Introduced from Europe in the 19th century to control rodents and rabbits, cats (Felis catus) are now popular household pets in Melbourne. Highly effective, adaptable predators, able to reproduce rapidly, they adjusted well to Victoria. In 1997, there were an estimated 725 000 owned and 300 000 feral cats.
Responsibly owned (identified, desexed, night-confined) cats provide valuable companionship. Irresponsibly owned, they became a major community problem, establishing wild colonies in inner suburbs, threatening owned cats and urban wildlife such as lyrebirds in Sherbrooke Forest, and suffering themselves from disease and malnutrition. In 2001 Melbourne-based animal welfare shelters admitted 48 000 unwanted cats; 36 000 were euthanased.
In the late 1980s, lobbied by animal welfare and conservation groups, several municipalities formed working groups to develop cat management legislation. In May 1991, the Shire of Sherbrooke enacted a Local Law requiring cat registration and night confinement, an Australian first. In December 1993, the City of Coburg introduced a Local Law requiring cat registration, compulsory desexing and a limit of four cats per property.
In April 1996, to encourage and enforce responsible cat ownership statewide, Victoria implemented the Domestic Animals Act, requiring cat registration, encouraging desexing through differential registration fees, promoting education, requiring that councils provide cat management services, and giving municipalities powers to alleviate nuisance and introduce orders requiring confinement of cats in designated areas.