Australian cat owners are voicing outrage over new legislation that will require them to keep their pets on premises at all times.
As of October 1, all domestic cats living within Knox City Council – a local government area about 15 kilometres east of Melbourne’s central business district – will be subject to a “24-hour cat curfew,” meaning that they won’t be allowed to roam freely outside the bounds of their owners’ house, shed, garage, yard or some kind of enclosure.
“Much like the rules for dogs and other pets, cats won’t be allowed to roam freely from their owners’ property,” Cooper said. “When allowed to roam, cats are at a much higher risk of illness and injury. Keeping cats within their owners’ property also protects wildlife and prevents them causing nuisance for neighbours and their pets.”
Residents who are found letting their cats stray will only receive warnings for the first six months after the legislation is brought into effect, according to media reports. After that, they’ll be hit with a $91 AUD ($68 USD) fine for a first offence, and up to $545 AUD ($407 USD) for subsequent breaches.
The strict new laws follow a trial curfew last year that required cats to be confined between the hours of sunset and sunrise. Community feedback indicated that more than 86 percent of respondents supported that curfew, the council claims, and there was greater preference for a 24-hour curfew over a night-time one. Almost half of the more than 720 respondents were cat owners, it added.
But the announcement has drawn the ire of thousands of cat owners both within the area and abroad, as a petition continues to rack up signatures asking for the proposed curfew to be reviewed and, at the very least, a gradual phasing of its rollout.
“Knox Council needs to be more considerate of the well-being and basic rights of older cats who will be affected by the 24hr [sic] lockdown of cats that will come into effect on 1st October 2021, tearing away basic freedoms they've grown accustomed to,” reads the petition, which was started by Andrew Dixon. “Just introduce the law for newly registered kittens and their owners who can have the foresight and plan for the infrastructure required to keep the kitten they ‘choose’ to keep under the new rules, and leave the older cats and their owners alone.”
“They're literally trying to make us herd cats,” the petition adds. “That's a popular expression for a very good reason.”
At the time of writing, that petition was just 150 signatures short of its 2,500 target. VICE World News spoke to several cat owners from the area who shared similar concerns to Dixon.
“I’m not happy about it. How can you lock your cat inside 24/7 when it's not part of their normal routine which they have known for years?,” said Trish Zeenni, who owns one 7-year-old cat. “I truly believe it will change my cat's personality and their health will suffer. Not to mention the security of your home. How do you put your house alarm on if you have to leave the cat inside?”
Joanne Hallworth from Bayswater North labelled the 24-hour curfew as “unfair and unrealistic,” and said she couldn’t afford to pay for an enclosure or a system on the fence to keep her cat contained.
“It's instinctual for cats to roam and they have been doing so for eons,” she told VICE World News. “In terms of killing wildlife, obviously cats assist with keeping the rodent population down which aids us humans. I don't know detailed information surrounding their impact on native wildlife numbers but surely that's the cycle of life? Predator vs [sic] prey, and that's how it's been since the dawn of time.
Others, including Dr Gabrielle Carter, a veterinary behaviourist at Victoria’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), welcomed and endorsed the new laws. In a statement provided to VICE World news, Dr Carter said that “No matter what stage of life, with the proper care and attention, cats can thrive when kept safe at home and when they aren’t roaming, the local wildlife is also free to flourish.”
“RSPCA Victoria defines responsible cat ownership as owners taking full responsibility for the welfare of their cats,” she added. “Not only does keeping your cat at home protect local wildlife, the more time a cat spends at home, the more likely they are to be protected from injury and disease.
“Cats can live happy and healthy lives at home, so long as they are provided with ample opportunity to display natural behaviours and stay physically and mentally healthy and stimulated.”
There are currently about 7,000 registered cats living in the Knox City Council area, according to the council’s website.
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