I had a stray, or abandoned dog on my doorstep the other day. I saw it when I took my son to school, and hoped it would be gone when I returned. It wasn’t, but it had by midday. Selfishly, I felt relieved. It did cross my mind in those intervening hours though what to do with it – whether to turn a blind eye, bite the bullet and take responsibility and take it to a shelter, vet… or where?
Here, Annabel Mallia examines the issue of strays on our streets and our choices.
Have you noticed how many street cats there are under nearly every parked car, on benches, on the tops of rubble walls and lurking, ready to shred your rubbish bag as soon as you deposit it outside? And dogs too, weaving their way in and out of rush-hour traffic?
I like dogs and cats – don’t get me wrong – but Malta has a stray animal problem that seems irresolvable. Many people have dogs and cats which they look after well; others claim ownership of a pet but do not look after it as they should. The once cuddly ‘pet’ soon grows up and as an adult feline, it’s capable of producing one or two litters each year. Left to themselves, cats breed like wildfire and become a nuisance to us and, possibly, a danger to our health.
Some people leave food for cats in the street. They mean it kindly but a well-fed cat is more likely to produce healthy kittens which no one wants and which, left to themselves, will grow up to produce kittens of their own. A nationwide education programme is needed to increase public awareness about neutering animals since this is the first step in dealing with the growing number of street animals.
People who no longer want to take responsibility for a cat or dog, or who cannot afford to keep it, sometimes dump it in the countryside. At Ta Qali and Hal Far, for example, there are packs of stray dogs. Some are domesticated and friendly, but have been abandoned by their owner. They may have fleas or ticks which pose a threat to our health. They also pose a traffic hazard as all too often a car will screech to a halt or veer to avoid a stray animal. Animal shelters are full to overflowing with abandoned animals. We need to limit the stray population for their and our sakes and discourage the breeding of unwanted animals.
There must be a national programme to encourage neutering of stray animals. For males it is a minor operation and not expensive; females take a little longer to recover and the operation costs more. The SPCA and other organisations encourage the systematic neutering of animals. If people can’t afford the vet’s bill they can be assisted by charities such as Happy Paws.
This well-organised charity has two shops – in Santa Venera and at Marsascala. If you care for stray cats you can apply for a Happy Paws membership card which will entitle you to free treatment for them.
Animal lovers may object saying that it is cruel and unnatural to neuter an animal. But by feeding animals in the street and making them strong we encourage them to breed and the population to swell. There is little countryside left for the animals to find their own food and so we create a vicious circle. We do not want the population of stray animals to grow. We need to limit the number so that we can care properly for a lesser number and make homeless animals a rarity rather than the norm in Malta.
Photo: Gethin Thomas