There’s a lot of talk about domestic cats on the Alice Springs Community Forum this week, where residents are voicing their opinions regarding domestic cats that are roaming into neighbouring yards. Roaming domestic cats have the ability to spray, defecate or fight on neighbouring properties, spread disease or contract disease via other cats, run the risk of being hit by a car, can contribute to the feral cat population and also hunt wildlife. But cats are not all bad – Domestic cats make great companion animals, and when managed responsibly, they can have little to no impact on the local environment. Some simple actions can greatly improve their welfare, prevent them from hunting urban wildlife, and contribute to positive neighbourly relations:
Registration: Alice Springs Town Council by-laws state that a cat at large (outside of the owner’s boundary) can be impounded. Retrieving a domestic cat can be costly, but is achievable if the cat is registered (a requirement of pet ownership in the ASTC). Registration requires cats to be desexed (prevents over-production of kittens but they also live longer on average and stray less) and microchipped (helps authorities identify you as the pet owner if your cat accidentally gets trapped).
Containment: Even well-fed cats kill wildlife because of their hunting instinct. Placing bells on the collar to prevent an individual from hunting has limited effectiveness and so containment is the only effective action. Preventing cats from roaming also gives them a longer life expectancy, due to a reduction in injury-related death. Domestic cats are adaptable and can be kept indoors or in outdoor enclosures without detriment to their happiness, as shown by personality tests from the Cat Tracker program (http://www.discoverycircle.org.au/projects/cat-tracker/). Owners of older cats have no need to be concerned about changing the habits of their pet cats – the adjustment can be made gradually by keeping it inside for longer and longer periods of time. Owners are encouraged to provide their feline friends with a stimulating indoors environment, including somewhere to sharpen their claws. It is vital to give your cat lots of attention and play time and provide places to look out the window, lounge, play, and scratch.
Outdoor cat enclosures: Making use of enclosed areas outside, such as cat runs, can allow domestic cats to experience foreign smells and sunshine. You may like to consider enclosing part of your verandah.
Harnesses: If you want your cat to experience the outdoors you can train your cat to go outside on a harness and leash.
Land for Wildlife Central Australia had great success with the domestic cat monitoring program in 2015-2016, helping domestic cat owners of Alice Springs to identify roaming patterns and travel distances of their cats. Stay posted for the findings of the study!