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Outrage over order to put down stray cats

A health official says that a plan to bring stray cats under control has resulted in threats of physical violence.

Kissa loukutuksen jälkeen.
An order was issued to trap cats for euthanization in Isokyrö. (file photo) Image: Liisa Kallio / Yle

Stray cats have been seen as a problem for years by some residents of the municipality of Isokyrö in the western region of Ostrobothnia.

Officials, who have come under increasing pressure to deal with the issue, blame a few individual owners whom they say have each taken in dozens of felines.

With summer approaching, the number of complaints regarding stray cats has shot up.

"Summer holiday home residents phoned, but also some of the locals. Some called the police and some called me," explains Seppo Kangas who is the chief hygienist for the environmental health authority in the Seinäjoki region that also covers Isokyrö.

At the beginning of May, Kangas ordered a local butcher to eradicate cats seen wandering in certain sections of town. In the past, the butcher had assisted the authorities in capturing and euthanising felines.

A notice was also issued to local residents of the health district urging them to observe the provisions of animal protection, hunting, and health legislation.

It stated that if regulations are not followed, the Seinäjoki regional environmental health authority would take action to dispose of cats. It added, "This means that any cat roaming free as of 9 May, 2020 will be captured, caged, and euthanised."

It didn't take long before the order was reposted on social media, where many people were aghast at the thought. The tabloid Iltalehti reported the story on Tuesday, after which Seppo Kangas' phone began to ring once again.

"Among other things, I've been called a 'cat killer' and I've been threatened with physical violence," Kangas relates.

"Some man phoned from southern Finland and said he'd come and pick up the cats. He said he's got plenty of land and can take them all in. I just told him to come and get them," Seppo Kangas continues.

Overstating the case

The environmental health unit at the Regional State Administrative Agency for Western and Inland Finland said it has also heard complaints from the public about the order.

The head of the unit, Matti Nyberg, told Yle that the real problem was in the wording of the notice.

Story continues after photo.

Katt i Villa Lilius trädgård i Hangö.
Residents of the countryside have a more relaxed attitude about letting their feline pets wander free. Image: Yle/Cristopher Marins

"The text is so blunt. One should pay attention to how the public is informed. If this [stray cats] is really a problem, then a certain time should be established when they will be picked up. Then, people can keep their own cats indoors," Nyberg points out.

"In the countryside people seem to be in the habit of letting cats out. Officially, they belong inside," he adds.

Seppo Kangas says that there is actually no plan to start euthanising cats in the area. He says that he formulated his text so bluntly so that people would take it seriously.

"The cats will be captured and taken to the pound or the animal protection association. Cats brought in must be kept for at least two weeks in case it has an owner who wants to claim it," Kangas explains.

"There may well have been some illegalities in the text," he concedes.

The Regional State Administrative Agency will be reviewing the affair. Matti Nyberg says that the most serious consequence for Kangas could be a warning.

"We can't do anything more about it. We will be issuing guidance. If someone's cat is put down, they can make a complaint to the police and bring a court case over it," Nyberg points out.

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