Monday 22 November 2021

Iceland split on banning free-roaming domestic cats

Icelanders are discussing whether to keep domestic cats indoors full-time. The town council of Akureyri, the "Capital of North Iceland" has decided to ban outdoor cats from January 1 2025. It was a majority decision in favour. They are going to stop the free movement of domestic cats in this town and they've given residents a long lead-in to get used to the idea.

Akureyri. Photo: in public domain.

However, a poll suggested that Icelanders in general do not support banning the free movement of domestic cats. But there are distinct regional differences. In Hafnarfjörður, 60% of the residents were either very or rather supportive of outdoor cats, for example. Almost the opposite view was taken in East Iceland where 55% of the residents were very or rather opposed to allowing cats to go outside.

RELATED: Icelandic government proposes changes to the law regarding feral cats

The Veterinary Society of Iceland is opposed to a ban on outdoor cats. They also say that the proposed law concerning Akureyri is badly formulated. They argue that keeping cats indoors all the time can have a negative impact upon the health of the animals.

They say that if they are used to free movement, keeping them indoors may cause behavioural problems due to stress and even disease. Bára Eyfjörð Heimisdóttir, the director of RUV (Icelandic veterinary association) is no doubt referring to stress causing cystitis. This is correct but it is a balancing act between various competing objectives.

Note: Below is an embedded FB post. Sometimes they are deleted at source which stops them working on this site. If that has happened, I apologise but I have no control over it.

RELATED: Police kill tourist’s cat brought into Iceland illegally

The ban is to protect wildlife. The veterinarians think that there is a better way to do this by, for example, putting brightly coloured collars on cats and limiting their outdoor activity during the nesting season. They also believe that the better option is to focus more on feral cats and reduce their population and encourage people to get their cats micro-chipped. In other words they are going for a more nuanced approach to protecting wildlife.

It 2016, I wrote an article about the difficulties of obligatory sterilisation, micro-chipping and registration of domestic cats. This was an article about Western Australia amending their Cat Act 2011. The amendment required that all domestic cats were registered, micro-chipped and sterilised at six months of age from November 2013. There were difficulties in obtaining compliance.

The biggest barrier to banning outdoor cats is having a handle on it. You need to know how many cats there are and where they live in order to enforce the law. To achieve that you need to register cats. What if people don't want to register their cats?  You don't know where they are so it is hard to enforce.

You may struggle to make a law which bans outdoor cats effective. That's the argument against a universal ban on outdoor cats and the alternative argument is that you can protect wildlife in a more effective way with a more nuanced approach as suggested by the veterinarians of Iceland.

Source: three articles on the Reykjavik Grapevine website.

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