Cat-free? I don't think so

22:17, Jan 22 2013

A cat-free New Zealand? I hope I never see it.

Cats are our most popular pets. We who like cats think they're delightful, amusing, intriguing, dim, smart and beautiful. They've been with us for thousands of years, and we've bred them to have those exact characteristics. They bring immeasurable benefits to people through affection and companionship.

All of this counts. It has weight when we try to measure our right to own cats against other possible goods, including making our native species safer.

Whenever I've blogged about this subject, I've stressed how important it is to steer away from absolutism - to be realistic, balanced, and programmatic. I'm against talk of eradication and prohibition. (This piece sums up my thoughts.) Permit me to quote myself:

"Having pets has deep roots in the way we live. It's a big part of our culture. At a personal level, banning cats or dogs would have an impact on a par with alcohol prohibition or ending the use of private cars: all would have good effects, all would make the various cause-absolutists walk a little taller, and all would be hideously destructive of freedoms while introducing massive costs and problems in enforcement. Prohibitions of this kind don't work."

So I'm not much of a fan of Cats To Go, the website and movement backed by Gareth Morgan. The website tells us that cats "do a massive amount of damage to our wildlife", tutting that "Your domestic cat is not innocent". There's a petition trying to get councils to require registration and microchipping of cats "and to facilitate the eradication facilities for unregistered cats".


Let's do all these things, it says, and ignore the value and cultural place of cats, because "getting one step closer to being a pest free New Zealand would most certainly be a step in the right direction".

  The demonised kitten from Cats To Go.
If the cat-demonising message is still not clear, there's a photo of a kitten with horns and satanic eyes shopped in to ensure that your intelligence is fully insulted.

Still, a poll on the site that asks if you'd "consider not replacing your cat with a new one when it dies" is running more than 7-to-3 for the pro-cat No side of the argument. (Yes, I voted.)

I'm all in favour of what Morgan himself says are standards of responsible cat ownership - such as making sure your cat is desexed and keeping it indoors as much as possible and putting a bell collar on it. But I'm not interested in talk of eradication, or prohibition. I'm not impressed by this drive - far from the first in history - to demonise cats, turn people against them, while leaving aside the reality that the species which most threatens our native species is the two-legged one.

And understated in all this is the No 1 issue: desexing. We have an overpopulation of cats in New Zealand, and the best, first way of tackling it is through the desexing of as many cats as possible - feral and domestic. When this happens, the numbers will fall, there'll be less wandering by un-desexed animals, shelters will be able to focus on other problems, and a glut of kittens needing homes will be less and less likely.

Welfare groups and local initiatives around the country are working hard on this, raising money to subsidise desexing operations, forming alliances with vets and charities, and striving to shift the embedded belief that desexing is somehow unfair on the animal. I very much hope that Mr Morgan, who seems generous and imaginative in using his wealth, will find ways of supporting the desexing movement.

I don't want a cat-free New Zealand. Cats are part of life. I want to be able to own a cat, and for others to be able to do so too. Let's pursue solutions that will preserve that right while helping keep native species safe.

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