Over a quarter of the nearly 2,000 injured ‘stray’ animals taken by the Animal Ambulance to San Franġisk Animal Welfare Centre from January to September were euthanised by veterinarians, the Animal Welfare Directorate has revealed.

The animals put to sleep are those found in worst case scenarios

The directorate was responding to questions from The Sunday Times following an article last week about a family that claimed their pet Persian cat was wrongly taken to San Franġisk as a stray by the Animal Ambulance and put down before they could collect it.

The family say they were informed their cat was euthanised because it had ‘feline AIDS’, which they strongly dispute.

In the first nine months of the year, 535 of the 1,977 injured ‘strays’ taken to San Franġisk by the Animal Ambulance service were euthanised by vets, the Animal Welfare Directorate confirmed.

“The animals put to sleep are those found in worst case scenarios, such as animals found in critical condition for which no surgical intervention or other medical treatment is possible or those that have no chances of survival; for example, animals that are brain dead,” a spokesman for the directorate said.

Additionally, a significant number of animals suffering from terminal or incurable debilitating conditions have to be put down to save them from unnecessary suffering, he added.

Such animals are those suffering from painful conditions which cannot be properly alleviated through palliative care.

San Franġisk is only obliged to provide medical and treatment records of such animals to the Animal Welfare Directorate.

The family whose Persian cat was put down because of ‘feline AIDs’ insist it appeared to be healthy and did not match any of the descriptions given by the Animal Welfare Directorate spokesman.

‘Feline AIDS’ – correctly termed FIV or feline immunodeficiency virus – is incurable but treatable, and cats can live for years with the disease.

Veterinary care, including surgery for injured ‘strays’ brought by the Animal Ambulance to San Franġisk, is given free of charge, but the Animal Welfare Directorate covers the cost of medicinal treatment.

The directorate spokesman explained that San Franġisk sends a breakdown of medicinal treatment costs for each animal expected to exceed the threshold of €50.

“Some medical treatments may equate to hundreds of euros. The decision on whether the threshold is to be exceeded or not depends on the prognosis versus cost.

“For accountability and transparency purposes, all expenses concerning treatment must be shown to be cost-effective and if it is thought that the treatments will not be of any benefit to the animal, then these cases are discussed and sound veterinary advice is sought on the matter,” the spokesman said.

Decisions concerning the euthanasia of animals are always agreed upon by the warranted veterinarian treating the animal subject to approval by the Animal Welfare Directorate, the spokesman stressed.

This decision is always based on animal welfare grounds and is targeted at giving a dignified end to a terminally ill animal which is suffering from chronic pain.

“Emphasis should be placed on the fact that thousands of injured animals have been saved since the Animal Welfare Ambulance began operating” in 2009, the spokesman said.

He also confirmed that the Animal Welfare Directorate is given a copy of the medical reports of all stray injured animals taken to the San Franġisk by the Animal Ambulance.

San Franġisk in Ta’ Qali, built with €420,000 of government money according to the Animal Welfare Directorate website, was inaugurated in October 2010 as a 24-hour animal care centre. It is operated privately by Dr Zammit, who was contracted to do so by the government following a public call for applications.

pcooke@timesofmalta.com