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The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is consulting on new guidelines for gormless pet owners who don't know a dog's arse from whatever it has in lieu of an elbow.

The cat welfare document (see here) will be published as a leaflet to hammer home some of the finer points of feline care on the heels of the 2006 Animal Welfare Act. Cat owners will be advised to provide for their animal chums "opportunities to climb and jump, such as a simple 'platform' type bed or safe access to shelves and the tops of cupboards", and informed that "dogs should be introduced to cats very carefully [with] the dog held safely on a lead at first so that it cannot chase the cat".

The guidelines are prefaced by a stern warning that "it is your responsibility to read the complete Code of Practice to fully understand your cat's welfare needs and what the law requires you to do". Sadly, the kind of mouth-breathing hominids who need to be told that they should provide their chosen companion animals with food, water, shelter, affection and stimulation to several levels above what one should reasonably lavish upon a houseplant probably don't read anything, ever. Except perhaps Have Your Say, if they can mash the keyboard correctly with their fists to reach it.

Further instructions to the barely sentient include that one must provide "mental stimulation" for cats so as "to avoid boredom and frustration". The doc goes on to inform that "it is your responsibility to provide opportunities for your cat to satisfy all of its behavioural needs, such as play and companionship". We can only feebly hope there are also insistences therein such as: "Make sure your cat doesn't sit on your neighbour's windowsill or ponce about in their garden and make their dog mad, and similarly that your cat does not shit in their garden, because they've got enough of that to deal with as it is thank you."

The proposals, which cover horse owners as well as cat and dog owners, are subject to an eight-week consultation period. Environment Secretary Hilary Benn hailed the new codes as a Good Thing. "These three new codes of practice will outline the responsibilities under the Animal Welfare Act and give practical advice on how to fulfil them," he said. "This means no one will be able to claim ignorance as an excuse for mistreating any animal."

We would suggest that ignorance has tended to make an excellent excuse for the ignorant in the past and there's no reason why that should stop now, but applaud his optimism. ®

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