“We want this to be compulsory for cat owners,” said the Lower Saxon city's animal health commissioner and veterinarian Nicolin Niebuhr, who led the campaign for the new rule. “The cat sterilisation requirement is mainly an appeal for responsibility awareness.”
The statute was modelled after a similar programme that started in the Rhineland city of Paderborn in 2008.
Veterinarian Angelika Hoffmann reports that her practice schedule has been full since the ordinance went into effect six weeks ago.
“It's not about taking the cat's sexuality away,” Hoffmann says. “A sterilisation does the opposite, improving the cat's quality of life.”
Estimates say German households enjoy the company of some eight million house cats, with another two million stray cats lurking in the shadows. Delmenhorst has about 1,000 feral felines, the city estimates. Animal shelters are full and the number of abandoned cats is rising, Niebuhr and Hoffmann said.
Pet owners who allow their unsterilised cats to roam freely are creating a vicious cycle for the feral population, which suffers a host of diseases and malnutrition, city vet Niebuhr explained, calling the new rule a “step in the right direction.”
But officials don't expect an immediate change, the model programme in Paderborn has reportedly caught on slowly.
Susan Smith, leader of the Paderborn chapter of animal protection group Aktion Tier, said the concept has been met with resistance from pet owners.
Animal rights organisation PETA, which advocates a nationwide ordinance for sterilising both cats and dogs, reports that many Germans are under the false impression that sterilising house pets makes them “fat and lazy, harms their health, and changes their personality.”
But in most developed countries, spaying and neutering are part of standard house pet treatments such as immunisations and worm pills, Hoffmann said.
Working to change these preconceptions will likely take some time, but neighbouring cities have already called Delmenhorst city vet Niebuhr to discuss how they can implement similar programmes.