Cat Management Amendment Bill 2019 No. 55

[5.07 p.m.]

Ms ARMITAGE (Launceston) - Mr President, pets are wonderful companions. I like cats, but we need to be clear - they are expensive, they are hard work and they can be a great responsibility. For many cat owners the joy of a little companion's company is entirely worth it. For some, intervening circumstances mean they are required to surrender them. For a very few, new litters or the cats themselves are dumped either to die scared and alone or to become feral and a hazard to people and our precious flora and fauna. Any measure which mitigates this is a positive.

I accept that cats are not wonderful or a joy for everyone. Neighbouring properties who do not have or want cats can find cats digging up their gardens, defecating and sometimes going inside homes. Unlike dogs, cats cannot be confined by a fence. Many people have cat runs in their yards and ensure cats are locked up at night, but that is not the case for everyone.

I am sure many of us have received letters about cats causing damage They climb over cars, they scratch duco, and can also be an extreme danger for our smaller wildlife and birds, as well as other small pets such as domestic birds, mice and rabbits. Some people have bells on their cats to alert birds of their presence but that action is not taken by everyone.

Although the behaviour of cats cannot be changed, the behaviour of pet owners can be altered. I am pleased that, in addition to the Government's initial investment in education and awareness strategies around responsible pet ownership, firmer policies are now being legislated to make meaningful change and yield positive results for our neighbourhoods and environments. I know that change of any magnitude takes time, and I understand that many were not ready to implement changes to pet management and control without placing an unreasonable burden on pet owners, animal management organisations and enforcement. The legislation we see before us is a well-thought out, considered next step in this process.

Overwhelmingly, abuse and abandonment and the subsequent damage to the environment caused by feral cats, comes from having cats that are unwanted. The most commonsense solution to this is to limit the number of kittens being born. Some may have already done their own research, but according to the Animal Rescue Professionals Association, a single pair of cats - a male and a female - can, over the course of seven years, result in 420 000 kittens. In contrast, one non-neutered female dog can produce 99 000 puppies.

The average mature cat can have three litters with a total of 12 kittens per year, and of those litters of kittens, about 4.7 are females, which in turn means they will most likely have litters of their own. Before you know it, the situation is entirely out of control.

I preface my next statement by emphasizing in the strongest possible terms that the majority of pet owners are responsible and have the best interests of their pet at heart. What some people do not realise, however, is that a pet is for life - not just until they get sick or old or inconvenient.

There are situations when giving up a beloved pet is a traumatic but necessary experience, and so that statement does not apply to everyone. However, undertaking pet ownership is a significant step that will not always be about the cute moments with your pet. It is also about feeding them, cleaning up after them, and ensuring that no other person or animal or the environment is adversely affected in the process. To do otherwise is irresponsible and disrespectful.

Rachel Beech of Just Cats Tasmania in the state's north does incredible work to rescue rehabilitate and rehome cats. Having taken over the RSPCA site in January 2019, Rachel has helped provide some statistics on the magnitude of issues in northern Tasmania.

From January 2019 to January 2020 Rachel reported the following intake at the shelter -

  • 1267 cats were surrendered by their owners

  • 364 stray cats were brought in, with 112 of those being reclaimed

  • 405 cats were abandoned

  • 96 feral cats were caught in traps

  • 158 kittens were born in the shelter

  • The total intake for Just Cats for that year was 2290. Those are astonishing numbers.

I believe the measures contained in this bill will make positive strides towards obliging owners to take the best possible care of their animals and to mitigate numbers such as those provided by Just Cats, by expanding the range of accountability measures.

To this end, the compulsory microchipping and desexing of cats by the age of four months in clauses 9 and 10 and enacting section 24, which requires a cat to be microchipped and desexed before being reclaimed from a cat management facility, are all positive and necessary steps towards better pet management. The limitation to four cats to a property is also a positive step to avoid unruly situations manifesting in our neighbourhoods and posing serious health risks to people and places.

The default position for any pet owner should be that you are not breeding or selling them unless some type of exemption applies.

I believe this bill strikes a good balance. Removing care agreements is another good step. Requiring arrangements to be entered into between owner and purchaser seems like a good idea in theory, but in practice requiring contracts of this nature seems to add an unnecessary layer of administration that would likely be unenforceable in any case.

