When I grew up in the 50s and 60s in a very rural environment, cats were as important as dogs in farming communities. Without them, their grain and feed stores would be devastated by rodents. However, despite all their importance to country life, they were rarely fed or cared for properly, their kittens were disposed of and the adult cats rarely neutered, and never treated for parasites. They were poor little things and often had horrible accidents in farm machinery. By contrast, a dog had to have a licence which cost twelve shillings and sixpence, which was a huge sum for the ‘ordinary’ pet owner, so they had a value and were taken to the vet and cared for. I wonder if this cultural difference has persisted, despite no longer needing a licence for a dog - some think that should never have been repealed - and that’s why treatment of cats is often so cavalier. I have a very educated friend who told me that she’d never get her cat microchipped as they are semi wild anyway, and if it vanished it was because it wanted to go. I said, ‘what if it had been injured on the road outside your house and was lying in a hedge crying, and someone heard it and took it to the vet? Wouldn’t you want to know and get her treated?’ I was shocked to hear her negative response because she really didn’t care that much about her really gorgeous, loving frost tabby lying purring on my lap. And she, clearly, thought I was crazy to still be grieving for my Norwegian who has been missing since 27 May this year, and may, or may not have been killed by a car in the next village. But I’ll never know because although the cat was taken off the road and put on the bank by a kind person who found him days later, she didn’t think to take him to the vet to be scanned to find his owner. By the time she saw my poster, the body had vanished and I can’t say if it really was my cat, or somebody else’s missing brown tabby cat. It’s not really her fault, because if the person who had killed him had stopped and reported it, because it was required by law, I might not be in this state of tortured unknowing.
I was a bit incensed that cats were left out of the law that, last year made it compulsory to chip only dogs, and the petition for all vets, dog wardens, charities and shelters to scan a dog to check ownership whenever it came in. Why not cats too?
I’m a strong believer that cats should be allowed an outdoor life where possible. Yes, it comes with risks, but we can reduce those risks by keeping our cats in at night (which also reduces the very real damage to the small mammal population caused by the huge number of pet cats in the UK) - many road accidents and fight injuries occur at night; every cat owner should have their cat microchipped and keep the details up to date; and we should consider the use of collar-worn radio or GPS locators, although it isn’t suitable for every cat or the financial circumstances of every owner. In addition, your campaign will be the single most important development to get road users to think ‘cat’, to drive with more awareness, and if the worst happens they will know what to do to get an injured cat treated quickly, or an owner informed if their cat has died.