Any reasonable pet lover would promote the identification and desexing of all domestic pets. However, there are some very good reasons not to support the trend to of imposing Cat Laws on our feline friends.
Many cities in Australia have introduced Cat Laws creating a mandate that all cats must be microchipped, registered and desexed (or some combination of these). These laws purportedly target ‘irresponsible’ cat owners to solve the problem of too many cats entering shelters and pounds. But the real impact these laws have on cats, shelters and communities is truly irresponsible.
Shelter numbers increase dramatically with the introduction of cat laws, and for the most part, these cats are not rehomed. In fact, statistics suggest that more than half  of cats entering pounds are killed. That’s hundreds of millions of tax dollars invested in Cat Laws that have failed to reduce shelter intakes and the killing of cats.
Much effort is expended to get local councils to treat cats the same way they treat dogs. There is a pervasive belief that, since all dog owners have to follow ownership laws, cat owners should also take responsibility for their pets. It’s only fair. However treating these two totally different species in an identical fashion does massive harm to cats.
Unlike dogs, the vast majority of cats entering the pound system do not have, and have never had an owner. No owner to desex them, no owner to microchip them, and no owner to claim them when they find themselves in the pound.
Owned cats are generally desexed and identified. They enter shelters in relatively small numbers, often because they are lost and sometimes because their owners have a genuine reason why they are unable to keep them.
Multiple studies [2) have shown that more than 90% of ‘owned cats’ are desexed. These cats are the least likely to die in a shelter as they are generally reclaimed by their families or are friendly and easily rehomed.
Often referred to as ‘the last five percent of owners’, these cats are undesexed, unregistered and not microchipped. Their population is small, but they enter shelters in greater numbers than responsibly owned cats.
Within this group, owners tend to be divided into low-socioeconomic owners, the elderly and a small percentage are the true ‘irresponsible’ owners - those who genuinely don’t care.
Every urban community has community cats. Also referred to as ‘semi-owned cats’, they’re the ones who live alongside humans without a single official owner. They may visit one or many homes in the neighbourhood, or they live around food sources such as industrial sites, retail areas, restaurants or rubbish tips. They are dependent on humans and are often trapped and brought into shelters by well-meaning people who believe they have been abandoned.
There is estimated to be two community cats for every owned cat. It is by far the largest population entering the shelter system, with studies showing 80% of impounded cats originating from the community cat population. They tend to be scared by unfamiliar humans, which means they are almost always killed in shelters.
Unlike community cats, truly feral cats do not require the support of humans to survive. They are shy and rarely seen, and tend to be the unowned cats found in rural and regional locations. Although the population is extremely large (several times larger than the other cat populations combined), they tend to be extremely shy and untame, so are rarely brought into shelters. They make up only a small fraction of the shelter population, but are practically always killed.
That’s why Cat Laws fail to solve our ‘cat problems’, because the major source of the problem is not ‘irresponsible’ cat owners. Shelters are flooded with cats from numerous different sources.
You can’t fix it, if you are looking at the wrong problem
‘Irresponsibly’ owned cats are the main target of Cat Laws, despite being a tiny fraction of the cat population. Sure, in some cases the laws will convince some non-compliant owners to start doing the right thing. However, there’s a gaping hole in this plan. Truly irresponsible people tend not to care about following laws, while disadvantaged owners who cannot afford to have their pet desexed are still unable to become compliant with the new laws, putting their pets at risk.
The impact of Cat Laws on community cats is disastrous. Under these laws community cats become non-compliant and having no owners to help them comply, makes them a prime target of animal control. As the community cat population is extremely large, the net effect overall is a rapid increase in shelter impoundments and cats being killed.
These laws also tend to be worded in a way which makes it illegal for someone to help a community cat without taking full ownership (ie: registering and microchipping). This discourages people from helping their neighbourhood cats and, knowing the cat is likely to be killed if taken to a shelter, they opt to do nothing.
Then there’s the huge financial costs involved in developing the infrastructure required to enforce and support Cat Laws. New cat pound facilities need to be built and maintained. Extra council staff need to be employed to enforce the laws as well as run the impoundment facilities. In fact, the cost of trapping, transferring, assessing, treating, caring for and housing a single cat is estimated to be more than $200. In Western Australia, a state that passed comprehensive Cat Laws in 2013, the first year of implementation is estimated to have cost more than $10 million dollars. Most expenses are ongoing, and to enforce these laws nationally would cost many hundreds of millions of dollars every year.
That’s hundreds of millions of tax dollars invested in Cat Laws that have failed to reduce shelter intakes and the killing of cats. Hundreds of millions of tax dollars that could be spent on programs that have been proven to work.
Note: MANDATING cat laws aren’t the same as PROMOTING microchipping, registration or desexing – all of which are good things for cats. When we make it a requirement that cat owners comply with a law, we make it ‘illegal’ for a cat not to comply. This means an extremely large part of the cat population (the population without an owner) is now ‘illegal’ and a prime target for impoundment and shelter killing.
How shelters treat cats – all cats, not just the cute and adoptable ones – demonstrates their commitment to lifesaving. When an animal shelter isn’t fighting to protect all cats from harm, it reflects a fundamental mission failure.
At the very least, shelters should be using the most effective solution – the one that does the least harm. The biggest harm of cat laws, is that they encourage and increase the impoundment and killing of cats. At the same time they divert tens of million dollars of resources into efforts that will never be successful.
Community cat desexing programs are the only humane and acceptable reaction to high rates of shelter killing.
Humane Cat Management is a tried and tested management system that is proven to keep cats out of shelters, stabilise/reduce populations and is infinitely more humane than simply killing community cats that have been living alongside humans for more than 200 years.
Humane Cat Management is the most effective and efficient way to manage the populations of cats that are currently flooding the nation’s shelters. This includes programs that provide free or low-cost desexing and microchipping to vulnerable pets who need it most, and robust community cat desexing programs (sometimes called ‘TNR’) which desex unowned and free-roaming community cats.
Do not support mandatory desexing. Support evidence-based animal welfare solutions.
Find out more about Humane Cat Management, and why it’s the best solution for communities and for cats. Oops! Everything we know about cat management is wrong
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1. Based on a state-wide analysis of council and RSPCA data for unclaimed cats and dogs in NSW 2013.
2. Australian Pet Ownership Survey 2013 by the Animal Health Alliance of Australia, WA State Government study 2012 and numerous university studies.