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Tougher Measures Needed to Control Cat Population

20 June 2016

UK - More than one in two people have witnessed the UK’s cat population boom in the last 10 years and 92 per cent are demanding tougher regulations to address the issue.

Current rescue centre resident, Cocoa

Current rescue centre resident, Cocoa

Although legislation aimed at preventing owners from releasing their pets into the wild already exists, the Big Yorkshire Cat Rescue Survey shows overwhelming support for stronger laws.

Currently, anyone found breaching the Animal Cruelty Act 2006 could face up to five years in prison and a £20,000 fine.

Sara Atkinson, founder of Yorkshire Cat Rescue comments: “It is already illegal for people to leave domesticated cats where they are not provided for, but people clearly want to see more prosecutions and harsher sentencing. In most cases, offenders receive a small fine or community service. Judging by the country’s stray and feral cat population, and bulging rehoming centres, current measures don’t seem to be having much effect.

“Although it may not seem exceptionally cruel to release a cat into the wild, these pets face an uncertain, stressful and often very short life. Certainly, those who are convicted of animal cruelty should at least be banned from keeping pets in the future.”

It is estimated that around 850,000 cats in the UK have had unplanned litters – driving the number of unwanted felines far beyond four million. Yorkshire Cat Rescue alone is caring for over 100 cats at any given time, and juggling a waiting list of 700 cats and kittens.

The survey asked participants who they felt should be responsible for managing the UK’s stray and feral cat population. 45% of people pointed to local councils, followed by 15% believing it’s a concern for the RSPCA, and 15% suggesting that animal rescues generally should tackle the issue.

Peanut growing strong in the hands of Yorkshire Cat Rescue after her mother was rescued from the street
Peanut growing strong in the hands of Yorkshire Cat Rescue after her mother was rescued from the street

Sara says: “There are clearly benefits to leaving the responsibility for managing the UK’s unwanted cat population to those charities that live and breathe animal welfare. But a lack of funding means our reach is limited. With greater support from local authorities, we would be able to do so much more and have a long-term impact. And there is clearly more that could be done in terms of educating people about responsible pet ownership, the benefits of neutering and the risks of releasing unwanted pets into the wild.”

The survey also revealed confusion about how to deal with cats that show up near or in people’s home and garden. “Many people don’t know the difference between stray and feral cats, and those who simply roam the neighborhood while their owners are at work. At a glance, it can be hard to tell if a cat is homeless yet 17% of people in our survey currently feed a cat that isn’t theirs. The trouble is that they could belong to someone else. Many beloved pets go missing each year – they are effectively ‘lured’ away from their homes.”

On its website, Yorkshire Cat Rescue details the steps people should take if they suspect a cat is feral or stray. “People need to make certain that a cat has definitely been abandoned or lost his previous owner before they begin to feed it,” says Sara.

For those cats that are definitely feral, almost a quarter of the respondents (21%) felt placing them in a rescue for rehoming would be the perfect solution – an approach Sara doesn’t agree is necessarily the best solution.

“It is a very popular myth that all cats can be re-homed; confining a cat that has never been handled or tamed could actually condemn it to a life of stress. Instead, feral cats that are unable to be rehomed should be captured, neutered and released back where they were found. They won’t breed and their presence will deter more cats from settling in that area.”

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