I want to be clear, however, that this policy and legislative change need to be properly guided, funded and reviewed in order to work. I know the topic of confinement has not been addressed by this bill, and I understand some people's consternation about this. Feedback I have received indicates that ideally confinement would be legislated, but for the purposes of the bill we have before us, we should get through the substantive measures and save properly legislated confinement for another day. Enforcing compliance with cat confinement will take time, resources and buy-in from stakeholders.

I know it has taken a number of years to address the issues contained in this bill, but the issue of confinement is not something that can be legislated on the run. I know that many people simply do not like cats and do not want to see them roaming around.

It should be clear that these measures are not licence to harass or injure animals or their owners, nor animal management organisations or enforcement bodies. In an ideal world, responsible cat ownership would include confinement to a reasonable area that does not have an effect on the environment or a person's neighbours. However, we need to be realistic and understand the limitations on enforcement resources and of the ability of the law to compel people to behave in a certain way.

From briefings, I believe that animal management authorities would not at this point in time be capable of enforcing confinement measures, with something like eight full-time equivalent staff needed to handle the work. This would be a multimillion dollar undertaking per council and we are simply not at that stage yet.

While I will speak on the amendments when they arise, I take this opportunity to read a letter I received from Michael Stretton, CEO, Launceston City Council. When I asked him with regard to the amendments he said -

I can advise that the City of Launceston does not support the amendments to the Bill.

The City of Launceston will not have the staffing capacity to regulate this proposal, or to effectively control the containment of cats. It is our view that the registration of cats would be the first step to effective control of cats within each municipality and this would then help fund the model of containment and regulation moving forward. If cats are not registered and microchipped it will be problematic to issue the required penalties to an owner if proof of ownership cannot be confirmed. This will take further resources to manage the function of cat regulation within each municipality.

There will also be other factors to consider prior to any further amendments to the Bill and the legislated regulation of cats moving forward. Each council will need to consider if regional cat shelters/pounds are set up and funded, and how they would be operated. Councils currently would not have facilities in place to adequately house cats that have been found in breach of these proposed amendments to the legislation and the current cat shelters in Tasmania are dealing with high volumes without this form of regulation to channel more animals to their facilities.

While we understand the impact domestic, stray and feral cats have on our environment, these amendments need to have further consideration of the potential impacts to councils and their rate payers. The capacity of each council to regulate the proposed amendments will be minimal and there needs to be further consideration given to resourcing before legislated containment is further considered.

Regards

Michael Stretton, Chief Executive Officer, City of Launceston.

I also have some comment from another council. They provided feedback on the draft Cat Management Amendment Bill 2019. This council agreed with amended section 12, compulsory microchipping of cats over the age of four months; amended section 14, compulsory desexing of cats over the age of four months; repealing section 16, removing the option of a care agreement; changing section 17, changes to protection of private land; changing section 24, reclaiming cats from cat management facilities; and changing section 30, replacing the state Government registration of cat breeders with a permit system for cats.

The council had concerns about proposed section 16, limiting to four the maximum number of cats allowed to be kept at a property without a permit. They believe this should be a maximum of two cats, as there is no reason to have any more than two cats unless you are a registered breeder.

The council also commented that compulsory confinement is essential and should be included. Most complaints received by council are about cats roaming on other people's properties. Cats that are not confined are killing birds and wildlife. It goes on to say that it made a submission in support of the amendments to the draft Cat Management Bill 2019 in September 2019. It requested in that submission that the state Government provide adequate funding to facilitate cat management.

The council is concerned that there has not been a commitment by the state Government to fund cat management in the state and, without funding from the state Government, the council cannot provide the resources needed to enforce the act.

I have not named the council because I have only just received this information, and I have not been able to reach it to seek its agreement for its name to be added. I believe it is reasonable to suggest that by encouraging more responsible pet ownership through measures such as those contained in this bill, a lower impact on the environment and our neighbourhoods will follow. Like it or not, cats are important parts of many people's lives and families, and we want to encourage people to have good relationships with their animals.

To this end I will be keeping an eye on how this bill is rolled out, maintaining contact with the councils in my electorate, with animal management organisations and with my constituents to monitor its effectiveness. I support the bill.

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