Opinion piece by Karen Fifield, Chief Executive Wellington Zoo Trust.

At Wellington Zoo we know that having close contact with animals is a key element in people’s wellbeing, and they help to build love and respect for the environment and all living things. And, we know that people, as we do at the Zoo, build strong emotional connections with the animals in their lives. As a good zoo, the highest level of animal care is of the utmost importance to us. We connect our community to animals and advocate for them to be respected and well cared for both in and out of zoos. Over 230,000 visitors a year come to Wellington Zoo, and for the past nine years we have been asking our visitors to think about how they can be responsible pet owners through two simple requests – keeping their cats in at night, and keeping their dogs on a lead.

As animal experts, advocates, and animal lovers we support bylaws that allow for all animals to live long and happy lives. We know that we all share the space of this city – people, pets and wildlife and we encourage the Council to update the animal bylaws in recognition of this. Adopting change is sometimes hard and requires a holistic approach; involving different organisations around the city, not just the Council.

What we’re asking Council to do with bylaws doesn’t need to be hard. It’s about taking the steps to mandate what is right for animals in our city. It’s the right thing to do for everyone who loves and cares about animals.

LBP resizeWe’re lucky to live in a city with a population of Kororā Little Blue Penguins along our coastline and we encourage Wellingtonians to take the lead for our population of these animals. The easiest way to protect penguins is for dog walkers to keep their dogs on leads in wildlife sensitive areas.

As a partner in Places for Penguins, caring for them in the Zoo, and the knowledge of avian experts on Zoo staff, we know that Little Blue Penguins Kororā are most active on land between dusk and dawn. The current proposal to make beaches available to dogs off leash between 7pm and 10 am is placing Little Blue Penguins Kororā directly at risk. We believe that it would be easier for dog owners if the same restrictions applied to all areas at all times of the year and avoided times where it will create a conflict with penguins.

We also love dogs and support more off-leash areas, with additional fencing and clear boundaries to help with keep dogs safe.

As well as advocating for pet owners to keep their cats in at night, we recommend mandatory microchipping of pet cats and further emphasis on de-sexing. Microchipping cats helps to make sure that cats get the love and care that they deserve. A good owner will take steps to make sure that it’s easy to reunite with their pet in the event that their cat is injured or goes missing. It also differentiates a pet cat that has strayed from a feral cat. We already microchip dogs – so why not cats?

Feral cats spread disease to household cats, predate on native wildlife, and live in poor welfare conditions. To euthanise feral cat populations to reduce their impact is taking a humane approach to population management. But we need to know the cats are feral before any such step is taken, which means we must microchip our pet cats.

Without de-sexing, domestic cats may contribute to the growth of the feral cat population imposing a greater operational cost on wildlife protection and on the Council.

For the sake of good animal welfare, we’re pushing for Council to go a step further than de-sexing and microchipping and create a cat curfew to keep cats in at night – to protect cats and wildlife. There are risks posed to cats when they are free-roaming including vehicle accidents, cat fights and exposure to infectious diseases.

As part of our submissions, we’ve asked Council to update the bylaws in regards to animal welfare to keep with international best practice and move from the Five Freedoms to the Five Domains of Animal Welfare. The Five Domains promote a positive welfare state for animals, rather the freedom from negative welfare states.

The Five Domains are:

  • Nutrition e.g. appropriate consumption of nutritious foods is a pleasurable experience. 
  • Environmental e.g. benign conditions offer adaptive choices and variety
  • Health e.g. physically sound (uninjured and disease free) animals enjoy good health
  • Behaviour e.g. environment-focused and inter-animal activities are satisfying and engaging
  • Mental or Affective e.g. animals experience comfort, pleasure, interest and confidence.

We can work alongside Council and other animal welfare and wildlife organisations across the city on effective community engagement about how to provide positive welfare for any pets, including keeping cats in at night, and dogs on leads.. Let’s use our collective knowledge to provide a life worth living for all animals – cats, dogs and wildlife alike.