4 April 2024

Cats left out in the cold by Shellharbour Council's new lost and found service

| Zoe Cartwright
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Shellharbour Council will not take measures to contain or rescue roaming cats unless they are in a food preparation or wildlife area, and rescue organisations fear this will lead to an explosion in the feral cat population. Photo: Dione David.

Shellharbour City Council will not take responsibility for the management of lost or stray cats as part of its new lost and stray services, a council spokesperson said.

“Shellharbour City Council do not attend to lost, stray or roaming cats,” the spokesperson said.

“We will only accept or seize a cat where the cat is in a food preparation or consumption area or in a wildlife protection zone.”

The RSPCA’s contract with Illawarra councils to provide pound services expired on 29 March.

The councils announced they would work with kennels between Sydney and Nowra, and local vets, to accommodate lost or stray animals.

Wollongong, Shellharbour and the Blue Mountains were the only NSW councils which had contracts with the RSPCA to provide pound services.

The RSPCA notified the councils in 2021 that it would not be renewing the contract to operate its pound facilities, but local rescue groups fear the councils did not use the time to come up with effective management strategies of their own.

READ ALSO Wollongong, Shellharbour start new service for lost and stray animals to replace RSPCA pound

Nicole Harrison, of Lost and Found Pets Illawarra, said she was concerned by the lack of detail.

“It’s all a bit hazy at the moment,” she said.

“As far as we know the holding facilities the councils plan to use are anywhere from Nowra to Sydney.

“Will the reclaim fees be higher because the council is transporting these animals in and out of the area?

“Microchips aren’t perfect – if you have a common breed like a red male cattle dog, and its chip is broken or gets missed, how do you know if that’s your red cattle dog in a Sydney pound or Nowra pound unless you go and look at them?

“For the elderly and people with disabilities, that travel might not be possible.

“It’s disappointing to us as community members and the Lost and Found admin – we know how much time the councils had to come up with a solution, and this feels rushed.”

Rescuers fear the inadequate response will put more pressure on volunteers, who are unable to keep up with the volume of abandoned pets as it is.

They are particularly worried about the lack of provision for cats, or other animals including livestock, in the Shellharbour area.

Angela Butler, of Illawarra Cat Rescue Support, said rescuers were coming together to support one another – but they needed help.

“It’s gut-wrenching news,” she said.

“We’re all coming together to see how we can help, what some possible solutions could be.

“People don’t realise how hard it is to rehome animals; taking on a cat that needs to be rehomed is a long-term proposition, and we’re concerned with how these changes will affect the way we operate.

“Our primary concern is for the animals, there’s nowhere for them to be held in the Illawarra, and rescues are completely voluntary.

“We have full-time jobs, we do this in our own time, we don’t get funding, yet we’re expected to be the solution?

“We just can’t take in a high volume of cats and I don’t think people realise that.”

READ ALSO Pets are part of the family, so why is there still so much stigma about grieving their loss?

They hope the council has a more extensive long-term plan to manage lost and stray animals in the Illawarra.

Both rescue groups said they would be keen to work with the council to develop solutions.

“At the moment, the council website refers you to their general number which is not manned out of hours or on public holidays,” Nicole said.

“There’s not a lot of information about what to do if you find a lost animal, or on how to rehome an animal if you need to.

“For a variety of reasons many people can’t keep an animal on their property for an extended period of time, and rescues are often full.

“What will happen on nights like NYE?

“I hope this is very temporary and they have other plans in the works – but if not, we would love to work with the councils to develop a strategy.”

Angela agreed.

“Even if it was just around providing education for people who need to rehome their pets,” she said.

“Cats are going to be a massive issue for the Illawarra, and the councils need to have a dedicated facility just like any other council.

“We don’t want to criticise, we want to help.”

The RSPCA will continue to operate in the Illawarra, offering its outreach and education programs and focusing on the prevention of animal cruelty.

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