The Mercury Feb 2, 2013
Ingrid Tebb is devoted to helping her feline friends.
THE stories are all too familiar the young girl, pregnant, alone and homeless, trying to find her way in a world that has abandoned her and turned its back, deliberately blind to her plight.
Then there’s the old fella living on the streets. His eyes light up each time someone approaches as he remembers a warm bed, a fire maybe this is the one.
But now there’s nothing but hard ground and harder faces. He was loved, once, but something went wrong and he lost his way. Then there are the youngsters left alone by their mum. She’s not coming back, and no one else is prepared to take on the responsibility, so they huddle together in terror of what is to come a life in a frightening wilderness where they will exist hand to mouth, dying most likely of an illness or injury so much before their time.
These are just some of the stories that drew me to the Hobart Cat Centre and the stories that keep me coming back, because sadly, they never change.
It has been more than 13 years since I first began my commitment to the felines of this state and in that time there have been some big steps made the advent of microchipping, new legislation, education and increased awareness but there is still so much more to do.
We face an ongoing battle, for although there is so much information out there, we are constantly confronted with deliberate and brazen ignorance that’s enough to make you weep.
Everyone knows cats breed prolifically two undesexed cats can be responsible for the production of 400,000 offspring and yet there is still this perpetual and purposeful disregard for the facts.
The result of this is, without overstating it, simply catastrophic.
We aren’t talking about a couple of kittens born here and there and re-homed with a sign on the nearest lamp post. We are talking about thousands and thousands of unwanted and unloved kittens kittens that will never make it through their first year because they are sick with one of the many illnesses that can affect little ones, or because they meet an unwelcome fate at the paws of dogs, wildlife, other cats, or more commonly that they are put to sleep because animal welfare shelters are bursting at the seams.
Like most organisations, we have foster carers who can assist with caring for these babies, but there are only so many and when they are full, where does the next litter go?
Supply and demand unfortunately are just not on the same parallel. These are animals that are literally born to die. The unfairness of it all is ever present. For many their first breath will be close to their last.
Those that do make it through to adulthood are usually consigned to an existence as a feral or a stray, faced with a life of privation, fear, hunger and disease. The truth is many feral cats don’t make it past their third year.
We pride ourselves on our concern for the environment, we promote our culture as a humane one. We march to save trees, we wave banners to save the orang-utans, we throw ourselves in front of large factory ships to save whales all valid causes to be sure.
But where are the howls of outrage as hundreds of thousands of animals are put to deathevery year? Why are there no banners to save the life of the helpless kitten that has been born unnecessarily? Too small to worry about? Too inconsequential? We have a species to save. We can’t worry about just one life.
So what will make you care about that one life? What price do we place on it and who is prepared to pay it?
The answer to these questions is simple and the price so small it’s hard to comprehend to save a life or many lives is merely the cost of desexing and microchipping, and those who should pay it are responsible pet owners.
In reality, it’s a small monetary investment in light of the alternatives and isn’t a lot to ask of our “humane” race.
The Cat Management Act, introduced on July 1, 2012, we believed, was going to be our “saviour”, and that of thousands of unwanted felines. It was truly a heady time our little island was once again leading the way with an act that surpassed the legislation of many other states, despite a few issues that need fine tuning.
So far, however, it has failed to live up to its promise.
Instead of tackling the problem head-on, proactively saving lives and changing our communities for the better, legislative bodies appear to have stuck their heads in the kitty litter, ignoring what needs to be done.
Is the task too daunting? Was the focus only ever going to be on feral cats with the domestic aspect merely an afterthought?
It’s all too easy for people to bandy the term “feral” about, classifying every stray cat as a feral cat to suit a political or environmental agenda, when in actual fact most people have never seen a true feral. Then there’s the scaremongering that ensures the rights of all animals, feral or not, are afforded under the Animal Welfare Act are subjugated and ignored when it comes to the dreaded feral.
No, cats should not be allowed to gain a foothold in our environment and they should be dealt with, but in a way that acknowledges their capacity to feel pain and fear.
Perhaps while hunting for foxes, the cat issue could be addressed. But let’s stop the blame game the responsibility for the presence of feral cats and the damage they do must be laid squarely and unequivocally at our feet. Humans have allowed cats to breed unchecked.
Most people don’t realise feral populations are topped up by domestic cats that originate in our urban sprawl.
On an island the size of Tasmania, compulsory desexing and microchipping, with an enforcement program driven by state and local governments rather than NGOs, could reduce the numbers of unwanted and stray animals to almost zero.
Those that are lost can be found those that are about to be born will have to wait until the time is right to make their appearance in our universe. And when they do, they will be able to live a bigger life, full of joy rather than a short one of dark despair.
Until that time the Hobart Cat Centre will be here with a simple message let’s avoid the despair and darkness and be about hope desex and microchip now.
- Ingrid Tebb has been president of the Hobart Cat Centre for about 10 years. She moved to Tasmania from NSW 1994. She lives with her partner Peter and their five cats. She works as a real estate agent for Raine & Horne Hobart who are also very supportive of the service that the cat centre provides.