U.K. cats always lose out at any mention of legal status.

Because lost and stray cats do not pose a public safety risk.

Following the death of her microchipped cat Gizmo in a road accident, whose body was later disposed of by a veterinary surgeon without scanning, the owner began a petition to make it a legal requirement for dead cats to be scanned.

The petition, named Gizmo’s legacy, highlighted the fact that thousands of dead cats are not scanned therefore negating any chance of their fate being made known to grieving owners, many of who search for months or years trying to discover what happened to them. The petition called for a change in the law making it a legal requirement for local authorities and other agencies to scan any dead cats they collected or which were brought to them.

Cats always miss out.

The petition gained over 100,000 signatures and was debated in the UK parliament in 2019. Unfortunately the government did not agree, which is not unusual as it appears they do not rate cats very highly. Time and again whenever laws are considered to control or protect animals it is the cat that always misses out with preference always given to the control and welfare of dogs or livestock.

The government responded that it was unnecessary because local authorities, veterinary practices and rehoming centres are encouraged to do it anyway and they already have scanners because the law requires dogs to be microchipped and scanned. They pointed out that this is done to enable stray dogs to be quickly reunited with owners, but obviously do not feel that cat owners should have the same right. According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA):

Whilst microchipping cats is good for their welfare, and it is important to publicise those benefits, lost and stray cats do not pose the same public safety risk as dogs, and therefore making cat microchipping compulsory is not considered necessary at this time. We will continue to work, therefore, with the relevant stakeholders to stress the importance of cat microchipping, and the scanning of stray or lost pets.

The reference to not posing a risk of public safety stems back to the Animals Act 1971 which made owners of livestock and dogs liable for any nuisance or damage but exempted cats allowing cats the freedom to roam. DEFRA also mistakenly pointed out that cats involved in road accidents had to be reported under the driver Highway Code Rule 26 which states drivers must report such incidents involving “animals,” but section 170 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 legally defines animals as livestock, horses and dogs. Cats again miss out.

Number wise cats are just as popular companion pets as dogs and loved just as much by their owners and their deaths grieved just the same so it only seems fair that they should be afforded the same chances of being reunited or to have their owners informed of their deaths to relieve the heartache of their loss. Perhaps it is time for the UK government’s attitude towards cats to change.

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The right to roam, cats cannot trespass

Cats are footloose and free

Unlike most other captive animals, the domestic cat has the wonderful status under the laws of most countries of the right to roam. In the U.K. they do not have to be securely confined and can roam without any fear or favour or legal repercussions for their actions. They cannot trespass so neither the cats or their owners are liable for anything they may do in the way of damage, soiling or causing nuisance which is extremely annoying for those who hate them.

This has come about because like most captive animals,  a cat’s legal status is that of property and to kill or harm them is classified as criminal damage under Criminal Damages Act 1971 or theft under the Theft Act 1968. Their “freedom” is guaranteed under the Animals Act 1971 which makes provision with respect to civil liability for damage done by animals. Cats were assessed as being less likely than other animals to cause damage or injury and so were not included in the Act. Technically we do not even “own” them. 

So they are footloose and free in many ways and unlike many other countries there is no mandatory need to neuter or vaccinate them, no restriction on how many you can have in your possession, no licensing or registration and no controls over breeding and this is where the problem lies.

This freedom occurs in many parts of the world including the USA which has a mishmash of Federal, State and local laws very few of which restrict cats to an “owners” property or indoors. The U.S State of Maine, like the U.K. doesn’t include cats in their animal trespass law. In Australia cats are branded invasive species and therefore are highly restricted with night curfews in some States and cat ownership bans in local areas. Most countries in the context of law almost treat them as invisible always focusing on dogs.

This situation in many instances can lead to people taking the law into their own hands and committing retaliatory acts of cruelty on them or even to shoot, poison or otherwise kill them. Some people have even been known to go to the lengths of catching their neighbour’s nuisance cat and abandoning it a long distance away.

Their freedom comes with drawbacks

Although this status is wonderful for the cats it comes with many drawbacks. The lack of control has led to an ongoing “cat crisis” in the UK which has lasted for decades involving thousands of lost, abandoned, and unwanted cats. Charities spend huge amounts each year trying to repatriate them and combat indiscriminate breeding and feckless ownership.  

Their perceived reputation as a nuisance because of their destructive behaviours, toiletry habits and natural instincts of catching small animals and birds causes many people to view them as pests and they hate them. Cats face similar problems all over the world, particularly in the USA, Australia and New Zealand.

Cats Matter Too

Without some form of legal intervention it will always be impossible to make any inroads into the excess U.K. cat population, enhance their reputation or to improve their well-being , and more importantly to protect them, their ‘owners’ and cat haters from each other. But I am not suggesting for one minute that their “freedom to roam” should be stopped or restricted as this is the essence of a cat.