Baden-Württemberg, Germany, by Socrates George Kazolias:
A small town in Germany imposed the toughest lockdown in Europe so far: a 24-hour a day curfew until August 31. It has nothing to do with Covid but everything Avian. All cats in the south-western town of Walldorf, County Rhein-Neckar, are to remain under house arrest, indoors, without exception.
The goal is to protect the endangered crested lark from extinction. There are only about 60 pairs left in the Karlsruhe and Mannheim area. The species is at high risk of disappearing forever from the region and the feline predators are in big part responsible.
Until the hatchlings are ready to fly on their own, the cats will remain incarcerated. This is to be imposed every year from April 1 to August 31, 2025. Pet cats will be confined for five months a year until their feathered prey are out of the endangered species zone.
Birds in Germany are dying by the millions and, according to Peter Berthold of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, cats are to blame. A free roaming cat kills on average 50 birds a year. There are 16 million cats in Germany.
If generalized, the measures should help Germany’s bird population increase and help farmers combat insects in a country which is radically against pesticides, as well as save several endangered species.
When a cat escapes, owners are ordered to report it immediately to the authorities and set up a ‘posse’ to capture it. Cats which violate their house arrest could land their owners with a 500 euro fine. If owners want to let their cats out, they must be on a leash no longer than two meters.
Have you ever tried to put a cat on a leash? And if you are thinking of leaving the cat with friends, the rule states it must be far enough away that it can’t find its way home.
In Germany, dogs and cats must be declared to the authorities, have identity papers with vaccines listed, a tattoo or a microchip implanted like a sort of ankle bracelet for criminals. While there is no tax on cats, there is a dog tax. Whatever the case, if your cat breaks house arrest, you will be found and fined.
The Rhein-Neckar Country authorities say “the measures are suitable, necessary and appropriate” if the crested lark is to be saved from extinction.
Julia Stubenbord, a Baden-Württemberg animal protection officer is very critical of the Walldorf action. The Veterinarian told SÜDWEST PRESSE that cats which are used to going out and suddenly get locked up for such a long period of time end up with “very considerable stress and suffering.”
Stubenbord warns that cats which don’t get their usual nightly prowl “could become aggressive, unclean, or withdraw, depending on their character.”
Critics argue that for a shorter period of time, until the chicks can fly, such a cat-ban may be justified. But the Walldorf five-month plan is opposed because it is “very, very long, and not reasonable for cats,” Studenbord said.
Courts to Weigh in on Felines
Cats may get their day in court. The state animal protection association is seeing what legal action it can take.
“This is an absolutely unreasonable measure by the district authorities,” said the county board chairman, Stefen Hitzler. “Whoever prescribes something like this is empty headed.”
The Germans don’t play with animal rights. Hitzler says taking a cat, which is used to being out by itself, on a leash is cruelty to animals. Moreover, feral cats are still on the move cat lovers say.
Hitzler says the local animal protection society has been campaigning for a natiowide ordinance mandating cat neutering and identification. They argue that castrated cats don’t wander as far and hunt less.
Although scientists consider neutering cats an urgent need, only 34 municipalities in Germany have such an ordinance.
“We’re happy to help you get it right,” said Hitzler.
I thank the Schwäbisches Tagblatt for most of the reporting used in this paper.