Extreme cat rule sparks heated debate
CATS have long been held with suspicion and even contempt by many dog owning Aussies, but a proposed new crackdown by a Sydney council is being seen as a step too far by some.
In a bold effort to protect native wildlife, Randwick City Council in the city's breezy east is putting forward the extreme measures which could effectively see domestic felines indoors 24/7.
Last week, the council's new Labor mayor Kathy Neilson drew a line in the sand - by putting forward a motion which, if approved, will stop the popular pets going outside and defecating anywhere but a litter tray.
Cr Neilson wants to pull together a cat committee which will keep them confined indoors, particularly after dark, and introduce fines for cats that "run free or defecate in public places of neighbouring properties".
She also wants to controversially raise registration fees for wannabe cat owners.
The move has been slammed as "archaic and laughable" by one cat-loving councillor and cat fans say it effectively penalises responsible owners.
Liberal councillor Harry Stavrinos - who had his own feline companions for 25 years - told news.com.au he could not believe what he was reading when he looked through the proposed new rules.
"It's very unfair to be targeting the owners of cats," he said. "It just outrageous. It will not be able to be police these archaic and laughable laws and it will be a huge waste of time.
"We've got more serious things to do and it can't be the cat police and send people out to watch cats defecating on lawns."
Kingsford cat owner Ben Campbell said the proposals were pinning the problems caused by feral cats on responsible pet owners who have done nothing wrong.
"I realise there is an issue in Randwick and Australia in general with cats attacking and disturbing wildlife, but this just isn't the right solution," he said.
"I'd say the vast majority of cat owners are animal lovers and the last thing they want to see is native animals being harmed, that's why we put a bell on them. Feral cats are the ones doing the damage."
However, Greens councillor Philipa Veitch backed the controversial motion at a council meeting last week, describing it as "tremendous".
"There are a lot of issues impacting on our native plants and animals," she said, according to the Southern Courier.
"They are really under threat … there has been a decline in birds in our area."
Cr Stavrinos said the proposed registration fee hike was a further kick in the face for cat owners, particularly for those struggling to make ends meet.
"Many of the people who this will affect live on fixed incomes - the elderly and people with disabilities," he said.
"Increasing the fee just makes life more difficult for these people who rely on … (cats) for therapy, love and relaxation.
"We had cats for 25 years, I'm an animal lover and my parents have cats too. They aren't too happy because they are responsible pet owners who allow their cats to go freely in and out of the house, as long as it has a bell. Why should they be penalised for that?
"I think feral cats and foxes are a problem and they should be targeted, but it's crazy to compare them to domesticated cats. As long as they have as bell, they can be heard from a distance."
First introduced by European settlers in the 19th century, cats are estimated to kill around 60 million native animals per day - mostly birds and reptiles.
In a bid to curb the damaged caused by rampaging felines, many towns and cities across Australia have begun to introduce "cat curfews" which ban them from going out at night.
Canberra created 12 "cat containment" suburbs, where owners who let their cats outdoors can be fined $1,500.
And, in 2015, the federal government even considered putting a similar ban in place nationwide, which would have effectively turned the nation's 20 million cats into housebound pets.
Some councils, such as Wollondilly in Sydney's far west have tried to introduce curfews but struggled to find ways to enforce them legally.
Australia's Threatened Species Commissioner Sally Box says the government is not trying to drive out cat lovers.
"Roaming domestic cats kill about 60 million birds a year," she told the Weekend Australian in June. "A large number of threatened species occur in urban areas and I think people don't appreciate just how far their cats go.
"We're encouraging people to have their pets microchipped, desexed and contained at night. "We have some cat containment suburbs (in the ACT) and councils across the country are starting to take up the issue.
"It's not about preventing people from having cats - they are important companions for a lot of people. We're just trying to encourage responsible pet ownership."