Initial results from the Community Cat Program are great news for cat lovers and animal welfare enthusiasts. The program recorded an 80 per cent reduction in the number of cats euthanised within 11 months of being rolling out in the suburb of Rosewood, south-west of Brisbane.
The Community Cat Program was overseen by the Australian Pet Welfare Foundation and supported by a number of animal charities. It provided free desexing for 33 cats per 1,000 residents. It also resulted in a 50 per cent decrease in cats being impounded.
The trial, with its focus on free desexing, is also being rolled out in Victoria (Banyule, Melbourne, Greater Shepparton), SA (Onkaparinga) and NSW (Canterbury-Bankstown).
Despite its early success, animal lovers and experts had to fight to launch the program, with current laws deeming trap, neuter and release programs illegal.
Australian Pet Welfare Foundation chief scientist Dr Jacquie Rand hopes the five-year program will pave the way for changes to the law.
“The problem is that TNR is illegal across Australia,” she says.
“For example, the state that I live in (Queensland), unowned cats are classed as 3, 4, and 6 ‘restricted matter.’ They can’t be fed, they can’t be moved, they can’t be rehomed or sold.”
Perhaps surprisingly, the program has the support of the NSW Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service (WIRES).
WIRES chief executive Leanne Taylor hopes that a long-term reduction in strays will mean fewer cats as wildlife predators.
“WIRES will be following the results keenly,” she says.
“We hope this approach will lead to long-term benefits to wildlife in cities and towns throughout Australia, by reducing the impacts on native animals.”
Mental health for animal care workers
While one of the main aims of the program is to radically reduce the number of cats euthanised, it’s hoped that a flow-on effect will be improved mental health outcomes for animal workers.
Dr Rand says animal care workers confront the reality of Australia’s current policy on TNR daily.
“Every day, year-round, an unfortunate ‘someone’ is asked to end the life of every second cat arriving at pounds and shelters,” she says.
“This damages their mental health. Damage that sometimes costs them their [own] life. We can, and must, do better – for them and for the animals.”
Push for Change
The program will conclude at the end of 2024 and Dr Rand is optimistic the results will help the push for change.
Dr Rand expects that in addition to saving lives, the program will also prove cost-effective.
“If the results are what we expect, we will work to change legislation so that councils can implement Community Cat Programs in your city or town and save the lives of cats, dogs, wildlife and people,” she says.
“The days of constant streams of healthy kittens being born to die will finally be over. And the lives of vets, shelter and pound staff will be better.”
Currently, the Community Cat Program has no government funding and is relying on charitable support. Anyone interested in donating to the program can do so here.