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
Elizabeth Ayling says
You hit the nail on the head with the term ‘semi pets’. I really don’t know what to advise. I have similar issues where I live – less with food scattered though. My neighbour feeds two semi-pets, one of which roves far and wide in search of more food and when bypassing my house and garden attacks my cat and is forever in my back door (left open because it’s summer and I am in and out a lot). It has given my cat various diseases so I am forever at the vet’s paying for antibiotics and boosters. The semi pet is quite wild and also ‘not allowed in their house! You’re right to worry about the health of the neighbourhood as meaty food left around will attract rats for sure. Responsible feeding programmes and responsible pet owners are still a long way off here. There is an animal protection unit in government somewhere. Perhaps google that? One person you could contact, who is vegan (a published author) and a totally dedicated responsible pet owner and feeder of cats in her neighbourhood, is Miriam Sorrell over at mouthwateringvegan.com. You can contact her via that blog, or find her on facebook. She has built a shelter for strays she feeds on her wall and certainly no food is left – cats come, feed, eat up all and leave. She might have some suggestions for your issue.
R Slater says
Actually fell upon the article whilst doing some googling on the problem you hi-light in your first reply Elizabeth. Again I am not an animal hater (in fact in UK I grew up with a variety of pets…because I lived next to fields where they could get exercise…won’t have one in Malta exactly because of the lack of this and I find that cruel), I have the ‘semi pets’ in my garden as well. If they were real pets, then I’m sure the owner wouldn’t lock them out on a daily basis. No real point in having the pet then is there. Is there any legal methods to stop this feeding, the wall near my buildings is horrendous….cat food and biscuits everywhere. As it is next to an allotment, I am unsure as to whether the cats needs this amount of food, or whether the rats now have to make a reservation to eat at the biggest free buffet available. Discussions with the neighbour in question finalised with ‘ The cats are Maltese and have more right to be here than you do-ta). Any advice?
Elizabeth Ayling says
Thanks for your comments which are all common sense of course. The problem of feral animals is still persistent here and unlikely to go away until we see more people acting as responsible ‘pet’ owners. We have a lot of people who feed strays, admirably, but they do not have the means to follow that up with neutering the animals they part care for. So the feral / stray populations grow. There are incentives offered – discount neutering – but I find many older generation village folk tend to not be aware of it or not have the means to round up and take their ‘charges’ to vet clinics. The cycle continues.
Jodie Nelson says
I like this article and all the comments. I am a tourist and animal lover and have had my holiday to St Julians ruined by seeing stray cats, kittens and an injured cat. The cats are not safe. I live in Switzerland where there are no stray cats and the country isn’t overrun with rodents. It would be good if the cats were humanely removed, neutered and placed with foster carers, adopted, or went to shelters if there are not suited to be homed. I think cats are fine to live in apartments were they are safe.
Elizabeth Ayling says
I am horrified that the police hasn’t acted on this as a dog attack should be taken extremely seriously (it is in the UK). It should not be loose and able to attack passers-by on a public high road, nor for that matter anyone within the factory premises. I would report this to police headquarters and also to the SPCA to see if they can help act on this. The dog may not be being kept in a satisfactory, humane way if it has the propensity to attack. Not sure what else to do. Perhaps post your comment on our Facebook page to see if others can suggest?
Twanny Pace says
My wife usually go walking in the morning around the streets in Hal-Farrug and ends up near the ind. estate. like most people do. A few months ago a dog belonging to a factory owner attacked her and stabbed her down for three times. A few weeks ago the same thing happened again. Many reports to the police have been made and the rest the same.Can anyone take action about this?Luqa Police knows about it.
. Luqa Police know about it.
suzanne donnacie says
I have the most gentle intelligent kitten. His mother was a malta stray. He now lives in scotland with his new family and is adored. My brorher was followed home byhis mother when he lived in malta. She was about 5 weeks old. If your gut tells you to take in an animal…go with it. I dont know where id be without olly ( oliver)!!!!! Good job i dont holiday in malta…… Id come ba k with a plane full!!!
Elizabeth Ayling says
You’ve got a point there. Trouble is that the cat population can breed so fast. So long as cat feeders also engage in neutering programmes, then your points balance out the issues of too high a cat population. Granted there are rats etc around, but they need dealing with in ways other than with large cat populations.
Feral cats actually do perform an ancient duty as well: they keep the rat and mouse populations down. My street (in Xemxija) has a ten or so cats and the only mice I’ve seen have been the ones killed by cats. I certainly rather see cats roaming the street than mice & rats.
And yeah, I do feed the cats but not on regular basis so that they wouldn’t lose their hunting instinct. Lovely creatures they are and great fun watching them living their cat lives. They might not live as long as than domestic cats, might have diseases etc but are certainly more happy than the poor things imprisoned in flats for all of their lives.
Elizabeth Ayling says
Thanks for your comments and I hope you’re enjoying your Valletta stay. Re the little birds, well, a lot of those who keep the small birds caged will be hunters. The little birds are used as ‘traps’ to lure birds to shoot. They place the cages on plinths dotted around the countryside – you’ll see them easily, even at places like Hagar Qim Heritage Park. Some say the hunters love birds so much that they need to keep them with them. I’ve seen panel beaters and carpenters (hunters early morning perhaps?) with small birds in cages hanging in their workplaces. I’ve also seen old men walking around with the cages , taking them with them during the day to the village square. It’s as if the birds are their true loves! It will, hopefully, be a sight that dies out with them.
