Jill Kurr with her cat Ashley and a modular enclosure at their home in Holder. Photo: Melissa Adams
A letterbox campaign against cats being allowed to roam free in Richardson has sparked debate over the capital's curfew laws and revealed the extent to which pet owners go to comply with the city's tough wildlife regulations.
Some cat lovers in Canberra are spending up to $15,000 on keeping their pets safe and away from local wildlife. Owners of cats in several newer Canberra suburbs are required to keep cats indoors or contained within cat runs.
This gutless individual is lecturing, but is not prepared to speak with, his/her immediate neighbours, instead sending an anonymous threatening note.
However, in older suburbs cats are not restricted by curfews, leading to neighbourhood disputes such as the one in the Richardson street where one resident has threatened to bait and trap his neighbours' straying felines.
Should people be able to bait and trap nuisance cats on their property?
"We've got a rabbit who was out in her run and the cat from around the corner got in and attacked and almost killed her. She's having surgery today - it's probably $1500-2000 worth of damage. We've got cats ourselves but we keep them indoors. We're supposed to in our area, but these guys don't. I've thought about [putting traps out] myself - maybe hand their cat to them on the doorstep with $2000 worth of vet bills." Chris Disbrey, of Watson. Photo: Melissa Adams
The unnamed resident of the southern suburb sent out warning notices last Thursday to nearby cat owners that action would be taken after numerous pets were urinating, defecating and fighting on their property.
''By law I am allowed to bait and trap animals that are nuisances and take them to the RSPCA or somewhere far, far away. The choice will be mine,'' the angry individual said.
''Your pet cats are disrupting our peaceful enjoyment in our own home, you have been warned.''
The RSPCA responded by placing notices in Cottrell Place letterboxes reminding residents it was an offence to poison an animal with the intent to kill or injure, with maximum penalties of a $10,000 fine and one year's jail.
The resident's anonymous letter does not include a threat of poisoning or an explicit reference to killing the trapped cats, but there was no guarantee of a safe return to the owner.
''I will now set up various forms of cat traps to get rid of these animals and leave the problem behind (wherever that may be),'' the letter states.
A resident who received both notices and asked to remain anonymous said the individual's threat was disgusting and reflected a failure of communication.
''This gutless individual is lecturing, but is not prepared to speak with, his/her immediate neighbours, instead sending an anonymous threatening note,'' the resident said.
''The power, the 'choice will be mine', [sounds] like some kind of Hannibal Lecter figure.
''I would think this letter has been sent by somebody who simply has too much time on their hands - cats pissing in your garden is a First World problem.''
RSPCA ACT chief executive Michael Linke said the use of traps on your own property was legal, but cats were free to wander around a suburb unless it was in one of the nine areas with a 24-hour curfew.
''There is no requirement in Canberra to detain your cat - cats are allowed to roam freely,'' he said.
''A trap is perfectly legal on your own property, provided it's a humane trap, and they bring [the cat] to RSPCA.''
A Territory and Municipal Services spokeswoman said a cat must, however, be released if the trapper knows who the owner of the cat is.
Mr Linke said a trapper was not able to dump an animal anywhere they liked.
''That's illegal, that's abandonment, and there are fines for abandonment under the Animal Welfare Act,'' he said.
Mr Linke said where a cat was causing damage, such as scratching cars as the note-writing neighbour claims, a civil remedy could be sought.
The TAMS spokeswoman said talking through pet problems was the best first option. ''The ACT government recommends that people dealing with nuisance cats should first contact the owner of the cat about the problem and attempt to resolve it,'' she said. ''There are also products available from hardware stores and pet stores which can be used to deter cats.''
The ACT government estimates one in four households owns cats, with about 56,000 in the capital, and all cats must be micro-chipped.
Cottrell Place has about a dozen residences and is one kilometre from Prichard Circuit in Richardson, where five dogs owned by several residents were poisoned, with four dying, within 24 hours in 2009.
The ACT's cat curfew areas are Bonner, Crace, Coombs, Forde, Lawson, Mulligan's Flat, Wright, the Goorooyarroo Nature Reserve and The Fair at Watson development in North Watson.
Cat run installer Jan Kurr, of Balcony Courtyard Living, said people who used cat runs were looking for a way to keep their cat safe from other animals in the area while also protecting native wildlife.
''There's not much you can do to police your cats if you allow them out at night'' Ms Kurr said. ''But with a cat enclosure, they are safe and protected.''