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Motion: Cat Management

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: I move:

That this council—

1. Recognises that free cat desexing programs will improve population control and welfare outcomes for cats and shelter and rescue staff and volunteers.

2. Calls on the South Australian government to expand free desexing programs for cats to reduce shelter intake, overpopulation and strain on shelter and rescue workers and volunteers.

It was revealed in 2019, in a joint report published by the RSPCA and the Animal Welfare League, that the current management systems and the implementation of the Dog and Cat Management Act in our state are simply ineffective. South Australia has the second highest number of cat ownership in the nation, with 37 per cent of South Australian households owning approximately 397,000 cats. That is no small number. However, our Dog and Cat Management Act currently fails to address the issue of the 171,000 unowned or semi-owned cats in our state.

Since 2018, this has led to a 20 per cent increase in shelter intake at the RSPCA, and that number is increasing. The resources of rescue charities, both large and small, are struggling to cope, resulting in poor welfare outcomes for both the cats and of course the people who seek to care for them. While there is no statewide figure published, it is estimated that at least 43 per cent of the annual intake is euthanised between the Animal Welfare League and the RSPCA. I note that the RSPCA does publish their figures. With the yearly intake at approximately 11,000, that is almost 5,000 cats per year.

Many more cats are currently euthanised and they could be rehomed if the system was not as overloaded. For example, RSPCA Queensland reduced their euthanasia rate by a third for cats previously classified as feral just by lengthening the time they spent in care. Shelter staff can suffer mental health problems as a result of being tasked with killing healthy, redeemable animals. Several studies have shown that these workers suffer higher rates of post-traumatic stress, depression and substance abuse. This has resulted in low job satisfaction and high turnover.

The current cat management strategies in our state have largely relied on animal welfare organisations and veterinarians to deal with unwanted cats. Councils have few responsibilities under current legislation and most do the minimum in managing cat issues within their council areas. This lack of local council involvement does vary greatly, and it also differs from other states and territories in our nation where in some places council responsibilities for cat management are similar to those of dogs. So what does work? Carefully targeted and free desexing programs. Whilst subsidised, low-cost programs help, they do not achieve the desexing volumes necessary to achieve the substantial reduction in population needed.

The 2022 announcement of the Dog and Cat Management Board that they were to have a $100,000 fund for subsidised desexing is a step in the right direction, but it is absolutely not enough. It depends on councils being motivated to become involved, and we cannot rely only on that motivation. The board have even said it themselves: not all councils have taken up the offer. That is because this funding requires them to make a co-payment, and councils in the most severe financial distress simply cannot afford this.

The funding also needs to be targeted to the areas of highest need. It is clearly an unsustainable situation for organisations such as the RSPCA and the AWL and the many rescues who rely predominantly on community goodwill and community donations. One of the main contributing factors in the continued growth of the unwanted cat population and subsequent intake into rescues and shelters is likely to be the failure to desex cats in low income households and semi-owned and unowned cats.

Targeted, low-cost desexing programs have been shown to be effective in increasing desexing rates, and they also receive strong community support. Ongoing low-cost desexing programs have helped achieve what is called zero euthanasia of all healthy and treatable stray and surrendered cats and dogs in places like the Gold Coast, the second largest council in our country.

Our community have made it clear that they want to see parliaments take action regarding wandering cats and the first step to solving that problem is of course desexing. Desexing not only helps to ensure fewer unwanted animals but also helps to reduce their desire to roam in search of a mate or get into fights. Desexed animals can also live longer and healthier lives. It is time for our government to work with councils and provide leadership and also to invest in our shelters and rescues and fund free desexing programs for cats right across the state.

What that would look like is a question that other members of this council have already asked me, even before I moved this motion. I draw their attention to a document called the Dog and Cat Management Act review submission called 'Funding free desexing programs' dated December 2022. That submission has been made on behalf of a number of rescues in this state: Adelaide Kitten Rescue, Cats in Crisis, Cat Adoption Foundation, Ginger Ninja, Help Save the Kitties, Hisses to Purrs, Making a Difference Cat Rescue and Adoption, Paws and Claws Adoptions Incorporated, Purrfect Paws Rescue, Rescue Me Whiskers and Paws, SA Cat Rescue, South Aussies for Animals, Tiny Tails Rescue Adelaide, Whiskers and Tails Adoption, and Wild Cat Cottage.

I apologise if I have forgotten any, but I think that is all the organisations that have been involved in not only making a submission to the dog and cat management review on this issue but working together over a period of some five or six months to see a handwritten petition tabled in the other place, handwritten, with over 11,000 signatures so far. It is an issue that therefore will warrant a debate in this parliament and it is one of the reasons why I moved this motion today.

As we know, previous legislation has seen a petition with more than 10,000 signatures, hand signed, of South Australians, verified, trigger a debate. Often, it will go to the Legislative Review Committee. Indeed, I know that issues of the Dog and Cat Management Act do already take up a significant period of time in that particular committee.

I note that we need a statewide coordinated response to both dog and cat management in this state. This is just one area that hopefully out of the Dog and Cat Management Act review we will see some positive reforms sometime soon. I refer members' attention to that petition, which shows the substantial level of community interest in our leadership on this matter. I also particularly thank Virginie Ducruc, who has been tireless not only in supporting unowned cats in our community but also in pulling together this particular document, the petition of over 11,000 signatures so far. Thank you, Virginie, for your leadership. I hope we do not let you down.

There has been a significant shift in the burden that we are currently seeing in our shelters and rescues in this state, and we are not unique in that; it is a trend happening right across the country right now. Interstate, shelters and rescues are at crisis point, as they are here. Interstate, some of them have had to close their doors. For the first time in my memory, we have seen the RSPCA have to turn away animals in the past year. That is because, after the COVID crisis, when many people took on animals, there are situations that have now led to them to not being able to continue that. We have also seen a cost-of-living crisis, which we would all be very well familiar with, that has seen people unable to sustain what would otherwise be much-loved pets.

The people who care for these animals, who provide that important role in providing rescue and care, also deserve our support. They are under enormous pressures right now financially, emotionally and literally physically. They need our help and desexing is something that this parliament can show leadership in ensuring.

In terms of looking at the best way to do it, I seek leave to table the submission made on behalf of all those rescues aforementioned to the Dog and Cat Management Act review. It provides costed examples that have worked in other jurisdictions of ways that South Australia can do better when it comes to supporting not just the shelters and rescues and the animals within them but the people who devote their volunteer time most often to ensuring appropriate care, as well as those veterinarians who, of course, get into this profession because they love animals and do not necessarily needlessly want to put them down. With that, I commend the motion.

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