We are hearing increasing reports that cats living on narrow boats have been falling victim to speeding bikers and dog attacks. With a 15% rise in boat ownership, more than three million pets acquired during the pandemic, and a rise in canal use due to things such as the good weather and people opting for green alternatives such as cycling, these and other factors all seem to have come together to create an evident incidents.
Canal & River Trust (CRT) is the organisation that cares for over 2000 miles of towpaths in England and Wales. These public spaces are open to all with over 9 million people visiting the waterways in a typical two week period. CRT state that 1.7 million of visiting people were cyclists and approximately 6.5 million were pedestrians in 2020.
Rora had only been exploring outside her home on the towpath for a short while before a stranger frantically knocked on the door of the boat where she lived asking her owner for helping with a dying cat that had been hit by a vehicle. Her home was moored on a peaceful path by woodland. She should have been free to walk across the towpath safely and free from harm. You can read Rora’s story here: https://www.catsmatter.org/single-post/this-hole-in-my-heart-is-in-the-shape-of-you-and-no-one-else-can-fit-it-why-would-i-want-them-to
I have attached some photos of Aurora (or Rora as her owner Anna called her).
Water-birds are also often found with injuries consistent with collisions with bikes/scooters. Duck lanes have been introduced to some towpaths in London, Manchester and Birmingham, which are pathways with bike-lane like markings for ducks as part of the ‘Share the Space, Drop Your Pace’ initiative. The duck lanes are designed to encourage walkers, runners and cyclists to remember the birds and other animals who live on canals.
We accept that some incidents will be as a result of a genuine accident, through no fault or recklessness of the cyclist. We want people to know what to do is they do hit a cat on a canal, even if the cat appears to be OK, please try to locate an owner if there are nearby boats or houses where the cat could live. Given the location and their resources, it might not be possible to take an injured animal to a veterinarian or local wildlife rehabilitator. The police advise animals injured or in distress found on canals should be reported to the RSPCA 24-hour emergency injured animal line on: 0300 1234 999.
The second issue is dog attacks on boat cats. Canals are a canine’s best friend for those wanting to stretch all 4 legs, and it’s a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of the city for their owners. Canal River Trust advise dogs be kept on leads on canals, especially by busy areas such as locks, bridges and near ducks, yet this is not always observed. Local authorities have introduced numerous Public Spaces Protection Orders ordering dogs to be walked on leads in some areas, or even excluded from them entirely in some cases. There are by-laws in some areas restricting free roaming dogs on canals, and owners can be issued fines or fixed penalty notices if they fail to comply.
A horrific incident happened in March this year in South Staffordshire. Tabetha had lived the majority of her life enjoying canal-boat rides across the country’s waterways. While her boat was moored, a dog jumped on her boat, took her by the teeth, and ran off with her. It was tragically too late for her by the time her owners reached her: https://www.stourbridgenews.co.uk/news/20030046.horror-cat-killed-dog-canalside-kinver/
Under the Dangerous Dogs Act, it is illegal for a dog to be out of control in both private and public places. A dog is considered dangerously out of control if it injures someone, or even just makes someone worried that it might injure them. This applies also to attacks on another animal, including if the owner of an animal thinks they could be injured if they tried to stop your dog attacking their animal. Owners could face fines, compensation costs, receive a prison sentence, be banned from having dogs in the future, and/or even have the dog destroyed. Most dog owners are good and responsible, yet others ruin it for the majority.
Many cases we have read about, and of people we have spoken to directly, have all stated that they ‘just didn’t expect a cat to be there’. With this in mind, and believing it to be a genuine response following the many tragic and unfortunate incidents, we hope simply highlighting the real possibility of cats being in these areas will promote caution with dog walkers. Muzzling a dog in public could prevent potential troubles but could also prevent dogs chewing strange things, garbage or even poison, on their walks. We would urge dog owners to opt for a muzzle or keep their dogs on a lead if they are prone to chasing other animals, from cats to squirrels, or even other dogs.
Our canals are beauty spots that all should be able to peacefully and safely enjoy, including responsible cyclists and dog walkers. Sadly, as with most things, a minority ruin it for the rest of us. We aim not to attack responsible cyclists or dog walkers, but to help raise awareness of vulnerable towpath users and highlight the avenues responsible users can take to report those failing to adopt safe usage of our waterways and green spaces.
We hope you can help raise awareness of cats on boats with us, in hope it helps saves some little lives by simply making people aware there could be cats as they approach a moored boat on the canal so they can temporarily restrain their dogs until they pass, or slow down if on a bicycle.