WA Cat Laws results year #4 - record numbers of cats impounded in the state

February 18, 2018

The Cat Control Legislation, which comes into full effect next year, is a step in the right direction in promoting responsible cat ownership, and RSPCA WA was pleased to see Minister Castrilli adopt nearly all of our recommendations.

RSPCA WA 2011/12
Perth's Cat Haven has welcomed proposed new laws making feline sterilisation compulsory. Haven operations manager Roz Robinson said the initiative would lead to a significant reduction in the number of unwanted cats being dumped and put down.

Cat Haven backs sterilisation laws (26 May 2009)
Perth will likely see a noticeable reduction in the number of cats within the next 18 months as a result of cat laws introduced six months ago. 

While few fines have actually been handed out to owners failing to have their cats registered, a spokeswoman from the Cat Alliance of Australia said the laws had an impact and contributed to more responsible cat owners in Western Australia.

Few fines for feline offenders as WA’s cat count set to decrease (6 May 2014)

The WA Cat Act was supposed to be the leading cat management legislation in the country. As legislation it included everything that a cat-law advocate could have dreamed of;

  • it was enacted state-wide and every council was required to make provisions for it; to include it in their operations and to resource the enforcement of it. It was well-resourced by the state, with a $3.4m tax-payer funded gift to councils and local cat charities, to be used for both desexing programs and new cat pound facilities.
Cat grants - full list

$1,900,000 – Amount spent on impound facilities 
$260,000 – Amount spent on ‘miscellaneous expenses’ (traps, registration systems)
$690,000 – Amount spent on sterilisation programs

  • it was retroactive; ALL cats are subject to the laws. They are also extremely comprehensive with cats needing to be desexed, microchipped, to wear a collar and registration tag, be registered with the local council. Also includes a ‘breeder licence’ element with cat sellers required to microchip all cats, and desex (or provide voucher) before sale.

  • they give animal agencies almost unprecedented powers. Authorised officers can enter property, take photos and request paperwork… and all simply under the suspicion that a cat is being kept ‘illegally’. Cat pounds can have a cat microchipped and sterilised at the owner’s cost, while the fines for breaching the laws are considerable – $200 per offence, and up to $5,000.

Having nailed every element, the laws should have done what the advocates for the laws said they would do; reduce impoundment (and the subsequent killing) of cats. 

These laws were suppose to ‘get’ the bad owners. That was the design. If we ‘got’ the bad owners, in theory, our cat problems would be solved. However, despite tens of millions of dollars being spent on their implementation, it hasn't turned out as promised.

But in execution, not so much.

The RSPCA cannot take any more cats from people who no longer want them...

January 2014
The introduction of new cat laws has seen Bunbury rescue groups inundated with unwanted pets in recent months.
“The number of unwanted cats has doubled from the previous year and tripled for unwanted kittens,” (The South West Animal Rescue group president) Tanya Adams said.

June 2014

October 2014 (link)
Perth’s Cat Haven is in crisis after being overcrowded with unwanted and stray felines.

The charity has more than 320 cats on site and another 550 in foster care that will soon return to the shelter.

Spokeswoman Chandra Woodley said Cat Haven was running out of options.

“We are asking people to postpone surrendering their cat as we just don’t have room.”

December 2014
Half of all stray cats caught by WA councils end up dead.  

Of the 5568 cats impounded by council rangers across the State, 2747 — just over 50 a week — were euthanised. That is up from 2332 in 2014-15.

And animal rescue groups complain many local governments are not enforcing the Cat Act, introduced three years ago with the aim of reducing the number of cats being put down and encouraging more responsible cat ownership.

December 2016

And, right now?

News.com.au 15th Feb 2018
"We plateaued at about 6,500 cats each year, then last year (2017) we jumped to over 8,500 and this year is starting off exactly the same; we've taken in over 1,000 this January. So the numbers have just exploded.

We're over capacity, we've got cats in crates and in offices. I just don't know how long we can keep on sustaining this... it's really stretching our finances along with our staff and volunteers" ~ Roz Robinson, CEO Cat Haven

Record cat influx puts strain on haven - The West Australian (17 Feb 2018)

The major cat shelter in WA, the Cat Haven, says that their intakes have put out a media release saying their intakes have surged in 2017. Which looks like this...

“The number of cats coming in from Council Rangers across the metro area is the same as last year, indicating that the Cat Laws are holding steady... Most of the annual intake are abandoned stray cats (3,852)"

Cat Haven media release Feb 2018

Now these won't be the only cats entering the pound system, as prior to 2013, hardly any WA pounds processed cats and literally had no where to keep them. When asked in the years leading up to 2015/16 what their intakes were, the numbers looked like this.

Showing the impact of the laws were to send cats to pounds all over the state, not just the Cat Haven.

Ideally, we'd have a government agency collecting these statistics in real time, but we don't. Literally no one is collecting any data relating to the laws outcomes, which is a massive failing of the state government, and the agencies which supported these laws.

When I asked the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries when the review might take place, this was their response

The Cat Act is required to be reviewed as soon as practicable from 1 November 2018. Exactly when this will occur is dependent on the Government’s legislative priorities.

Which seems like it will be 2019 at the earliest for a review, meaning we'll be a full six years into the legislation before anyone tries to collect data on cat outcomes.

The biggest failure of the cat laws that have been rolled out across WA, is that they encourage and increase the impoundment and killing of cats, while claiming to reduce the impoundment and killing of cats.

As cat groups like the Cat Haven and RSPCA refuse to support proactive outreach desexing programs for all cats, regardless of ownership status, every year the result is a massive wave of kitten births.

If we’re going to clumsily assign ‘blame’ for the natural cycle of cat reproduction, a much more appropriate direction to point finger would be at the professionals heading the industry being paid millions of dollars annually to supposedly manage this community issue. Maybe instead of blaming ‘irresponsible owners’, we should be blaming ‘irresponsible shelters’ for refusing to implement programs which have been proven to work to stabilise and reduce cat numbers.

WA’s new cat laws were sold as the solution to our cat issues in the state. All they’ve done each day since their rollout is pack shelters full to the brim with animals, meaning ‘kitten season’ has fallen onto a system completely unable to cope. Continuing to pretend the ‘blame the cat owners’ approach was ever going to work in overwhelming evidence of the contrary is only continuing to harm cats. Choosing to continue to harm cats is unconscionable.

See also

Saving Pets - Cat agencies in crisis thanks to WA's Cat Act (4 Dec 2016)
Half of all stray cats caught by WA councils end up dead. But that's not the worst of it.

Saving Pets - The truth about mandatory cat desexing
Why Cat Laws fail to solve our ‘cat problems’ and why those who say they do are either ignorant, or being paid to impound cats.

Saving Pets archive (2008-2011)

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