Putting our cities' fatcats on the map

IAN STEWARD
Last updated 05:00 03/06/2012
Anne Batley-Burton spends ''a fortune'' on strays at two Auckland colonies.
PHIL DOYLE/Fairfax NZ

CAT WOMAN: Anne Batley-Burton spends ''a fortune'' on strays at two Auckland colonies.

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Auckland's cats stray along economic lines, with a new study showing higher concentrations of ownerless cats in areas of deprivation.

Academics at Unitec Institute of Technology have mapped where the Auckland SPCA picked up 8573 strays in the year from March 2010.

Using mapping software, Mark Farnworth and Glenn Aguilar determined that the highest concentrations of cats were found in areas with high scores for socio-economic deprivation.

Across the whole of Auckland there was an average of 15 cats per square kilometre, but Manurewa, which topped the list, had 50. The next four suburbs were Papakura (35/sqkm), Mangere (33), New Lynn (30) and Papatoetoe (29).

Farnworth, who is completing a doctorate on the sterilisation of cats, said the data points represented single pickups but several cats may have been gathered at once.

The total number of strays collected in the year might have exceeded 10,000.

Although the data could have been skewed by the presence of the SPCA headquarters in Mangere, there were definite "hot spots", he said.

"I suspect we are seeing a true effect."

Farnworth said residents of deprived areas would have fewer resources to care for stray cats and so would possibly be more likely to report them as a problem.

In wealthier areas, residents often just fed the strays and did not report them, as was the case in "New Zealand's most famous cat colony" – at the rose gardens overlooking the port in Auckland's ritzy Parnell.

"I've heard anecdotally of them being fed quite choice cuts of meat, warm flasks of milk on a cold morning – that kind of thing."

SPCA Auckland executive director Bob Kerridge said most stray cats were once owned and had been discarded.

The correlation with areas of socio-economic deprivation had been noted but he did not think it was a wholly economic effect.

"It doesn't surprise me. They don't think twice about just leaving the cat. They don't have the same sense of responsibility. It's the way they think."

But Farnworth said the fact strays were reported in poorer areas showed residents there did care.

Anne Batley-Burton, who feeds the 40or so cats at Parnell one night a week, admits caring for the cats costs "a fortune". Batley-Burton, who turns up for her night of feeding in her gunmetal Porsche 928 GTS, said she spent about $300 per week feeding cats, though she did support two colonies.

"I like to give them a lot of meat and mackerel and tasty things. It costs me about $150 for one night."

Her 90-year-old father had built the cats a shelter at the park. "He's marvellous."

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