Opinion by Dr Gareth Morgan
First let me say I do not hate cats. How people ever reached that conclusion is only for them to know. What I do not like however is the evidence of the damage that cats are doing to our native fauna. To Bob Kerridge and his fellow travellers I fully appreciate and respect your love for the domestic cat. That is not the issue and totally beside the point. Stray and feral cats originate from the domestic cat population so your constituency is responsible for that population as well.
Along with other introduced species including weasels, stoats, rats and mice the assault on our wildlife has got to stop. We cannot claim we are conservationists and justify pouring money into protecting and enhancing our environment when we willingly allow any of those species to wreak havoc. The hypocrisy of double standards is for those who hold them to justify.
Today Bob raised the SPCA’s little known Trap Neuter Release (TNR) policy. This despicable practice means that stray cats are no longer put down by the SPCA as they once were, but instead neutered and released into colonies where they can continue to kill wildlife unabated; simply neutering a cat does nothing to stop the bloodlust. These stray cats are a nuisance to society and themselves as they carry disease, intermingle with ferals and ultimately lead miserable lives. To make matters worse these colonies are fed, which attracts new cats and ensures their population keeps rising despite the de-sexing policy. In short TNR is an expensive failure – it leads to more stray cats, especially as people avoid the cost of neutering.
Bob has asked me for money for the SPCA. I will help his neutering and chipping programme but not until he abandons his discredited TNR policy and joins me in advocating that people that do this should be prosecuted along with those who allow their cat to stray on my property.
Domestic cats should be controlled. Cat owners have no right to allow their animals to wander across my property and slaughter wildlife. Incredibly, from the mail I’ve received, too many cat owners do think this is their right. Containing cats within the owner’s property is the minimum of responsibility cat owners need to accept. Even then their animal can still slaughter passing birdlife, but that is for the cat-owner to defend to society.
Local councils have been laggards in this space and need to step up their vigilance. You cannot justify spending ratepayers money on the one hand on ecological reserves while on the other you don’t hold cat owners to account. I would like to see New Zealanders acknowledging that the environment is important to them and walking the walk on this, not simply paying lip service to the sentiment. To that end you should be cage-trapping cats that wander across your property, boxing them and delivering them to the local Mayor’s office for them to deal with. Council need to urgently bring down bylaws that force cat owners to register, micro-chip and neuter their cats, impose fines on cat-owners that need to retrieve their cats from the local Pound and euthanize unclaimed cats.
Arguably the greatest economic opportunity New Zealand has is the monetisation of its natural capital. I am writing this from Lanzhou, the most polluted city in the world where the natural environment has been totally ruined by a blatant disregard of the value of environmental capital. Citizens wear masks, many are dying from the impact of air pollution and smoking, and the wildlife is non-existent, the biodiversity severely compromised. People here look at what we have in New Zealand with intense envy. We are sitting on a goldmine.
As the late Sir Paul Callaghan said to me in his dying days – “you have got to do something to awaken New Zealanders’ awareness on just how important our environment is. I am relying on you to promote Pest-Free New Zealand”. To which I said, “thanks Paul for that hospital pass”. Some of you will know that Sir Paul had twigged to the economic potential of our environment when he coined that phrase about “making New Zealand a place where talent wants to live”. This, I’d suggest to you is the greatest economic opportunity New Zealand faces – to capitalise on the destroyed environments elsewhere, make ours better and better and from that encourage not just tourism but also quality immigration.
What I am asking is for New Zealanders to enforce accountability on cat ownership and for those owners who cannot confine their cat 24 hours a day to either face the consequences or to make this cat their last because the unintended consequences of cat ownership are too harmful. In terms of what people can do about rats and mice once this cat population is confined, we do of course have the mousetrap.
Finally I want the SPCA to dump TNR. Not only is this practice open to legal challenge as cruelty to animals, but its violation of the Biosecurity and Wildlife Acts is well worth pursuing. Any lawyers out there want to give Bob Cat a run for his money on this then join the team (sorry I couldn’t avoid the pun). The Society for the Protection of Cats (SPCA) needs to take a long hard look at itself in the mirror.