17 Sep 2018

Plan to classify unchipped cats as pests results in death threats

7:35 pm on 17 September 2018

An Auckland Council staffer at the helm of its new pest management strategy has received death threats.

A cat in the bush

File photo. Photo: 123RF

Animal rights activists met with the council this afternoon to air their concerns about the city's plan to classify any cat without a microchip as a pest.

The strategy - due to be finalised by March next year - means any cat without a microchip found in council-branded biodiverse areas will be euthanised.

Councillors Penny Hulse and Cathy Casey met interest groups, including the SPCA and Paw Justice, this afternoon following death threats.

Ms Hulse said threats were made against Auckland Council's principal biosecurity advisor via social media and official council channels.

"[The advocacy groups] have actually been really good; they're been helpful and supportive. This is in no way linking them to any of that negative behaviour. We did, however, touch on the fact that some of our fringe members of groups or individuals are making these kinds of threats to staff and we all agree that that is completely unacceptable."

Ms Hulse said the threats have been reported to the police, and the staffer was receiving support.

She said the strong sentiment behind the issue was what led the council to meet with advocacy groups.

"We weren't under any legal obligation to go through a formal submission process but it just seemed to me that when you're dealing with something that is as personal and as passionately held as people's pets, that it was a really important thing to do."

Feral cats are already classified as pests under the council's existing regional pest management strategy, but the new one will mean any un-microchipped cat found at at specific sites of ecological significance will be considered a pest.

These cats will be the targets of cat-trappings and may be euthanised, like rats and possums.

Anne Batley-Burton, president of the New Zealand Cat Foundation, said pets are at risk in the new strategy.

"If that's the case you would end up with people's pets getting killed, you would end up with the poor strays being wiped out and that would be a terrible situation. These are all sentient beings and their lives should not be taken lightly."

Andrea Midgen, Auckland SPCA's chief executive, said the plan is just too broad.

"They've mapped and said these areas are ecologically sensitive but they haven't actually got down to whether they're ecologically sensitive to flora or fauna or both. So lets target the ones that are really critical, maybe like the regional parks, rather than the bush reserve that's at the back of a residential area."

The public needed time to transition, she said.

"In New Zealand we've had a situation where cats roam pretty freely...so we need to transition people to be able to manage that and put strategies in place to bring that about. Doing something next month or next year is going to be too much of a big ask, we need to give people time to get used to it."

Ms Batley-Burton said she knew nothing about those sending death threats.

This afternoon's meeting ended with councillors asking advocacy groups to use their influence to stop the culprits, she said.

"I find that rather strange actually because I can't imagine anyone doing that but that's what she said... if that's the truth, obviously these people need to be stopped."

Ms Hulse said the council's proposed plan would be finalised by March next year, after councillors have had time to consider the feedback they're received.

Following that the council would contact local communities affected by the pest management strategy, to ensure all cat owners have reasonable time to microchip their feline companions, she said.