21 November 2018

Free-range felines a problem for one in four Danes


While ‘cat wars’ have yet to erupt on Danish soil as they have abroad, a new University of Copenhagen study reports that a quarter of Danes find it problematic that the most common domestic animal is allowed to roam at will.

Two cats on the pavement.

The study is the first representative study of a population’s relationship towards domestic cats. Photo: Pexels

Cat poop in the garden annoys me. Cats ought to be kept inside. Cats just generally bother me. These are some of the comments from the one in four Danes who aren’t thrilled about cats being allowed to roam freely.

The University of Copenhagen study is the first representative study of a population’s relationship towards domestic cats. Among other things, it mapped Danish attitudes towards the nearly universal belief among cat owners that their kitties ought to be allowed to roam freely.

"The free-roaming cat is doomed to cause conflict. On one hand, the cat owner wants their cat to exercise its natural instincts in the outdoors. On the other, the neighbour doesn't want cats in their garden and basement. In other words, this issue generates friction," according to Peter Sandøe, a bioethics professor and head of the research group behind the study.

Sandøe thinks the survey demonstrates that more cat-related disputes among neighbours await in the future. While 12 percent of cat owners see it as a problem that their pet defaecate in the neighbour's yard, 63 percent of those who don’t like free roaming cats consider the neighbour cat’s greeting as a problem.

No threat to Danish birdlife

Twenty-one percent of Danes aren’t generally fond of cats. Reasons range from a perception that felines behave strangely, that cats can destroy furniture, that they leave faeces behind in inappropriate areas or they kill birds. The ‘threat to birds’ argument is a rallying cry for cat haters worldwide.

“Cat wars” have erupted and divided people in New Zealand, Australia and the United States. One camp, the cat owners, believes that their pets are entitled to roam freely. On the other side, ornithologists and conservationists, blame cats for destroying wild fauna by preying on birds and other wildlife.

The controversy has never taken root in Denmark because, among other things, according to Peter Sandøe cats have lived here for so long and wildlife largely seems to have adapted over time.

Politicians pass on the issue

Although cats can be a source of conflict, Peter Sandøe doesn’t see any political will to address the issues through legislation. He explains that animal protectionists with an interest in cats long have sought a so-called ‘cat law’ that, like the Danish dog law, regulates cat ownership. Their idea is that such a law will encourage responsible cat ownership and serve to limit the number of cats that end up in shelters.

"But the issue is not a winner for public agencies and politicians. No friends will be made – just plenty of enemies," Sandøe says.

Theoretically, cat owners must already restrict their pet to their own property, by installing a high fence for example, if their free-range feline is a disturbance to its surroundings.

 But Sandøe admits, "In practice, it isn’t very easy to control cats, or their owners."

 For a link to study see: https://animalethics.ku.dk/nyheder/roaming-companion-animals/