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GUEST POST: Malta Has A New Animal Rights Minister And These Should Be His 7 Priorities

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Animal welfare activists have been knocking on all doors begging to be heard for years. While we are cognizant of the fact that animal welfare has been given some more importance over the years, the progress has been piecemeal steps that have included the handing out of various funds to NGOs. Public education and awareness has not changed and the problems that have been there since forever remain firmly lodged in place.

Now Anton Refalo has been appointed Minister of Animal Rights, these should be his seven priorities, which myself and six other animal welfare activists are proposing.

1. A national mass-neutering programme for cats

While a past Dogs Trust Neutering Campaign had proved fruitful, cat feeders have for years been supported by clinics such as the NGO Happy Paws, amongst other vets who have offered reduced prices or who have offered members the opportunity to neuter and spay male and female cats, so that colonies would be controlled and less kittens would suffer cruel deaths on the merciless streets.

However, since as a population, many cat owners do not neuter their pets and let them roam streets impregnating or being impregnated by strays; since many cats are just abandoned in a heartless manner and left to fend for themselves in a terrifying and alien environment; since some feeders are unable or unaware of the benefits of neutering and since another sizeable part of the population thinks that neutering is detrimental to their animals, cat colonies continue to grow and to suffer more.

This must end. In addition to the mass neutering programme, registered individuals who act as feeders or who are members of an NGO must be allowed to reach out to stray communities in order to ensure these are fed, watered, neutered and treated without being hindered or threatened by property owners. Life must always be maintained; and where it is not possible to keep colonies, there must be consensus for safe relocation where necessary.

2. Enforcement of responsible pet ownership

Taking the responsibility of owning a pet is no whimsical decision but one that must be borne with responsibility as is done in other countries which have successfully controlled the number of stray cats in their towns and cities, all because of regulation, microchipping and neutering that is part and parcel of an national educational campaign.

Responsible pet ownership should also be enforced and current legislation upheld. This is not currently the case. Moreover, owners often allow dogs to roam the streets and countryside, and some dogs have been known to attack and savagely kill unsuspecting cat colonies in the most horrific of ways.

This must end and we need enforcement and rewards for information to end all sorts of illegalities involving dogs and cats. Additionally, animals being brought to Malta must have their microchip immediately registered by authorities. This is a very broad category and covers all animals in Malta. Where horses are considered we are demanding responsible ownership, adequate standards/living conditions and the focus on the working horses, including karrozzin and race horses who are so often flagrantly abused.

3. The compulsory microchipping and registration of bred dogs and cats for sale 

We have many so-called unregulated ‘breeders’ on the island, people who make a living out of the mating and subsequent breeding of animals, some of whom are abused through repeated mating cycles. These pups and kittens are then sold, and all too often we find purebred animals getting abandoned when owners become sick, pass away, get tired of the responsibility, or get a new partner who for some reason demands the animal must go.

Responsible breeders would find no objection to being registered within the system, and having a system whereby each sale of animal must be accompanied by the microchip number registered in the name of the breeder who will then keep his own records of ownership with each subsequent sale. Persian cats, known to be delicate are being abandoned with alarming alacrity.

In addition to breeders being regulated, we demand that pet shops be regulated too and inspected to ensure that animal rights and welfare standards are maintained. For example, the age at which animals are sold in pet shops, the size and height and state of the containment area; as well as the availability of information about responsible care and upkeep of the animal thus being sold. It should become illegal for someone to sell animals if they are not a registered breeder.

4. Farm animal welfare to be assessed and re-evaluated

We want an investigation and assessment of all national current practices in the upkeep, breeding, rearing, and subsequent methods that are currently in practice in slaughter houses. These need review and reassessment in order to try and minimise the misery and pain at all stages.

This might also necessitate the inclusion of reports drawn up by experts who determine and who advise about more humane methods of slaughter where and when required. In addition to farm animals welfare we also require an assessment of the regulations regarding working horses and the conditions they are made to work in.

5. Wild Animals in Captivity – a review, assessment and re-evaluation

It is with alarm that we hear of increasing numbers of wild animals being allowed into the Maltese Islands, even more alarming to hear of the seemingly uncontrolled numbers of wild animals currently held in so-called parks.

We demand that these animals be assessed by international wildlife experts who will determine if standards are what they should be and in case that these are found to be sub-standard, the organisation of a rehabilitation programme to have these animals returned to adequate and suitable environments closer to their nature

6. Immediate removal of dangerous poisons widely available and thus abused

Repeated calls to end the abuse have been ignored. Pet and stray cats and dogs have died and are still dying horrible deaths due to this abuse by individuals who make it their responsibility to inflict maximum damage and exterminate colonies because they deem it their right to do so. This must end, with perpetrators actually being held responsible and dutifully prosecuted.

7. A respite no-kill centre for orphaned/homeless/special needs animals needs to be identified

This respite centre will shelter and protect pets whose elderly/sick owners can no longer keep them, as well as cats, dogs, birds, rabbits, even horses and less frequently other farm animals, who roam the streets abandoned or lost and who are not collected by Animal Welfare because it is not their policy to collect such animals unless injured.

The centre would also cater for heavily pregnant animals to give birth in safety, rather than have these give birth and contribute to their suffering, injury and population growth on the streets. This centre should also serve as a national centre where all pets who can no longer be kept at home be received and given safety prior to their being re-homed.

I have set up a petition backing these proposals, called the 2020 Malta Animal Welfare Reform Proposals, and you can sign it by visiting this link.

What other proposals in favour of animal rights should be on Anton Refalo’s agenda?

Lovin Malta is open to external contributions that are well written and thought provoking. If you would like your commentary to be featured as a guest post, please write to hello@lovinmalta.com and add Guest Commentary in the subject line. Contributions are subject to editing and do not necessarily represent Lovin Malta’s views.

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