Practice manager at Victory Vets, Brendan Hickman, has been microchipping cats at the SPCA to help alleviate strays around Nelson. Photo: Kate Russell.

Call for cat bylaw after stray surge

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Local vets and the SPCA are calling on Nelson City Council to introduce a microchipping bylaw for cats, as they struggle to deal with the number of strays.

Last year the Nelson SPCA centre saw nearly 300 stray cats and kittens through its doors, a number manager Donna Walzl would like to see reduced.

“I’d love to see compulsory microchipping for cats. They sit in a cage for up to seven days waiting for their owners and it’s the nicest feeling being able to reunite them – especially if they are sick or injured,” she says.

A microchip is a permanent method of identification which allows vets, animal shelters and councils to contact the owner of a cat.

About the size as a grain of rice, it is injected under the skin with a unique identification code which can be read by an electronic scanner.

The code is recorded alongside the owner’s contact details on a national database.

Practice manager at Victory Vets, Brendan Hickman, says from a veterinarian’s point of view, stray cats can be a financial burden as well as an emotional one, and compulsory microchipping would make their job much easier.

“We get numerous cats that come in injured or found dead and we can’t find their owner. With injured cats, we’re investing our own finances into helping them. We spend a lot of money on these cats.

“Often people go away on holiday or move to a new house and their cats wander, but we can’t hold onto their cat forever. It’s always ongoing.”

Todd Field, president of the Nelson Marlborough branch of the New Zealand Veterinary Association agrees, says he raised the idea of mandatory microchipping with the council a few years ago.

“They were not against it, but the issue was around how they would enforce it. It seems to be a bit of a grey area where no one wants to take on the responsibility.”

Clare Barton, group manager environmental management at council, says they have acknowledged the suggestion and are currently considering what is happening nationally and whether a coordinated Nelson/Tasman approach is needed.

The council currently provides a $5000 subsidy to the SPCA to help with the cost of cat control activities, including desexing programmes, rehoming, public education, and assisting the public with stray cats.

“While there are no bylaws specific to cats in urban areas in Nelson, council encourages responsible ownership of all animals,” says Clare.

Microchipping bylaws are already in place in other parts of New Zealand, including Wellington and Palmerston North.

Marlborough District Council have also introduced a multiple cat licence, where if you want to keep more than four cats, you need to pay a licence fee of $75.

Todd says it costs between $30 – $50 to microchip a cat, but this could go down with a bylaw.

Meanwhile, Donna says the SPCA still have around 100 spaces left for cats to be microchipped or desexed for a reduced cost of $25 in their Snip ‘n Chip campaign, which runs until 13 March in Nelson.

“It’s going really well, but we still need more people to sign up. So far, we’ve had four days of 20 cats a day and there are still a few weeks to go.

“If you don’t have a community services card and can’t afford it please get in touch with us and we’ll see what we can do.”