Kill shelters are animal shelters that put dogs and cats down after a certain amount of time waiting for them to get adopted. Sadly, these can be found all over the world, including the US and the UK.

To date, Malta does not have kill shelters but if we don’t act now, we will!

It will not happen while I am Commissioner for Animal Welfare because I’d more readily resign than accept it but if the following five actions are not taken on soon, what happened abroad will happen in Malta and we will end up having kill shelters.

Here’s what needs to be done as soon as possible.

1. A state-funded national neutering campaign for dogs and cats.

In the span of just seven years, more than 500 puppies and 5,000 kittens can be born from one unspayed female and her offspring.

Over the past years, we’ve seen relatively small-scale attempts at neutering and spaying strays but what we need is a concentrated, fully-fledged state-funded national neutering campaign for both dogs and cats.

Such a campaign will cost the state thousands and thousands of euros but this expenditure will be negligible compared to the many big projects the state has embarked on over the years. It is also the primary, most effective way to avoid kill shelters in future.

2. The state should strongly and strictly regulate dog and cat breeders.

The current legislation for breeding dogs is very vague and very loose, making it almost impossible to enforce. As things stand now, anyone breeding up to four litters a year (that could easily be 20 to 24 puppies a year) does not need to be registered or licensed.

This means that a household of three adults can legally breed and sell 24 puppies each, that’s more than 70 puppies a year.

In addition, because breeders are not properly controlled and DNA testing is not obligatory, inbreeding is very common, resulting in genetic defects and, consequently, a lot of suffering.

It is also a known fact that many puppy mills treat animals as breeding machines with not much care for their welfare, often abandoning them once their breeding years are over and selling their litters to the highest bidder.

Buying a dog or a cat for hundreds or thousands of euros should be considered a luxury purchase and luxury purchases are heavily taxed- Alison Bezzina

All this needs to be curbed and controlled as soon as possible so that anyone selling even one animal a year is regulated and licensed.

The Animal Welfare Council proposed these changes to the authorities earlier this year and, while the discussion is ongoing, action is needed now.

3. Make it obligatory to microchip pet cats.

Introducing the obligatory microchipping of pet cats has been on the discussion agenda for years but, to date, it is still not a legal obligation. As our experience with dogs has proven, electronic microchipping is the only permanent method of identifying pets and the best way of ascertaining ownership. It is also the best way to curb abandonment.

The UK introduced this legal obligation in May this year and this should also be introduced in Malta as part of a bigger action plan for animal welfare and curbing the overpopulation of cats.

4. Adopt, don’t shop.

People are always very good at pointing their fingers at the authorities, waiting for them to act and complaining when they don’t, however, in the meantime, while we wait, there’s always something we can all do as individuals.

Although our one act of kindness might feel small when compared to other bigger initiatives, every little helps and, in the long run, every little makes a whole lot of a difference.

Until our sanctuaries are empty, we should never ever buy cats or dogs and, instead, always adopt because, every time a dog or a cat gets adopted, space is being created, allowing for another rescue. So not only does adoption save an animal’s life but,  by creating space, it also puts us further away from kill shelters.

And not only is adopting cheaper and does not fund illegal and irresponsible breeding but, really and truly at this point, it is the only ethical thing to do.

When one buys an animal from a breeder, even if this particular breeder is not an irresponsible one, there’s a high chance that, somewhere down the line, the pet’s ancestors would have been exploited and abused by some other breeder.

5. Tax on selling and buying animals.

Buying a dog or a cat for hundreds or thousands of euros should be considered a luxury purchase and luxury purchases are heavily taxed. Purchasing animals should not be an exception.

In addition, goods that contribute to social problems are usually taxed even more (like cigarettes, alcohol, cars, fuel). Since the sale of animals is exacerbating an already grave situation, the tax on these purchases should be even higher.

The state has offered incentives to those who adopt from sanctuaries but never weighed down on those who make thousands of euros every year from selling live, sentient beings to anyone who will pay for them.

This needs to stop, not only because the paper trail will curb a lot of abuse but also because it’s only fair that a highly profitable activity contributes to the country’s coffers.

Tax money collected from this activity should then go straight to our animal shelters to cope with the overwhelming flood of abandoned and stray animals.

In conclusion, we ought to realise that all our sanctuaries are packed, cat feeders are struggling to cope with ever-growing colonies of cats, because of lack of space the Animal Welfare Directorate cannot pick up all the animals that it should and, as a result, more and more animals suffer. 

We cannot wait any longer. We need to act now.

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