Sunday 14 January 2024

30% of New Zealand cat owners are opposed to cat confinement and almost 50% are ambivalent

NEWS AND OPINION: This is a recent study from New Zealand about confining cats to the home i.e. full-time indoor cats. It's a modern trend and one that is being discussed in New Zealand as it is in many other developed countries. The objective is twofold (1) to keep the cats safe and (2) to keep wildlife safe from cat predation.

The New Zealand government and local governments within the country are particularly concerned about cat predation on wildlife - native species. They have a mentality which is similar to that found in Australia. It's one in which a focus is placed on protecting native species. The free-roaming domestic cat undermines that objective. But what do the citizens of New Zealand think about domestic cat confinement?

A survey of 395 cat owners as reported online on the Newshub website tells us that 30% of New Zealanders are opposed to keeping their cat inside the home full-time. Only 6% of cat owners in New Zealand do it at the moment while 17% are open to the possibility and 48% are unsure about the concept of full-time indoor cats.

This is not resounding support from cat-owning citizens for keeping cats inside the home. It doesn't surprise me. I've written in the past about the motivation of cat owners in keeping their cats indoors all the time and the prime objective is not to protect wildlife but to protect their cats. And in protecting their cats they avoid the emotional distress of their cat being harmed outside perhaps on the road.

Ultimately, the bottom line is that normally cat owners keep their cats inside to avoid the distress that they will suffer if their cat is harmed on the road for instance. To use a long word it is an example of anthropocentrism.

This, I would argue, explains why the percentages from this study are rather poor for those people in authority who wants to keep cats inside to protect wildlife.

The general trend in New Zealand and Australia is for the authorities to want to change the law or make demands on cat owners to keep their cats inside. This survey represents somewhat of a pushback from that desire.

Cat advocates in New Zealand think that it is impractical to demand that all cat owners keep their cats inside all-time and it might be too expensive in for example having to build a catio or a cat confinement fence all around the back yard (£4,000). Both these options are fairly expensive. Although a mini-catio is cheap and better than no catio:

You can't keep a cat locked up inside your home full-time unless you do something to entertain them which means enriching their environment. Hence the need for a catio. Even then it wouldn't be as good as allowing your cat outside in terms of mental stimulation.

The survey doesn't say this but a lot of cat owners want the best for their cat which means they want them to be happy and a domestic cat is happiest when they are out hunting! That sounds very anti-conservation and it is but if you are focusing on the cat only that is your objective.

New Zealand's cat advocates say that making micro-chipping and sterilisation obligatory would be effective over the long term in protecting wildlife. The problem with that plan is that it will take a very long time and it is difficult to enforce. Both these weaknesses in their plan will upset the authorities because they want something tangible quite quickly because they are elected officials and they need to demonstrate results i.e. success.

My personal view is that it's good that New Zealand is discussing these things but the problem is very hard to totally fix. One plank in the solution that has not been discussed in this news media article is education. If every cat owner was perfect they would microchip their cat, they would sterilise their cat, and they would take their cat outside on a lead or if they confine their cat to the home they would make sure that it was thoroughly enriched for their cat's entertainment. Many cat owners are far from perfect of course.

One issue is a lack of knowledge despite many years of discussion about cat caregiving on the internet. Things have improved by there is work to do.

I think education about cat ownership needs to be in the frame here. I would like to see domestic cat husbandry introduced into schools. It could be wider than that. You could have a course about companion animal husbandry for schoolkids. That should and could be part of the curriculum.


P.S. please forgive the occasional typo. These articles are written at breakneck speed using Dragon Dictate. I have to prepare them in around 20 mins.

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