GOTHENBURG, Sweden—Swedish police are spending increasingly more time and resources taking care of stray cats. In the western county of Varmland, there are so many cat cases that they impact crime-fighting activities.
When animals are abandoned or mistreated, it is the responsibility of the police to take care of them. Christer Loof of the Varmland police explained the many steps involved.
First, the cat often needs to be caught. Next, the police officer has to assess if the animal needs medical care, and, if so, take it to the hospital. The cat is then placed in an animal shelter. After that, the police must try to find the owner. If the owner cannot be found, a decision is made whether the cat, which may have gone feral, can be adapted to domestic life again.
Sometimes, the cat is in such a bad condition that it has to be put down. Finally, a report needs to be written and filed with the County Administrative Board.
“A typical cat case takes about half a day for two people, but not all cases are that smooth. Some take several days,” Loof said.
Taking care of cats does not require any police training, and it takes up so much time that the core police activity—fighting crime—is suffering. Naturally, the cat cases do not infringe on high-priority activities. It is low-priority activities, such as foot patrol and traffic control that suffer.
“A typical cat case takes about half a day for two people, but not all cases are that smooth. Some take several days,” Christer Loof, Varmland police
This problem is not unique to Varmland, but applies to the rest of the country as well, to varying degrees. The cat cases have also increased in recent years due to improved animal welfare inspection.
Last year, the Varmland police handled about 100 cases involving cats. The department employs a total of 460 officers, 200 are uniformed police on external duty. Managing this resource to provide around-the-clock service to the community is difficult, said Loof.
Loof does not want to diminish the importance of animal welfare work, but he thinks a change in legislation is needed. The County Administrative Board, which decides in these cases, should take responsibility for the entire process and only call for police assistance when absolutely needed, he said.
“Sometimes, the police are needed, such as those few cases where animal owners resist and behave in a threatening or violent manner. In those cases, police presence is of course needed,” Loof added.
In 2009, the County Administrative Boards took over operative control of animal welfare from the municipalities. The boards decide when animals need to be taken into custody, and the police then carry out that decision. Since 2009, the number of animal cases handled by the police has increased significantly.
adMaria Hammarstrom, head of Animal Welfare at the County Administrative Board of Varmland, said that there are pros and cons regardless of who takes care of these cases, be it the board or the police. She thinks it comes down to the decisions by elected officials, what resources various authorities are given, and if these, in turn, are handled well.
The best solution, Hammarstrom said, is that owners take responsibility for their animals and do not take on more animals than they can handle.
“This is especially prominent when it comes to cats, since they live much more independently of humans than our other domestic animals. You have to make sure that you can afford to take care of them and see to it that they don’t procreate,’ she said.
In 2012, the County Administrative Board of Varmland decided to take custody of animals in 84 cases, 85 percent of which related to cats, Hammarstrom reported. Sometimes the decision applied to more than one animal per case.
There are currently no high-level political discussions about whether or not the police should remain on cat duty in the future.
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