Take Action: Be a conservation-minded pet parent
Our “fur-babies” are important members of our families, but they can also impact our local environments. That's why Gini, our Senior Communications Advisor who knows a thing or two about responsible cat ownership (she even wrote her thesis on it!), is here to help. She's got some great tips on how you can keep both your pets and native wildlife safe and happy!
People are sometimes shocked to find out that I work in conservation but also love cats, like one automatically cancels the other out. I come from a long line of cat lovers (my grandma used to breed British Blues) and I have a 12-year-old calico cat named Treacle at home who loves napping in the sun and watching manu/birds from inside (and food, most of all she loves food).
Here are a few ways you can act for conservation and also have a happy and safe pet cat!
Microchipping and desexing
When we adopted Treacle, one of the first things we did was take her to the vet and get her microchipped. Microchips are a chip about the size of a grain of rice which are inserted under the skin of your cat and can be scanned to access your details. This means if your cat ever gets lost then they can be returned to you. Even if you have an indoor cat this is a good idea in case they escape, or a disaster happens. For example, following the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, 85% of microchipped animals were reunited with their owners, compared with a rate of just 15% for those without chips.
Desexing is also important as it reduces the number of unwanted kittens. There are three categories of cats; feral, stray and companion, which you can read about here. Cats who aren’t desexed contribute into the stray and feral populations which have big impacts on our native wildlife.
Keep your cat safe at home.
Keeping your cat at home means they don’t run the risk of getting hurt by things like cars, other animals or poisons. This also doesn’t mean they can’t go outside at all.
Some people have trained their cats to go on walks outside on a leash or have built catios onto their homes so their cats can go out and get fresh air while still being contained to their property. You can also attach rollers to your fences which stop your cat being able to jump up and out of your property.
Even reducing the amount of time that you let your cat outdoors can make a big difference if you can’t commit to a fully indoor cat. For example, I rent so I can’t build a catio but I do keep Treacle indoors when we aren’t home and at night (and basically all winter – we only occasionally open the backdoor on warm, sunny days in the summer.)
We play with Treacle a lot to keep her entertained and she cycles through her favourite toys to keep things interesting. She is also the most food motivated cat I have ever met, and we put her dinner in different slow feeders or puzzle bowls to get her thinking. These types of things aren’t just for dogs – cats need this type of enrichment too! And of course, petting and cuddling your cat is a great way to keep them feeling loved and cared for while also benefitting your mental health as well.
What about other pets?
While cats are often at the front of the conversation about pets and wildlife, dogs can have a big impact as well. Now that we have kiwi roaming the hills in Wellington, it is even more important to be a responsible dog owner. Keeping your dogs on a leash is one of the best things you can do, which also keeps them safe from other interactions with dogs and toxins while you are out walking. Dogs also have an impact on shorebirds too who nest and forage on the beach and manu like kororā/little blue penguins, who are also iconic Wellington birds and are susceptible to being killed by dogs. Capital Kiwi also put on aversion training for dogs which you can sign up to be notified when training opportunities arise.
I believe we can continue to help precious native species (including lizards and insects too!) thrive while also being able to continue having our furry family members by our side – it’ll just take a bit of changing our behaviours, so everyone can have a safe place to call home.