By Kirra Grimes
SOUTH Gippsland’s much-hyped 24-hour cat curfew could be a candidate for most pointless policy of the year, as Council reveals it could be scrapped altogether without ever actually coming into effect.
The policy was adopted at Council’s December 2018 meeting, with the aim of “reducing the incidence of cats causing a nuisance, attacks on native fauna and unwanted cat litters”.
It’s been “in place” since April 1, 2019, meaning that, from that date, South Gippsland cat owners have been “responsible for ensuring that their cats remain on their own properties” 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
In the lead up to the April introduction, many cat owners expressed concerns they’d be forced to spend hundreds of dollars on enclosures and fencing to keep their pets confined 24/7, or surrender their animals altogether, if unable to so.
But, nearly six months later, these same residents say nothing much has changed.
Annette Gale and Michael Chesterfield of Korumburra invested over $700 in an outdoor enclosure for their four cats prior to the introduction of the 24-hour curfew.
And while they don’t regret spending the money – for the sake of good relations with their neighbours, who aren’t fond of visiting cats – they say the policy has done little to deter other cat owners from allowing their pets to roam the streets.
“I think the whole thing is pretty pointless. You still see cats everywhere. We’ve got seven or eight cats roaming around here every night,” Michael said.
Annette said most of her friends within the shire who owned cats had found they could quite easily get away with a relaxed approach to the new regulations.
“They know about it [the curfew] but most people just ignore it,” she said.
“They don’t agree with keeping their animals confined, and the penalties are no different from what they used to be, so they don’t really worry about it.”
Annette and Michael suggested cat lovers may be more receptive to a sunset to sunrise curfew, as opposed to a 24-hour curfew, and that making the rules less “confusing,” as well as lowering pet registration fees, might also help with compliance.
“Why should you have to pay rego when you have to keep your pets locked up?” Michael said.
Council admits they have not been enforcing the new regulations.
They can’t, they say, because the shire’s Local Law has not been updated to give council officers the authority to do so.
Instead, they’ve been taking an “educative” approach, with Local Laws officers returning registered cats to their owners and “making the owners aware of their responsibilities,” if their cats are found wandering (unregistered cats found wandering will be taken to the pound).
And now, Council has revealed the whole policy is up for review, as the Local Law goes out for consultation in the coming months.
According to Manager of Regulatory Services Jamie Thorley, the cat curfew policy “has the ability to be further amended, based on comments received from our community” during a November 2019 to January 2020 consultation period.
When questioned by the Sentinel-Times last week, Mr Thorley did not rule out scrapping the 24-hour curfew, simply responding that “all feedback will be considered” and that the amended Local Law is likely to be adopted in February 2020.
The review of the Local Law will also look at a shire-wide ‘dog leash order’ adopted at the same time as the cat curfew, but also yet to be enforced.
The dog leash order stipulates that dogs must be kept on a leash within South Gippsland’s township areas, including general residential, commercial and industrial areas, but excluding parks, reserves or trails within townships.
Local Laws officers “are maintaining an educative approach if they see anyone with dogs off their leashes in public areas at the moment,” Mr Thorley said last week.