Ten stray cats in Paihia will face starvation if the Bay of Islands-Whangaroa Community Board doesn't resile from its decision to force the removal of the food shelter they have fed from for the past nine years on the Williams House reserve.
Eighty-six-year-old Betty Chapman and her team of nine SPCA Cat Coalition volunteers feed the cats daily, and under the Animal Welfare Act it is now their responsibility, as 'persons in charge' under the Act, to continue to care for the mostly elderly cats. Should Betty abide by the council's resolution and remove the food station and shelter, she will be breaking the law as the cats, which are used to being fed and cared for, will almost certainly starve to death.
Royal New Zealand SPCA national president Bob Kerridge described the board's decision as "one of the most inhumane and irrational decisions ever made by a local authority".
The issue was presented to the community board by conservationist group Bay Bush Action, claiming that the cat colony was depleting local wildlife; Bay of Islands SPCA manager John Logie claimed that most of the cats were past the recognised hunting age, and were too old and lazy to catch their own food should they be left to fend for themselves.
Mrs Chapman said the Far North District Council did not want to destroy the cats, but taking their food and shelter away would have the same effect.
"Most of the cats don't hunt, especially considering they are currently well-fed," she said.
"There are only 10 of them, and they are no more of a threat to wildlife than the domestic cats in back yards down the road. I would be devastated if I was forced to abandon them."
In addition to caring for the cat colony, Mrs Chapman actively identifies any new dumped stray cats, had them spayed, at her own expense, and found homes for them. The stray cat population was therefore very effectively controlled.
"In addition to asking Betty to behave illegally, this would also be an act of total cruelty, as the cats are currently healthy and well cared-for, and would go from being fed daily, as if they were owned, to being abandoned, Mr Logie added.
"There are actually no grounds for the claims made by Bay Bush Action, or for the decision made by the council. We'd love some support from the people in this community, and beyond, to help us get this decision overturned.
"Betty and her team should be commended on the great work they carry out."
The SPCA is due to meet with council representatives on Monday to present a swathe of information that it says the board did not take into account.