Cats. Yup, cats. Four legged, furry and feline. On any given day, you may find one basking in the sun on the windowsill, lounging about on your couch or generally just chilling out keeping you company.
They're fluffy, they're friendly. Cats. A pretty mundane non-contentious issue one may think, or are they?
Last week in Hastings District Council, we heard submissions from the public in regards to our annual plan which sets out the council's major projects and focus areas for the coming year. Some meaty issues were considered which ranged from development contributions in the building industry, rates on secondary dwellings, land purchases, the Sylvan Park netball courts, canoe polo ponds at the regional sports park, a hotel, dog registrations ... and then we had cats. Yup cats.
We heard an impassioned plea from an SPCA representative who requested council takes leadership in tackling the ever growing stray cat issue. She explained that the SPCA frequently encountered members of the public seeking assistance from the organisation to either trap, re-home or otherwise deal with an increasing level of stray and nuisance cats. Staff are so stretched that they only have the capacity to deal with the most urgent, usually injured, or dying, cats and that these other requests for assistance from the public therefore are left unattended. No one is addressing the issue and the SPCA wants council to start addressing the situation by pulling together a collective of stakeholders, professionals and other members in the sector that can act as a working party tasked with the duty of coming up with ideas and an action plan of how to address the problem.
In response, one councillor proposed that we consider microchipping cats. Quiet opposition murmurs were heard around the table with the mayor joking that this councillor will find a new friend in Gareth Morgan - businessman, philanthropist and cat control campaigner who wants cats not only microchipped but also set on a curfew with them only allowed out on leashes.
Now cats on curfew may be a bit of a push, difficult to manage and I imagine would attract quite a backlash from cat lovers abroad. Micro-chipping to determine ownership however, at least that would solve one issue Hastings District Council has encountered. Council used to lend out animal-catching cages to proactive members of the public who wished to catch nuisance strays in their neighbourhoods and backyards. This was allowed until a fundamental predicament was recognised - unless the cat was wearing a collar or micro-chipped already there was generally no real way of ascertaining whether the captured cat was in fact a homeless stray or, rather, Little Molly who belonged to the nanny living next door.
Microchipping is one possible stray cat control mechanism. As preposterous as it may seem, numerous councils in Australia and abroad have such policies. I'm not necessarily an advocate of such a policy as I can see increased bureaucracy, fees and arguably intrusion into what many householders would deem a seemingly harmless home affair.
However, the issue is that we have a problem with stray cats that no one has actual responsibility for and the problem can only be expected to grow if left unattended.
I only have to look outside on a daily basis to see strays and abandoned cats running around my backyard.
Hastings council has provided funding and is inquiring whether the SPCA will lead the co-ordination of the working group on this issue.
Whether the SPCA, council or other party leads this work I'm sure there will be members of the public, cat lovers and others wishing to have their views heard. These views could help shape whether policy is needed or not and the content of it on this issue as well as alternative remedies. In addition to Letters to the Editor, your views can be sent to your local SPCA.