Cats and bureaucrats

Last updated 05:00 03/03/2014

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OPINION: Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.

Robert A Heinlein said that. But not to the Invercargill City Council when it was last year drafting its bylaw on what constitutes too many household cats. Heinlein was dead by then and, anyway, his specialty was science fiction not local government rule setting.

Well, we call them rules. In truth not all council bylaws are enforced to the hilt. Youngsters who profess they just didn't know about the Invercargill inner-city skateboard ban, for instance, can do so with plausibility.

The policing of such things tends to wax and wane in accord with how much of a problem is perceived to exist at any time.

Even when the council decided last year that three cats is enough for any residential property, it was also clear that this shiny new rule wouldn't mean something silly - like, say, that a residential property could have only three cats.

No, it would be policed with discretion and flexibility.

Which really means convenient inconsistency; albeit of a sort that the council was pretty sure the wider community could live with.

The upshot would be that where cat numbers crept up but on a tidily contained section, or perhaps briefly while feline unions had been blessed and kittens were not yet found homes, the council would hardly be on a hair trigger.

But where populations on a particular property - or more likely, outside that property - were becoming problematic, then the bylaw was ready and waiting to be invoked.

Which is now happening for the first time, in what would seem to be a classic example of its kind.

The resident in this case has, by the council's count, more than 30 cats and these have been the subject of numerous complaints.

The issue here does not appear to be the wellbeing of the furry wee critters themselves as much as the impact on neighbours and their own own pets.

The council does appear to have acted reasonably. It had issued the resident with a series of notices in recent months and set out tasks for her to complete to ensure the cats were contained on her property but the timeframes had not been met.

Even now, the council isn't planning an immediate down-to-three purge but will be "working with her" to reduce numbers.

The resident herself, though she is not talking to The Southland Times, is not happy, though neighbours are heaving sighs of relief as well they might after what one called three very stressful years.

It really does seem the council has been reasonable or, if anything, has erred on the over-tolerant side of things.

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Then again, given that this is the first real invocation of the bylaw, it's hardly surprising that the council has been approaching this matter with its own best impression of cat-like tread.

That's fine, as long as the council does keep moving towards the issue, rather than away from it. This is a good test-case for a bylaw that's good and ready for one.

- The Southland Times

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