral cats are a real problem in Brisbane and in Inala alone, cat trapping programs have caught more than 32 cats this year”.

“The latest trapping program caught 22 non-domestic cats in just nine streets in Inala,” he said.

“I’m calling on the Lord Mayor to allocate more money in the upcoming Council budget to non-domestic cat trapping programs across Brisbane.


Courier Mail - Brisbane City Council’s cat trapping program hits at least a dozen suburbs (Sept 2014)

Brisbane City Council’s lifestyle chairman Krista Adams said council carried out “reactive work’’ in response to complaints, as well as targeting known hot spots…

Wynnum’s CBD is currently dealing with the problem and will be among the next to get the trapping program.

Spotted around the businesses on Florence St, the cats have settled in despite a local, who allegedly fed them, moving on.

“At one stage people living here were feeding the cats so you would see large amounts of them gathering around and that’s when you got a good estimate, but it was well too many to count, that’s for sure,” <resident name removed>.


Brisbane Times - Brisbane City Council defends cat trap policy (2015)

Brisbane City Council has defended its animal trapping policy after a rescue group accused them of leaving nursing kittens behind to starve to death.

Katina Balson, who runs the Pussy Galore Cat Rescue Group and Brisbane's Cat Cuddle Cafe, said council officers were trapping lactating mother cats at Kelvin Grove's QUT campus but not taking the litter.

However Councillor Matthew Bourke told ABC radio that the litters were often difficult to locate, and that officers were acting with due care.

He urged residents to desex their cats to reduce the need to cull the feral population...


Quest - Brisbane City Council identifies... hot spots (2016)

“The number of feral cats captures by council increased by around 20 per cent over the past year to over 1000 which is a concerning rise in the number in our city.”

Over the next six months trapping will take place at 37 locations across Brisbane including (cat trapping).

Cr McLachlan said pet owners needed to be responsible for their pets to reduce the number of domestic animals becoming feral.


Quest - Council reveals euthanasia rates have decreased over the past three years (Sept 2016)

... every feral cat... captured as part of council’s pest management program in the past three years was euthanised.

While the trapping and euthanasia of feral cats more than doubled in the past financial year than in 2013/2014 the euthanasia of stray and domestic cats dropped 77 per cent.

Feral cats caught and euthanised by Council
2013/2014 — 485
2014/2015 — 837
2015/2016 — 1040

Stray or domestic cats unable to be rehomed
2013/2014 — 906
2014/2015 — 293
2015/2016 — 206

.... Aaaaaand this year....

Brisbane Times - Thousands of feral animals killed by Brisbane City Council (June 2017)

From July 1, 2013, to May 31, 2017, 3975 pest animals were captured as part of the council's trapping program. Cats made up almost 80 per cent of all captures.

Griffith University environmental science professor Hamish McCallum said despite a decline in captures since last year, he wasn't convinced this meant the pest control program was successful.

"To be honest I wouldn't be completely convinced that was any form of a particularly meaningful pattern at all," he said.

"Given that it's barely a little bit more than a 10 per cent drop from last year, and that was a 10 per cent increase on the year before, I think feral animal captures depend so much on exactly how much effort is being put in and where it's being put in.

"I would be wanting to see a much bigger drop than that before I was confident that a management plan was working."

Number of animals captured by council
13/14 - 485
14/15 - 837
15/16 - 1040
16/17 - 796

... The council's lifestyle and community services chairman Matthew Bourke said ... Council's pest management program is conducted both proactively and in response to sightings by the public.

... Mr McCallum said trapping and euthanising the animals was the best way to manage the problem.

... Cr Bourke said the council relied on the community to provide them with information about feral animal populations in order to direct trapping programs.

So what is a "feral" cat according to Brisbane City Council?

According to the Invasive Species Management Plan for the City;

"A domestic cat is one that is kept and fed by humans. All other cats are classified as feral, including those that are semi-dependent on humans."

In 2016 council seemed to decide to start calling some cats "feral" and other cat "strays" and use this determination to suddenly declare their kill ("euthanasia") rate was coming down. But really any cat - including semi-owned and community cats are fair game in Brisbane. As seen in the news articles above, this often cats who are living supported by human resources, being fed by carers, cats who live in close proximity to humans, and even cats tame enough to venture into people's backyards and homes looking for food.

Nearly 1,000 cats a year killed is obviously massive. So I sent the office of Cr Bourke an email of questions about how they run their cat culling program.

Dear Cr Bourke,
Could I please get some further information on your feral animal management protocols, as per today's article in the Brisbane Times "Thousands of feral animals killed by Brisbane City Council in bid to tackle pests"
1. Are your protocols for feral cat management the same in the 2016/17 year, as they were for the 2015/16 year?
2. Are trapped cats scanned for a microchip?
3. (If so) do these scans happen in the cage or outside of the cage?
4. What is the method of euthanasia for cats?
5. Where are cats euthanised? (ie. vet, pound, in the field)
6. What (if any) is the holding period for trapped cats? 
7. (If any) where are trapped cats held during this time?
8. What, if any, behavioural assessment protocols are conducted to assess trapped cats?
9. The article in the Brisbane Times today states: "All of the animals captured are euthanised."Is this accurate?
10. What is the estimated cost to trap and euthanise a cat in your city?
Thank you in advance for your assistance
Shel Williamson

The response in full is available here, but I've picked out the responses to the questions that I asked below.

1. Are your protocols for feral cat management the same in the 2016/17 year, as they were for the 2015/16 year?

I can confirm Council’s protocols for feral cat management have remained the same throughout the 2015/16 and 2016/17 financial years.

