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Canberra Today 6°/9° | Saturday, October 23, 2021 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Street cats of Canberra are running out of lives

Canberra Street Cat Alliance president Vanessa Parton with Sassy, a Himalayan cat. Photo: Holly Treadaway

CANBERRA’S street cats deserve to live a healthy life, not be killed under laws being introduced next year, argues the Canberra Street Cat Alliance.

From July 1, 2022, the ACT government’s cat containment plan will involve “controlling feral cats where feasible” in an effort to protect the vast amounts of wildlife hunted by the animals.

But the Canberra Street Cat Alliance, an organisation that feeds and cares for Canberra’s street cats, says the legislation will involve an inhumane, and ineffective means of reducing their population.

“The truth is that under these laws, cats that aren’t deemed suitable for fostering or adopting will be trapped and killed,” says president of the alliance Vanessa Parton.

“It’s unfair labelling. These cats aren’t ‘feral’, they are homeless. They all have their own story, many have been abandoned by people.”

Canberra’s major industrial hubs such as Hume, Mitchell and Fyshwick serve as a home for many of Canberra’s street-cat colonies, and Vanessa says business owners and employees often have emotional connections with the cats that live near their buildings.

“These cats have their own names, have their own personalities, and we know many businesses are not going to call the government or relevant organisations if they find out there’s even a chance the cats might be exterminated,” she says. 

While the alliance agrees the street-cat population must be reduced, they also believe there’s a better system than what the cat plan will implement.

“We take ownership of street cats by desexing, microchipping and vaccinating them, before relocating them to an indoor-only foster home,” says Vanessa.

“If the cats are unable to be adopted they are returned to their original location through a trap, neuter, return (TNR) system, where they continue to be fed daily by caretakers from the alliance.

“Last year we took in 351 cats, 89 of which were desexed and returned, and this year we have taken in nearly 200 alone.

“We are extremely proud of the work we achieve and the huge number of kittens we prevent from being born to a life on the streets.”

As the legislation will enforce all newly acquired cats to mandatory containment, from July next year the alliance will be unable to carry out TNR, a move that Vanessa says will lead to an “explosive” amount of kittens being born.

“While we support cat containment and only adopt our cats to indoor homes, for cats that live at businesses in industrial areas containment is not possible,” she says.

“As a consequence we see a significant number in the increase of kittens being born on the streets which is the exact opposite of what the government is trying to achieve.”

She believes it’s just one of many factors the cat plan overlooks.

“Cats are territorial, if you are euthanising them you’re creating a void, which allows cats in the outer areas to move in,” she says.

“You’ll never get on top of it because a cat has moved in while you’re working on another area so you’re just going to continue to have a cycle of cats through that territory.”

She says that under the care of the alliance, colonies rarely travel far from their home location.

“One of our carers named Kath comes every day of the year, Christmas, Easter, or New Year’s, and the cats know exactly who she is,” says Vanessa.

“They’re fed, looked after and provided for every day for the rest of their lives.”

Without the care from people like Kath, and the inability to conduct TNR, Vanessa says the alliance is devastated as to what impact the plan will have on the organisation and on the street cats of Canberra.

Over the coming months, they’ll meet with relevant parties to discuss strategies they believe better address the issue, one of which will include recommending an exemption for cat containment in industrial areas.

“In the meantime, we will go as hard as our resources will allow us over the next 12 months to ensure we can desex as many cats as we can,” says Vanessa.

“I just ask people to be open minded in relation to an additional, humane program for cat management that is effective.

“I’d challenge anyone to see these animals in person and still call them feral.”


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Nick Overall

Nick Overall

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2 Responses to Street cats of Canberra are running out of lives

Jen says: September 11, 2021 at 2:59 pm

You do really important, humane work, which over time, sees a reduction in the number of street cats. Isn’t that a terrific goal… any other way will see numbers increase.


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