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Roaming domestic cats

By Allen Greer - posted Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Did you know that in New South Wales, your neighbour’s cat can come onto your property and even into your house at any time of the day or night; defecate and urinate in your flower garden, vegetable patch or child’s sand box; spray your plants and walls, and stalk and kill the native wildlife in your garden?

To any ordinary person, any cat doing any of these things would be deemed a “nuisance.” But NSW has a much narrower legal definition of a nuisance cat. NSW law considers a cat a “nuisance” only if makes a noise that unreasonably interferes with your peace, comfort or convenience, or repeatedly damages your property. And the burden of proof is on you. Only if you can prove one of these offences, can your local council make a “nuisance cat” declaration and act.

But how likely is it that you could prove either of these two legal definitions of a nuisance cat to a court’s satisfaction? You would have to have audio or photographic evidence.  To be creditable, audio evidence, most likely only available at night, would have to be certified as to time, place and identity of the cat, and photographic evidence would have to bear a digital date and time and be clear as to location (the complainant’s property).


Furthermore, while a noise offence is likely to be prolonged, giving time to set up and record, a physical-damage offence, presumably something like killing one of your young chooks or shredding your outdoor furniture, is likely to be fleeting and hence not easily recorded. Furthermore, you would have to record physical damage more than once to pursue your complaint. These logistical problems make it almost impossible to pursue even the narrow legal definition of a “nuisance cat.” In effect, therefore, offended owners have no practical recourse to stop a cat coming onto their property and doing whatever it likes. A cynical view would be that the definition was designed to be virtually non-litagable.

There can only be two reasons for why the burden of proof is on complainants and not cat owners. Either the cat lobby and lawmakers believe any mandatory restraint would be against cat welfare, or it is perceived as an inconvenience to the cat owners.

If it is the first reason, then it is putting a roaming cat’s welfare ahead of your and your family’s welfare, because cats can carry a variety of viral, bacterial and protozoan diseases that are transmittable to humans and other animals through their faeces and saliva.  The protozoan parasite that causes toxoplasmosis, for example, can lie dormant in the soil for months after a cat’s poo has become mixed into the soil/sand of your vegetable garden or child’s play area.

Furthermore, the law is putting a roaming cat’s welfare ahead of native wildlife’s welfare. The law is blind to the welfare implications of your neighbour’s well fed and comfortably homed non-native predator tearing apart the native mammals, birds, lizards and frogs in your garden. To the extent cat owners know this is likely to happen and do nothing, they are complicit in their cat’s behaviour.

If the convenience of the cat owner is the reason for no control, then it puts the inconvenience of one household ahead of the inconvenience and amenity of the neighbouring households who like their gardens and wildlife. There is now tracking information, available on the Web, showing that domestic cats roam routinely across three or four neighbouring yards, with occasional forays two or three times this distance and even into adjacent bushland. And a domestic cat doesn’t have to kill garden wildlife to have an effect. Just a regular prowl through a garden can cause wildlife to leave.

Thirty percent of Australia households have cats and 21 percent let their cats roam. Why should the 79 percent of non-cat and responsible-cat households have to pander to this minority?


There are three ways cats can be kept from roaming: keep them indoors, put them on a tether when outdoors or let them out in a cat run. None of these restraints are prohibited by animal welfare legislation, and responsible owners already use them. Indeed, large numbers of cats are kept in apartments for their entire lives.

The ACT has foreshadowed legislation requiring all cat owners to contain their cat to their own property, effectively to keep them indoors or in a cat run. The Randwick Council in Sydney also recently mooted a move in the same direction, although how they will get around the state’s definition of a nuisance cat remains to be seen. And most importantly, the RSPCA recently recommended that Australia move to 24 hour-containment of domestic cats.

No domestic stock or dog can roam freely through our neighbourhoods, so why should domestic cats?

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About the Author

Allen Greer is a biologist who writes about science and nature.

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All articles by Allen Greer

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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