Now the claws come out

So it's come to this. Intimations of kitty carnage in Invercargill.

City council chief executive Richard King's disinclination to pussyfoot around the problem of immodest cat populations made yesterday a heady day for cat people and their critics alike.

He suggested that neighbours of one home that's been overspilling with three dozen cats could borrow council box traps and return them empty, no questions asked.

He didn't actually add a "Heh-heh-heh . . ." but he may as well have done as far as lots of cat owners were concerned.

Sure enough, not everyone is now congratulating Mr King for the manner in which he opened his own trap.

But he clearly empathised with the neighbours and was sensitive to the fact that the council's new cat-control bylaw is not proving the swift-response mechanism a great many people had hoped for.

There's no "stand back ma'am and we'll catch 'em for you". No, no. The bylaw relies on stern warnings, attempts at negotiated resolutions and then the rigours and delays of a court prosecution if necessary.

Yesterday's fears of rampant catnappings are, we hope, illusory. In truth, those council box traps, all four of them, have been around for ages and are frequently in use.

The council's approach has long been that it doesn't interrogate people about how they dispose of the contents. And it turns out the SPCA will accept these cats - unlike dogs, incidentally, which can only be accepted from the rightful owner or that person's representative.

While some people were yesterday putting their hands up for a cat trap, lots of others took the line that Mr King was not just a bureaucrat but a brute to boot.

Cat owners were clasping their Tiddles tight, aghast at the prospect of her winding up in a council trap and never to be seen again, at least by them, and all this with civic benediction.

This is where folk need to be very, very careful. Can you trap someone else's pet? Yep, provided it's on your own property.

But to pass it on to someone else would be a recipe for all manner of reproach and recrimination since there's already a household somewhere where people will be willing to assert, loudly and unhappily, that they're still the owners, damn it.

Could the trapper just . . . you know . . . dispatch the cat? Yep. Humanely, But be warned, there are rules against animal cruelty. [So let's cast from our memories the refrain from the satirical Tom Lehrer song: "We'll murder them all amid laughter and merriment . . . except for the few we take home to experiment."]

In any case, there's a chasm separating what may be lawful and what is actually a good idea. If the goal is to restore neighbourhood serenity, the catch-and-dispatch approach is fraught with the prospect of vengeful escalation and unhappy consequences all round.

Which leaves what option? Boxing the cats and taking them back to the owner to make a point, explicitly or implicitly, that next time the outcome might be different? Good luck with that.

Perhaps aware that it would be in the doghouse if Mr King's comments set large parts of the population directly at each other's throats, the council is sure-enough now ardently considering how it might intrude to rather more helpful effect.

It's reassessing the adequacy of its bylaw and also looking at whether, in the present case, the Health Act and Resource Management Act might usefully come into play.

The Southland Times