A cat is a small mammal that along with dogs is the most popular pet in Finland. There are an estimated some 600,000-1,000,000 cats in Finland and an estimated 20,000 of these are abandoned each year. Each year the police receive a large number of reports about pets, including cats. Do the following phrases sound familiar or perhaps you’ve even uttered them yourself?
“There’s the neighbour’s tom cat roaming around in the garden again!” “Dozens of abandoned cats are taken to animal welfare organisations every summer.” “Cats are not harmful to humans!” “I’m allowed to shoot a cat that’s come into my own garden!” “Cats can roam freely because they keep the garden area tidy!” “Never mind what you say, a cat should be allowed to be let outside!”
The police are unfortunately all too familiar with these phrases. The law requires cat owners to look after their pet but the law is often wrongly interpreted and its provisions are not even known.
Cats and keeping them are mostly regulated by three different acts – the Hunting Act (615/1993), the Animal Welfare Act (247/1996) and the Public Order Act (612/2003). In addition, Finland is bound by the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals (SopS 49/1992) and more detailed provisions in national legislation can be found in the Government Decree on the welfare of dogs, cats and other small companion and hobby animals (674/2010).
Under the Public Order Act, a cat has no access whatsoever to a public beach, a children's playground, a market place during trading hours, or a ski track maintained for public use or a sports field, unless this is specifically allowed. A cat must be kept on a leash when on exercise tracks and similar running tracks (Public Order Act, section 14).
Whereas the Public Order Act does not require cats to be kept on a leash outside of built-up areas, cats may not be deserted or abandoned. The Animal Welfare Act required cat owners to look after their cat and prohibits owners from deserting their cat (Animal Welfare Act, section 5).
Nor, under the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals (SopS 49/1992, Article 3), may a pet animal be abandoned. An abandoned animal means a homeless pet animal or a pet animal that is outside the boundaries of its owner’s home without supervision.
In other words, a cat that has been let outside in the garden and which strays outside the garden is thus abandoned. Keeping cats free and without supervision is punishable and may be a violation of the Public Order Act, an offence under/violation of the Animal Welfare Act or a violation of the provisions of the Hunting Act.
Under the Hunting Act (Hunting Act, section 85) a feral cat is an unprotected animal. However, unlawful killing of a cat may be an animal welfare offence or an act of damage.
The Animal Welfare Decree (396/1996) and the small-sized pet welfare decree both lay down more detailed provisions on the care of cats. Under these decrees, the premises intended for keeping a cat must be such that the cat can see and hear what is going on around it and also has a possibility for social interaction.
A cat may not be tethered in place other than temporarily or for a brief period and even then, the cat must be under constant supervision. Tethering a cat in place means tying the cat so that it is unable to move other than in a small area.
If a cat is roaming freely in your garden and you know its owner, first try to talk to the owner and point out the matter. If the situation does not improve in this way, you can contact the authorities responsible for animal welfare, i.e. the municipal veterinarian or the police.
An abandoned cat may also be temporarily taken into care in an animal cage trap, for example, that does not harm the animal and which is checked sufficiently often. Once trapped, the cat should immediately be taken to an animal shelter for lost animals.
The biggest problem is not cats but their owners. Pet owners are always responsible for their pets, cats don’t know they are breaking the law. Cats are pets and not part of Finnish wildlife. Responsible cat owners take good care of their cats.
Ville, Eastern Finland Police Department