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.

The reasons we are so intolerant towards cats.

Cats inhabit every continent except Antarctica and the world is full of cat lovers who find nothing more relaxing than the company of one purring on their lap. For this reason they rank second in popularity in most countries to the dog. But their popularity doesn’t extend to everyone and governments, conservationists, hobbyists and scientists are among the many who dislike them for a variety of reasons.

It seems cats cannot do anything right.

For every person who loves cats there is probably another who hates or has a phobia about them. If a cat digs a hole in someones flowerbed or even worse the vegetable patch, many gardeners will run for their air rifle or garden hose, or resort to even crueller deterrent methods. Dogs though seem to be able to poo wherever they wish and we mostly turn a blind eye to the mess they leave behind or to the abandoned plastic poo bags littering the ground. This is because a large proportion of society do not like cats invading their space even though they have the decency to cover up their toiletry antics unlike dogs.

cat with bird in mouth
Cats are vilified for being predators.

We find them to be the cause of our allergies, are frightened they will asphyxiate our sleeping babies, spread disease and infest us with fleas. We view them as vicious and bad tempered and declaw them, classify them as pests just like rats and are afraid of their aloof attitude or believe they are demonic with their ‘evil’ stare. Hoarders keep hundreds of them confined in their houses little understanding the suffering they are causing.

In retaliation for their perceived crimes or just for fun many torment them, poison them, shoot them with airguns from their bedroom windows. Or kill and mutilate them as in the case of the notorious “cat ripper of Croydon” who allegedly stalked the London Borough luring an estimated 400 cats to their deaths with chicken, before strangling, decapitating and mutilating their bodies. Prosecutions for cat cruelty are common and the offences often vicious.

We hate cats for following their predatory instincts

cat, bird, cat chasing bird
Cats are vilified for decimating bird populations

And we are only talking about pet cats here. When it comes to stray and feral cats it is all out war against them the world over. So what is going on. It would seem that cats are being vilified for just being cats. Their main crime is that they pursue their natural instincts and behaviours as predators and through feckless ownership they have become pests in many people’s eyes.

So who are these people who have an aversion to cats? Well, as already mentioned, there are the gardeners who cannot stand these free roaming creatures that trespass and soil and damage their land. Then we have bird, small mammal, reptile and amphibian enthusiasts who are appalled that they sadistically chase, play, kill and eat hundreds of millions annually.

So called feral cats bear the brunt of all the antagonism. Most feral cats prefer to live alongside us, but remain disassociated from us, preferring to scavenge and hunt in order to survive. But being ‘animal lovers’ we insist on trying to help them, by feeding, catching and neutering them, causing them to live in closer proximity to us. This can then cause conflict when local residents begin to view them as vermin because they cause smells, mess and damage similar to rats.

Governments and conservationists in Australia and New Zealand and many island nations are paranoid about their feral cats because of their impact on small native species of birds, reptiles and small mammals particularly marsupials. Australia has a five year plan ending in 2020 to kill 2 million of them by various methods such as shooting, trapping and poisoning.

They may not be able to breed but they can still eat

Conservationists, many individuals and local and state governments believe extermination is the answer and decry any other initiatives like trapping, neutering and releasing. They believe it is not cost effective and doesn’t decrease numbers because it is impossible to neuter them all and stop owners from abandoning more. And it just maintains large cat colonies which in some circumstances can cause havoc in nearby sensitive wildlife areas. They may not be able to breed, but they can still eat is the stance that the exterminator lobby take.

Cat  trapping, feral cats, feral cat colonies
Trap, Neuter & release (TNR). Many observers say they may not be able to breed but they can still kill.

The town of Omaui in New Zealand has plans to be the first authority to ban cats by stopping owners from replacing their pet after it dies to gradually phase them out. Some countries want to ban them going outside at all, others have curfews and bans on letting cats out if they live near vulnerable wildlife. There is a worldwide movement to basically curtail cat owning and stop cats from enjoying a natural life.

Unfortunately, there are far too many people who cannot accept or tolerate the fact that they are predators and no matter how much you try, you can never take the killer instinct out of a predator. In fact it is unfair to do so, or for that matter chide them for doing so. It is through our feckless ownership that we have created the problem of so many stray and feral cats and have put them into this position. Therefore it is only fair that we should endeavour to have more tolerance, otherwise even more stringent regulations will make it impossible for them to enjoy natural lives.

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