Sanctuaries worry as microchipping laws not being enforced

With around 300,000 stray animals in Malta, animal sanctuaries have their work cut out for them

Although puppies and small dogs are adopted at a fast rate, older and bigger dogs are not adopted as often and remain in the sanctuary
Although puppies and small dogs are adopted at a fast rate, older and bigger dogs are not adopted as often and remain in the sanctuary

Many pets entering animal sanctuaries turn up without microchips, despite a 2011 law that stipulated that all dogs have to be microchipped, with owners risking a €300 fine, MaltaToday has learned.

Many sanctuaries believe that while animal abuse is decreasing, animal abandonment is still very high, with families often abandoning their household pets because they are no longer wanted or have no space.

With around 300,000 stray animals in Malta, these sanctuaries work hard to properly neuter, feed, care, and find a new home for these unwanted pets. Although the Animal Welfare Office spends thousands of euros each year on welfare and housing, there are various sanctuaries further dedicating their time to caring for such pets.

The Association of Abandoned Animals homes up to 80 dogs, and is often full. The sanctuary, sponsored by donations, aims to care for abandoned dogs, whether found on the street or given up by their family.

Although puppies and small dogs are adopted at a fast rate, older and bigger dogs are not adopted as often and remain in the sanctuary.

Also sponsored by donations and charity shops, MSPCA currently has 40 animals in its care, and has homed around 100 dogs this year.  “Our aim is that the animals are safe, and are homed as soon as possible,” MSPCA President Barbara Cassar Torreggiani said.

Although it seems that more dogs are being homed for life, Cassar Torreggiani noted that most dogs coming in are from houses rather than from the streets.

Manager at Happy Paws said that the recent law of micro-chipping animals has decreased the number of animals in the street. “You don’t see a lot of stray dogs nowadays. Because of the microchip system, it is now vary rare to see stray dogs.”

However, various sanctuaries said that although most dogs entering their shelters seem to be abandoned pets, they are often not microchipped.

AAA said that when a dog comes into their care, they first check for a microchip. “Although most are abandoned, not lost, 99% of the time, the dogs that come in aren’t microchipped,” manager Rosalind Agius said.

“Even though microchipping dogs is a law, it is unfortunately not enforced well.” Agius believes that the court is failing the animals, as there is no good court system for animal abuse.

“A dog being abused has to go through a court procedure which might take years,” she said. Because of this, it is often useless to report abuse.

Barbara Cassar Torreggiani from the MSPCA agreed with this, saying that most animals coming into care are not microchipped. “Unfortunately, the law is there but it is not enforced,” she said.

Animal Guardians Malta, who currently have 105 rescued cats and kittens in their sanctuary, and 2 or 3 being adopted a month, believe that while dogs aren’t being microchipped, cats should also be microchipped. “More enforcement has to be made on microchipping one’s pet dog, and a tag with the owner’s contact number is a must.” Karen Koleiro said.

“We believe that cats should also be microchipped.”

Neutering is also very important to decrease the stray animal population. Happy Paws Animal Clinic is dedicated to reducing the number of stray animals in Malta. Having neutered a total of 2000 animals each year, the clinic has up to 21 operations per day, with 80% of operations being on stray animals. Manager Joanna Grezlikowska said that after a successful neutering campaign with Dogs Trust, UK in 2010, the number of stray dogs in Malta drastically decreased.

Because this project was so successful, the organisation can now focus on cats. “2000 cats a year is still not enough,” Grezlikowska said, “there is still a large population of stray cats in Malta.”

With Christmas time looming closer, sanctuaries worry about the number of abandoned animals in January. Although it is a lovely gift to be able to give, “animals need to fit in like any member of the family, otherwise, you might tend to have a hyper or scared animal.” Cassar Torreggiani said.

“When you adopt an animal, make sure you have the time and the patience.”

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