Cat committee causes concern for SPCA

Bob Kerridge
Bob Kerridge
Dunedin's newly formed ''cat committee'' is already running into controversy.

SPCA executive director Bob Kerridge has rushed to the defence of cats in the wake of news of the committee and expressed concern about possible attempts to control feline numbers in Dunedin.

The committee was set up by Dunedin city councillor Kate Wilson to examine the issue of cats in the city, after concerns were raised by submitters to council forums several times in the past year.

In a series of emails between Mr Kerridge, Dunedin animal activist Alex Kerr, Cr Wilson, and others on the matter this week, Mr Kerridge, who is also the founder and chairman of the NZ Companion Animal Council, a former president of the RSPCA and a WSPA New Zealand director, warned the council needed to first be aware of the legal reality of cat categories and know what cats resided in Dunedin if it were to be spared ''considerable embarrassment and not mention litigation''.

A cat on the prowl on the Otago Peninsula. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
A cat on the prowl on the Otago Peninsula. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
Under the Code of Welfare for Cats, there were three distinct categories of felines, namely companion, stray and feral, and the distinction between them needed to be clearly established.

Companion and stray cats were protected under the Animal Welfare Act, and those were the cats the council was dealing with in Dunedin, he said. To categorise the cats in Dunedin city as ''feral'' was totally incorrect, he wrote.

''Let me make this very clear, there are no feral cats in Dunedin, city or suburbs, and to define them as such will lead to the unlawful destruction of stray and companion cats, a situation that is unlikely to be tolerated by the community, and certainly not by the SPCA.''

Feral cats, which were never seen in populated areas, were governed under the Biosecurity Act and therefore the jurisdiction of the Department of Conservation, which undertook its own control methods.

''Clearly, an understanding of the forgoing is critical if the council are considering any system of cat 'control'.''

With that understanding, a more meaningful method could be applied, for example the Auckland model with its Cat Coalition, which could involve the support not only of the SPCA, but also a large number of the community in a meaningful manner.

''It has to be said, that much of the cat hysteria we have had in recent months is based on totally inaccurate information, which if taken to excess, as appears to be happening in Dunedin, will not solve the 'problem' and, in fact, may well exacerbate it, and lead to other issues even more damaging.''

Cr Wilson responded, assuring Mr Kerridge that as a resident of Dunedin, on a farm 80km from the Octagon, she knew there were feral cats in Dunedin.

She said the committee was looking to establish what agreement there was on what categories of cat there were, the issues in the city with them and what work was being done in each area.

''We have no ability to act.''

She felt confident there was a good spread of representatives on the committee, with university researchers, Pet Fix, the SPCA, the council and experienced locals ready to talk about issues and look into possible solutions. She noted the Auckland model had already been discussed.

Action would happen only if a report went to the council, she said.

Mr Kerridge responded that he encouraged healthy communication and was happy to assist the committee in any ''sensible'' resolve, ''but remember I have the reverence of life at heart''.

The issue of cats was also raised at a mayoral forum in Dunedin this week.

Candidates were asked by an audience member if they would consider licensing and registering cats.

Olivier Lequeux was all for it, but Cr Lee Vandervis said it was an ''absolutely absurd'' idea, and asked what would be next: ''Budgies?''

Andrew Whylie said something had to be done, perhaps micro-chipping, and Aaron Hawkins said more neutering projects should be encouraged. Pete George said any decisions had to be in consultation with the public.

Hilary Calvert was against licensing them because, as with dogs, good owners paid for bad owners' behaviour, and Mayor Dave Cull said the committee would establish what agreement there was on the cat situation in Dunedin and give its views on how that might be dealt with.



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