Our fireside-snoozing hunters

Whiskers* has a secret. The faithful family moggy has crunched her biscuits, lapped up her water and is settling down in front of the fire for a post-prandial sleep.

She dreams of her younger days, slinking through the bush reserve along the road as dusk set in, climbing trees, and catching and killing birds. Like all cats, she was a hunter.

Now in her twilight years, Whiskers* still brings home the odd mouse, small rat or barbecued sausage. It helps atone for her wild youth.

Cats provide wonderful companionship to many people and are New Zealand’s most common pets. With close to 1.5 million domestic cats, we have one of the highest rates of cat ownership in the world, with around 40% of households having a feline friend.

The problem is not so much domestic cats, but the cats gone bad. It is estimated there may be as many as 2.4 million feral cats ranging widely across the country and attacking indigenous wildlife, with another 200,000 or so stray cats sadly trying to survive in the great outdoors.

But how to distinguish between someone’s loved chum and the rogues out there which are doing the most damage to native fauna?

There is no ignoring the fact that cats are highly efficient predators and kill many kinds of wildlife, especially birds but also lizards and insects.

According to Forest & Bird, pet cats alone kill more than 1.1 million native birds each year. Their call, and others, for the microchipping of all domestic cats in Dunedin would be a start towards identifying feral and stray cats and being able to reduce their numbers.

In its written submission earlier this month to the Dunedin City Council, Forest & Bird, and Predator Free Dunedin, urged the council to introduce a cat-control bylaw. As well as compulsory microchipping of pet cats, they also recommended their desexing, a limit of three cats on each property and rules to prevent the feeding of strays.

A feral cat on the Otago peninsula. PHOTO: OTAGO DAILY TIMES
A feral cat on the Otago peninsula. PHOTO: OTAGO DAILY TIMES
Forest & Bird Dunedin branch chairwoman Kimberley Collins said New Zealanders were becoming more supportive of cat-control measures, partly to improve animal welfare. Predator Free Dunedin spokesman Rhys Millar said stray and feral cats were already affecting pockets of the city, and that community attitudes to cat control were changing.

As Ms Collins pointed out to councillors, there are now "strong precedents" established for district and city councils to include cat control in their bylaws. Microchipping is no longer such a thorny issue, with about half of all cat owners in the country having already microchipped their pets.

Further north, the Selwyn District Council will become the fourth in the country to introduce mandatory microchipping for all pet cats, aged more than four months, when a new bylaw comes into force on July 1. The others which have already done so are the Wellington City Council, the Palmerston North City Council and Wanganui District Council.

As cute and endearing as they are, we need to remember cats are not native to Aoteaoroa.

According to the Department of Conservation, they arrived on our shores with early European explorers in 1769. The cats were valuable passengers on the ships, to help control the large number of rats on board. About 50 years later, a population of feral cats was discovered.

Microchipping is cheap — somewhere around $20 without the veterinarian’s fees — and quick, taking just a few seconds, and painless. It is difficult to think of compelling reasons not to get it done, even if the trip to the vet can be a trial.

As well as ensuring your cat is not part of any future cull of feral cats, microchipping is a good insurance policy against them getting lost. The SPCA says that after the Canterbury earthquakes, more than 80% of microchipped animals were reunited with their owners.

It is really a no-brainer. Time to get Whiskers* microchipped.

*not her real name

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