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New ACT Cat Plan calls for cat containment, registration

Cat owners will be required to contain their cats and register them under a new plan the ACT Government released today that is designed to help cats live longer and healthier lives while better protecting native wildlife.

The ACT Cat Plan 2021-2031 has been developed to support responsible pet ownership and balance the wellbeing of cats with management of their impact on Canberra’s environment, said ACT Minister for Transport and City Services Chris Steel.

It follows detailed consultation with cat owners, environmental groups and the broader community undertaken on the draft plan.    

“The measures outlined in the ACT Cat Plan will promote practices that help keep cats safe from accidents and illness. They will also improve our ability to reunite lost cats with their families more quickly through new registration requirements,” Mr Steel said.      

The ACT Plan Cat includes eight strategies which will be progressively rolled out over the next 10 years. Priority actions will include the introduction of annual registration requirements for pet cats from 1 July 2022.

New cat owners will be required to pay a once-off fee when they first register a cat and will then need to update their details annually at no additional cost. This mirrors annual registration practices recently introduced for dogs, harmonising the approach for Canberra’s main types of pet animals. There will be no charge for existing cat owners to register their current cat.  

The plan will also introduce city-wide cat containment requirements for new cats obtained after 1 July 2022. Grandfathering arrangements will apply for cats owned before this date, exempting them from compulsory containment where their owners do not live in a cat containment suburb. All new Canberra suburbs will continue to be declared as full cat containment areas, in line with current policy.

“Outside of declared suburbs, cat containment will only apply to new cats, because we understand that existing cats and their owners may not be prepared or used to containment. The grandfathering approach strikes the right balance and allows a fair and gradual transition,” Mr Steel said.

RSPCA ACT CEO Michelle Robertson said the organisation welcomed a coordinated approach to cat containment across the ACT. 

“We look forward to working with the Government to implement the plan to improve cat welfare and protect native wildlife. We also look forward to working with the community to increase responsible cat ownership and improve cat and human wellbeing,” Ms Robertson said.

The Conservation Council ACT Region also welcomed the ACT’s Government’s commitment “to at last implement cat containment across the whole of Canberra”, but expressed concern about the delayed start date of the measures.

“The decision to finally implement Canberra-wide cat containment is welcome – for too many years we have known about the havoc that roaming cats play as a result of hunting native animals in Canberra’s precious nature reserves,” said Helen Oakey, Executive Director.

“Australia is facing a biodiversity crisis, and cats have shown themselves to be powerful predators and a key threat to small mammals and reptiles, and bird species. Canberra’s wildlife is particularly susceptible to the impacts of cat predation due to the proximity of urban areas to nature reserves.

“The Conservation Council welcomes the new ACT Cat Plan as a step in the right direction to encourage responsible cat ownership both for the health and wellbeing of pet cats, and to protect wildlife.

“The Government has chosen to proceed with a “grandfathering” approach which means that cats acquired after July 1 2022 will be required to be contained, and already-owned cats will not. 

“While this allows a phased-in approach there are downsides, including community confusion about which cats are allowed out and which ones have to be kept at home. 

“Sadly, it will also mean that the impacts of cats on native animals is likely to continue for more than a decade as already-owned cats age. Setting a date by which all cats across Canberra should be contained would have been preferable,” Ms Oakey said.

She said it was very disappointing that the new measures won’t come into force until 1 July 2022, allowing more than a year of newly-acquired cats to be free to roam and hunt for the duration of their lives.

Minister for the Environment, Rebecca Vassarotti, said the plan will make a big contribution to reducing harmful hunting of Canberra’s native birds and animals.

“A cat that is contained at home not only provides a happy and healthy cat, it is also good news for wildlife,” Ms Vassarotti said.

“While cats are a popular pet in Canberra and a valuable companion animal in many households, they are also predators that have natural hunting and chasing instincts.

“Every year, free-roaming but owned Canberra cats are estimated to prey on 61,000 native birds, 2,000 native mammals, 30,000 native reptiles and 6,000 native frogs.”

“The ACT Government wants to minimise the impacts of domestic cats on native wildlife by reducing the number of feral, unowned and semi-owned cats through more de-sexing, improved domestic cat welfare and management practices, better ways to identify lost cats and reunite them with their owners.

“The Government looks forward to working with animal welfare and veterinary organisations and the wider community to implement the Cat Plan’s actions.”

Following today’s release of the Plan, the ACT Government will progress the legislative changes required to implement key aspects such as annual registration and expanded cat containment.

This will also include amendments to allow owners in cat containment suburbs to walk their cat on a lead, which is currently prohibited.   

“This plan has been carefully thought out, with significant community input over a number of years. It recognises how important the wellbeing of pet cats is to their owners, while acknowledging the responsibility we all share to protect Canberra’s native animals and environment,” Mr Steel said.

To read the ACT Cat Plan 2021–31 and the community consultation report, visit the YourSay website.

Quick facts

What is cat registration?

Cats are currently not required to be registered in the ACT. Following the ACT Cat Plan, this will change with all cats being required to be registered from 1 July 2022.

Cat registration is an official database of microchipped and registered cats. This system will operate in a very similar way to the current dog registration system, with a one-off fee for new cats registered from July 1 2022.

How much is cat registration?

The ACT Government is working through how to design and implement a cat registration scheme from 1 July 2022. No registration fee is proposed for existing cats born or acquired before 30 June 2022. It is expected a small one-off fee will apply for new cats from 1 July 2022. This will be based on the registration fee for dogs, which is currently $57.55.

An annual update process, at no additional cost, will also be introduced.

Will I still need to microchip my cat?

Yes. Microchipping is an effective way for animal shelters and vets to identify lost cats to return to their owners. Microchipping is a safe procedure where a silicon chip, approximately the size of a grain of rice, is implanted under the skin of the animal.

Microchipping will still be required and will be linked to the annual registration system to ensure the details listed on the microchip are always up to date.

What is cat containment?

Cat containment means keeping your cat on your premises 24 hours a day. Legislative changes will be introduced before expanded cat containment takes effect to allow people to walk their cats on a lead or harness, so long as the cat is contained.

Is it okay to keep my cat at home all the time?

Cats can happily live indoors especially when they have been trained to be an indoor cat from a young age. This is why the Plan has grandfathered the approach to apply only to new cats from 1 July 2022.

Why contain my cat?

Keeping cats contained avoids risks and improves their welfare and safety. Contained cats live longer and are less likely to suffer diseases or sustain injuries through fighting with other cats or dogs, being hit by cars or other misadventure.

What penalties will apply for not containing my cat?

Following the introduction of compulsory cat containment for new pet owner after 1 July 2022, the ACT Government will be taking an educative approach to compliance. Domestic Animal Services will work with pet owners and the community to ensure everyone understands their obligations and can take the right steps to keep cats contained if they are required to be.

This will include providing advice and warnings to any cats which are found roaming by DAS rangers and returned to their owners. Penalties will be introduced as part of the forthcoming legislation and are anticipated to reflect current fines for breaches of animal management laws. The maximum penalty for a breach of cat containment is 10 penalty units or $1,600.

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