CatsMatter and Local Councils
First things first, we want to reiterate again that our main goal is to get reportable RTAs legislated. We want to get to a place where no cat is left in the road long enough for councils to collect them in the first place! Although we work tirelessly with Governments and local authorities all across the UK on the issue of councils collecting cats from the roadside, we are certainly not disillusioned as to where the true anger is to be directed...and we're coming for those drivers!
However, we wanted to set the full story straight on what exactly it is we do with councils in the meantime and why...
Where it all began
As a result of losing our boys to the road, one of which was landfilled by the local council, we began petitioning and demanding change. Not only did drivers hit and leave our boys in the road to die a slow, painful and lonely death, the council later came along and chucked them in with the rubbish. Much loved family members wiped out in the most cruel and insensitive way, simply because they were viewed as ''just cats''.
We discovered hundreds before us had petitioned and unfortunately failed. Each receiving the same disregard we were soon to experience ourselves.
We were left with 3 options...
Give up, go round in circles or try and do things a little differently.
The option we chose leads us to where we are today, and it's a choice we make no apologies for. Regardless of whoever opposes, disapproves or tries to discredit us, CatsMatter are here to stay.
Scale of the problem
We knew what had happened to our boys, and we knew what people were saying to us about their councils, but there was no information anywhere on exactly how bad the situation was and exactly what was going out there. That's when we decided, if we were to fight this, we need to know and understand properly! We needed to survey all 400+ councils around the UK to get a clear understanding of who had what policy in place.
The task in hand was a mammoth one! We'd give up all our spare waking hours for people we would never know or meet. We wouldn't be getting paid nor probably even get a thanks. The only thing we would be achieving at the end of it was the knowledge other's wouldn't have to endure the pain we did, and their cats could go home where they belonged. Nothing could bring our boys back or re-write history, was it worth all the agro and heartache?
So, the survey began....
We soon learnt it's not quite as simple as them simply scanning or not, and it was clear it wouldn't be a quick fix if we were to attempt to take all this on.
Once all the results were back, we got to work trying to work with all those who had no system in place in hopes they would adopt a scanning approach. In the last 2 years, we've got over 50 councils on board finally bringing the number of unequipped councils down to just 4. All 4 of these councils we are still in contact with, and are hopeful they too will implement a procedure in the near future. Talks so far haven't gave us any reason to believe otherwise.
When we say a procedure, this comes in many different forms. Some councils scan/store on site, others use local vets or crematoriums. Some have external contractors or even have arrangements with local rescues who will go on site to scan/return bodies. We confirm that all but 4 have 'something' in place currently, although it goes a little deeper than that which we will go in to later.
Of course we've come across all kinds of reactions from councils over the years, but have managed to work with even the most resistant ones successfully. Resistance we have come across has been due to many different reasons. Some councils expressed lack of funds for equipment, others in external waste contracts in which would incur a contract amendment fee to essentially change the contract mid term to include scanning. So as to retain trust with councils so they feel able to work with us, we have resisted putting some things public. What we will say though is it's not unheard of for us to offer equipment, such as scanning and storage facilities, or offer to pay the contact amendment fee.
Along our journey, we have met some wonderful organisations who also care a lot about this issue. We have, and continue to, work with numerous other organisations in particular areas on a range of secondary issues. There are some wonderful groups out there in the shadows who us cat owners owe everything to.
Not all as it seems
We are contacted by people all the time who either have general fears or ask us to step in believing the council took their cat. We've never turned anyone away, and have always followed up on every enquiry. We're not a big organisation with a magic wand, but we always try because we know what they are going through and are always hopeful we can make some difference. In most cases we thankfully have.
It's through our involvement with so many we came to learn of the many flaws the system can throw up. Like anything in life, you have good and bad. Although the majority of councils do have a system in place, a challenge is making sure it is an effective one where, as we famously say, 'no cats slip through the net'. We have encountered so many different issues, and they tend to be unique to each area, like the task in hand generally wasn't colossal enough.
First of all, and we have to do this from both sides, councils complain that the numbers of chipped cats range from 1/4 - 1/7, depending on area. The ''good'' councils will tell you this also, good councils who too campaign for others to scan cats. However, chips can break or migrate and we do believe all cats deserve to go home regardless. This is why we strongly encourage councils store for a reasonable period and think about publishing records online. One 'flaw' we aim to push even more in the near future, although we more strongly advise people chip their cats.
You may have heard us and councils use the line "scan where possible" before. What is meant by that is the state of the cat. We speak to waste workers on and off the record, and at times they will collect cats which are barely recognisable as cats, even tools are needed to help get them off the road. We do know there are councils out there who have stopped traffic while they scan the street in hope of finding a chip or collar. On the flip side, we know some use this as an excuse to not scan.