Hi emiliano I’m in Malta and through out my whole journey I’ve only seen 2 dogs but if u ever go to Italy I saw afew dogs and a giant one chased me down the road
Hi I’m on holiday in Valletta and I have there are cats everywhere I go but I havint seen any dogs also do u know why everyone keeps little birds as pets
Gilles Lamotte says
“We don’t want the population to grow…”: who is “we”? The government? I don’t see so many problems with the cats in Malta. They are not as many as humans are, by far, and it is us who over-exploit the land, pollute the sea, exhaust the resources, and cut the trees. These free cats are part of the charm of Malta. More people should feed and help them. No need to neuter when there isn’t a specific overpopulation problem, and generally, there isn’t any. What the mainstream “neutering sect” expresses unconsciously is the deeply rooted aggressivity of the human species towards other species.
I was in Malta in sept 2011 just back second time, lovely place, even tho there is feral cats and many, people there do feed and water them, which is nice to see and hear,I know it is a problem, but you can’t let them go with out, It would be a good idea to catch and dress these cats so they don’t breed more and more.
I saw some cats that i seen the last time i was there two yrs ago so they survived.
we did not stay in the tourist areas only we went walk about this time into the rural areas and villages and never saw any packs off dogs. We were speaking to a Maltese lady that said it was a problem and they are now making it law owner have to chip their dogs so if found wandering on street they get charged.
I would say also that some people pick up their dogs mess and some don’t just like here in scotland it’s not the dogs fault the owner dose not pick it up, and it is not the cats fault the owner throws it out when the cute little kitten grows up as they do that here too.
In Malta people tend to take thier dogs out mostly at night when it is cooler for them, there is some out thro the day.
I loved Malta and the Maltese people and would love to live there look forward to going back one day.
A lottery win and i’d move there and help out with the feral prob,(i wish lol) I got to know one cats out side our hotel lovely cat. I am a cat/ was a dog owner sadly to say he passed in Feb 2011. My logo in my web site now.
Elizabeth Ayling says
I have a son who really is very uncomfortable when a dog (on lead or not) comes his way. I can understand your worry. I wasn’t sure from reading your comment whether you just meant ‘strays’, or any dog (pet). I don’t often see dogs on the beach in summer, but did happen to have a very large (pet) one near me earlier this week. And you will have a lot of pet dogs pass you out for a walk on seafronts. So dogs will be present – and their deposits too on many pavements. I doubt you’ll see strays much if you are in tourist areas or Mdina / Valletta for instance. They tend to be in packs in rural areas, or villages. I also doubt that you can holiday anywhere without meeting a dog though!
I have read the pieces, and I have a question for anybody that is able to answer me accurately: are there stray dogs even in the streets or onto the beaches, in Malta?
I am an animal lover and a volounteer for a cats/dogs shelter in Rome, but as funny as it may sound, I suffer from dog-phobia (in fact, I only deal with cats).
I am planning to have a little trip to Malta, in september, and I know for sure that my vacation would be absolutely ruined and a nightmare, if I meet dogs onto a beach or while walking in town.
I know it sounds like an absurd phobia, but it’s irrational, and there’s nothing I can do: as soon as I meet a stray dog, I immediately panic, and because dogs sense the fear, the problem can get even worse. I know I should not be afraid, and blah blah, but there’s no way to convince my inner brain that stray dogs are not a threat. So, all I can do is avoid them.
So, please, could somebody explain me exactly how is the stray-dogs situation in Malta? Are there particular areas that I should avoid, or areas where I would not meet any?
I hope somebody can give me an accurate reply about this topic.
Elizabeth Ayling says
Actually, the lady who wrote the piece here is an animal lover and has a lot of her own cats and takes strays to be neutered. That’s why she put the contact details in the post about organisations that can help. Education was exactly her point. I have a neighbour who has cats as semi pets – feeding lots of them but never having them neutered. With every year that passes my garden is more and more overrun and polluted by these ‘pets’. I am horrified at her lack of responsibility. Is it a religious thing – not wanting even animals safeguarded by neutering them?
Street cats for the most part are rarely without food in Malta as there is plenty to be had from ripping rubbish bags apart or scavenging around the many take-aways. Dogs are the bigger problem as they can end up as feral packs roaming wastelands and need a whole lot more food. They do need assistance though often these dogs are simply going to languish in homes a while then end up being put down if they are rounded up.
You say don’t feed the animals, that is inhumane, it is not their fault they are fighting for survival. It is not the cats/dogs that are the problem it is the people who dump them on the streets. The only way to deal with this is neutering and education, a bit of kindness wouldn’t go a miss too! Some people actually neuter the cats they feed on the streets. If I found a stray dog/cat on my doorstep i would do the right thing not turn a blind eye and hope somebody would do it for me. Perhaps that’s the problem with some Maltese they like to turn a blind eye and just cant be bothered to get involved, apathy and laziness……..However there are some special Maaltese people who would go without themselves then see an animal suffer thank you to them I think!