By Bonny Burrows
An Officer woman’s home-based cat rescue may be shut down by Cardinia Shire Council, leaving dozens of vulnerable kittens homeless.
Primary school teacher Louise has been rescuing cats for the past 18 months from online advertisements and roadsides, nurturing them back to health from her Officer residence before helping them find their “forever home”.
But the animal lover may be forced to shut down her at-home rescue due to council regulations which limit the number of animals she can have in her care.
With 10 cats residing at her property as of 21 August, Louise – who does not want her surname published – is in breach of the Domestic Animal Act 1994 which requires a premises with more than five cats to be registered as a domestic animal business.
However, Louise disputes this as she makes no money from her operation.
“There’s no money involved … if anything, I’m out of pocket. I do it because I care and they matter,” Louise said.
She said she operated the rescue under the guidelines of a ‘community foster care network’, which according to the shire is defined as an organisation that “arranges temporary housing for cats and dogs in private residential premises instead of other premises; and seeks permanent housing for the dogs or cats”.
In a letter to Louise dated 11 August 2017, Cardinia Shire Council’s compliance services officer Jess Azzopardi states that the “operation of the rescue group on the land does not fall into this definition, and therefore it cannot be claimed you are operating a community foster care network”.
The animal lover said she’d never had a problem with the council until she had been misreported by a customer for animal abuse.
During a home visit on 27 July, the council inspected the property, cleared Louise of any animal mistreatment claims, but instead pulled her up for having excess animals on the premises.
Wanting to do the right thing, Louise said she followed council advice and applied for an excess animal permit to be able to legally house the 10 cats until they were adopted out.
However, to Louise’s shock the application was rejected.
In the 11 August letter, Louise was told her application was declined.
“You are requesting to keep five or more cats on the land which results in a domestic animal business permit being required.
“The cat rescue group would be considered an animal shelter under the definitions contained under the Domestic Animal Act … and considering the location of your property, the council has deemed it not suitable to approve a permit for an animal shelter.”
Louise fears the struggle to fit what she does within a label will see the council shut down her business.
But she hopes her situation will encourage Cardinia Shire to reconsider its guidelines to meet individual circumstances.
“They see something in black and white … .I don’t fit within the legislation,” Louise said.
“If I’m doing what I’m doing in a safe environment and these guys are safe, what’s the problem?”
Cardinia Shire Council’s manager of development and compliance services, Debbie Tyson, said the council was investigating the matters raised and couldn’t make comment on ongoing investigations.
However, she did say that “pursuant to the Domestic Animal Act 1994, keeping more than five cats requires a premises to be registered as a Domestic Animal Business”.
“Council must administer this Act, which governs all domestic animal businesses, on behalf of the Victorian Government,” Ms Tyson said.