When we chase up an enquiry, we've learnt to wait until we know more as something different usually crops up every time. Some examples we have come across is things such as 'out of hours'. If someone reports a cat out of hours, it's unlikely the council will get to the cat before another member of the public does or wildlife. We have managed to get some councils to extend scanning to the night service in areas where they have one, and worked with some who agreed to re-train out of hours staff on correct protocols to relay to residents phoning in to report a cat, but it will always be an issue.
Other issues we have encountered is unequipped depots. One example is, a recent council we worked with had 6 depots yet only 3 were equipped with readers. This meant that, although a scanning council, cats unlucky enough to be sent to one of the unequipped 3 sadly 'slipped through the net'. We have and continue to work councils to find a resolve in these situations, and have equipped depots before making the council all-scanning, or have managed to get the council to agree to sending all bodies to the equipped depots only.
We also come up against councils who do scan but don't have storage facilities, meaning owners can only be notified not have their cats back. We have either equipped these councils, or had them have contractors to include storage in the upcoming contracts. There are numerous we are working with on this issue currently also.
Another strange example is a council not understanding how to use the equipment properly so the system they had was effectively useless. This council were adamant they did scan but residents were adamant they didn't. We didn't necessarily disbelieve either as each had proof, but we knew something didn't add up. When we finally got the bottom of it, we realised the council had failed to understand how the microchip readers worked. As they logged the chip numbers for owners to view, they failed to realise owners details could be obtained and they were to notify them. After helping them obtain the details they needed from the chip companies to access details, all is now running smoothly. This is not the first time we've encountered a council who admitted they just simply had no clue what to actually do, or how to go about setting it all up. Ourselves, along with other dedicated groups all around the UK in certain areas, are currently working to locate these issues and helping wherever we can. Most issues are solvable and we try and work with councils on a way forward which is suitable for all. We want to end talks with councils confident the new service is something they are happy with as that ultimately means they will stick to it and people continue to get their cats back.
Government Department help
We've come to understand that listening to both people and councils does make a huge difference. Whilst we know there are council employees out there who fail to appreciate how important it is owners have closure, and they don't really care much for cats, we also know there are those who do want to do the best they can.
We have built up good relationships with some of those in a position to help, and we haven't shied away from asking for help when needed. After speaking to the Department for Transport about our findings with councils, it was agreed that Highways England would tighten the requirement they already have in place. It was also agreed that a department representative would hold a speech at a 2018 National Association of Waste Disposal Officers seminar on our behalf. The DFT also sent out a bulletin to local authorities highlighting what it considers to be best practice. A group email was set up by the DFT which we were included, and we could personally witness the responses as local councils responded to the government with their procedures, thoughts and proposals.
We are currently working with departments around the UK to get a best practice sent out to all, and we continue to work with ministers on proposals of exactly how a mandatory requirement could and should be implemented.
On bringing the number of London councils down to a reluctant 4, we enlisted the help of the London Assembly. This resulted in a motion being put forward on our behalf which resulted in a unanimous vote in favour of CatsMatter. This is currently ongoing but the numbers have since dropped to just 2, 1 of which aims to introduce scanning soon as the new contract commences. However, as we stated to recent Media, the FOIs we obtained from London councils show again it is not quite as simple as getting them scanning, there are other issues which need addressing which is exactly what we are aiming to combat both at voluntary local, and mandatory national level.
As you can see just off the few examples given, there's so much to this issue but we've worked hard to make an evident difference. 2 of the 4 UK countries are now all-scanning, but we are still aiming to get both the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Government to implement a 'best practice' piece for all to follow. Some councils even backing us on this to the government! We could of threw in the towel already, saying 'its done', but there's still work to be done to make sure it's done properly and we aim to see it through. We've NEVER said the system was perfect UK wide. We wouldn't waste the time, effort, money and personal sacrifice on doing what we do if it was, but it is fixable with a little patience, effort and persistence. We always say ''its complicated'', not one the media tends to like but the truth all the same.
We fully expect an RTA law in the near future, but these things sadly take time. Time is not something these cats have. The process of one of our projects has been fully explained to us and could take 2 months to two years to be written in. In this period, so official PetPlan statistics state, almost half a million cats would of been hit by cars in this country. We intend not to sit back and wait clinging our glasses, we intend to fight for them in anyway we can be it lecturing councils, sending out flyers or doing awareness blogs, hounding the media or trying to get anything with 4 wheels to sport our car stickers!
Some people love us, others hate us. Either way, we'll get you thinking cat!