2. Are trapped cats scanned for a microchip? / 7. (If any) where are trapped cats held during this time?

All cats captured are directly transferred from the point of capture to Council’s Pest Animal Management facility for a thorough assessment. Council is committed to a comprehensive assessment process for all cats captured during these programs to ensure domestic cats are separated from feral cats.

3. (If so) do these scans happen in the cage or outside of the cage?

Council’s facility has customised equipment for restraining captured cats to enable scanning to occur, without any interference from cages, to ensure accurate microchip readings.

4. What is the method of euthanasia for cats? / 5. Where are cats euthanised? (ie. vet, pound, in the field) / 6. What (if any) is the holding period for trapped cats?

… identified “feral” animals captured are euthanised immediately by injection after assessment, as it is an offence to release a feral animal under the provisions of the Act.

8. What, if any, behavioural assessment protocols are conducted to assess trapped cats?

Cats are checked upon arrival for microchips, domestic characteristics and are temperament tested. All cats with a microchip or displaying domestic traits are transferred to Council’s Animal Rehoming Centre with the intention of reuniting them with their owners or rehoming them.

9. The article in the Brisbane Times today states: "All of the animals captured are euthanised."Is this accurate?

Regrettably, this information is not accurate... I can assure you, any animal identified as ‘domestic’ is not euthanised.

10. What is the estimated cost to trap and euthanise a cat in your city?

Unfortunately, there is no specific cost-break down for the trapping of individual feral cats. Council’s Invasive Species Management Plan Implementation project has allocated $1,590,000 for the 2017-18 financial year for the management of all invasive species.

Council employs two full-time employees to manage feral cats, however their activities are not limited to trapping feral cats.

… Council received more than 1,200 requests to trap feral cats during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 financial years…

So cats are trapped, taken to Council's Pest Animal Management facility (whatever that is?) where they are put into customised equipment for restraining captured cats (a crush cage) to check them for a microchip. 

If they don't have a chip, they are then temperament tested and if they they don't display domestic traits after being trapped, transported and scanned, then they are deemed feral and are euthanised immediately by injection.

These cats never show up in the statistics of the local animal pounds. In fact, the local animal shelter who runs pound services for the city boasts;

"Brisbane is now the country’s first capital city to achieve zero euthanasia of healthy pound animals."
Animal Welfare League QLD - 2016 Annual Report

By branding these cats as "feral" they can be moved into an unprotected and uncounted classification of animal, and they are able to be discarded without consequence.

Except. Can you "temperament assess" a cat who's in a trap?

In a word... no.

But don't take my word for it. From Dr. Sheila Segurson D’Arpino, the Director of Research at Maddie’s Fund and a veterinarian and board-certified veterinary behaviorist,

"It is virtually impossible for a shelter to assess ‘temperament' via a one-time test."

Maddies Fund - Behavioral Assessment in Animal Shelters


"... cats coming into shelters need at least a 24 hour cooling off period. Shelters are very stressful places and to try to observe a cat's temperament when he first comes in is often impossible, especially for strays."

From Animal Sheltering Magazine (the HSUS)...

In the shelter, it can be challenging to differentiate truly feral cats from those who are tame but frightened and reactive. Cats who enter the shelter in traps or other feral-behaving cats are not necessarily feral; even the tamest house cats who have been trapped or otherwise stressed may exhibit the same behaviors as feral cats. 

Animal shelters are inherently stressful environments, filled with new stimuli, including noises and odors and other stressors that may only be apparent to the animals. Because of their unique biology, cats are particularly prone to experiencing acute stress and fear in novel environments, which readily trigger adrenaline release, preparing the cat for escape or defense. Fearful cats experience racing hearts and dilated pupils; some may be overtly aggressive or “teetering on the edge” of defensive aggression. Such responses compromise cat welfare and staff, and make it difficult to determine the cat’s true temperament.

Both feral and highly stressed tame cats may have dilated pupils and be stiff, tense, or completely frozen. They may tuck their feet under them and try to hide in the farthest corner of their enclosure. Some may appear nearly catatonic, while others may strike out defensively if approached, particularly feral tomcats. Once stressed, cats often remain reactive for a prolonged time and may become more reactive if they are stimulated again before they have been allowed a cool-down period. When cats enter the shelter exhibiting signs of marked stress and fear, they should be given strict “chill-out time” to acclimate to the shelter for at least 24 hours.... evaluation should occur daily over the following three to four days.

In fact, anyone in the animal sheltering/animal behaviour arena knows for certain that temperament tests are unscientific, unreplicable and open to abuse from convenience killing. Which is why they tend to be used judiciously by professionals to build up a picture of behaviour and the needs of a particular pet over time, rather than as a pass/fail-kill exercise.

Anyone in the animal sheltering/animal behaviour arena also knows that temperament tests for cats are basically nonsense. You cannot fail and kill a cat who has just been trapped for being "feral" with any kind of reliability. There is no science that has ever been done which supports the notion of a "feral cat test". It is bullshit.

So, the cat owners of Brisbane are being lied to, when their council tells them only "non-domestic" cats are being slaughtered under this system. All and any cat is at risk.

This system relies heavily on the public logging complaints about cats, meaning these cats are where people are. The system gives cats exactly none of the behavioural handling required to get a complete picture of the cat's behavioural traits. Pet cats are of course, at risk of acting 'feral' and being disposed of under this system. While healthy semi-owned and community cats are offered no protection whatsoever.

Probably 3 or 4 cats every single day are being killed in Brisbane City, under this system.

And probably worst of all, it is happening while the City simultaneously declares animal sheltering G2Z success.

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