Online newspapers and social media sites are featuring the plight of a cat feeder from Marsacala. Such cases are far from rare and are indeed happening all over Malta.
I don’t blame disgruntled locals who are not fond of having cats around. Cats can be a nuisance and may even cause damage to property and gardens. The root of the problem is simple: We have too many cats on our streets and over the years the numbers have been increasing. Unless feeders neuter colonies, cats will multiply in no time.
Dozens of feeders and NGOs work incessantly to care and neuter strays. But it seems that this is not enough. We need to do more and urgently. Bear in mind that most of the individual cat feeders and NGOs rely on their personal finances and donations to feed and care for strays, be it cats, dogs, horses or any other domesticated animal.
So what’s hindering cat feeders to neuter strays?
Since I have become a cat feeder myself, I got to understand better some issues that commonly afflict all those who have taken on the responsibility to do something. Here are a few of them;
- Lack of free time
- Inadequate co-ordination & co-operation amongst feeders and NGOs
- Lack of cat-traps
- Lack of expertise on how to trap cats humanely
- Unavailable space where neutered cats can recoverer after the operation
- Poor knowledge and finances to care for cats after the operation
- Insufficient funds to cover veterinary costs (40 – 60 Euro circa / neutered cat)
Neuter the cats, but where?
One may (not easily) obtain neutering vouchers from local NGOs who work hard to raise funds to cover neutering costs. These vouchers would need to be redeemed at an entrusted vet who operates at one specific clinic. Let’s say a cat feeder is in Mellieħa and obtains a neutering voucher. He or she would need to drive towards a clinic in Marsa or Qormi where the voucher may be redeemed. After you take the cat to the clinic for a neutering operation, you would need to pick the cat up after a couple of hours. Do you think this is fair over someone who is doing this out of his or her time? Such a chore could take hours out of the schedule of a volunteer.
Who can solve these issues, and how?
First of all the authorities need to enact and co-ordinate a series of actions. These actions would contribute to a national-scale plan to be executed in a span of years.
- Consultation amongst all stakeholders; government entities, NGOs, caring individuals, local councils and anyone who would have something to say about strays
- Compiling a list of NGOs and individual feeders that are helping out to provide neutering services
- Identify possible disputes between different parties
- Gather information from all stakeholders. How many non-neutered cats are there? How many colonies are there all over Malta and Gozo? Who is taking care of such colonies?
Once light is shed on the reality and extent of the situation, an approved budget would need to be allocated. This budget would be necessary to fund services and medical costs related to neutering. Veterinarians from all over Malta and Gozo would be able to provide such neutering service for free to any registered cat feeder or NGO.
Feeders who have never neutered any of their strays would need to be persuaded that once resources and logistical issues are overcome, co-operation would be expected. Eventually feeding strays without taking the responsibility to neuter them, would need to become illegal.
Progress would need to be closely monitored and a key aspect is to have everything as transparent as possible. An online and public system would put everyone’s heart and mind at rest. After all, most of those concerned have genuine intentions.
But, let’s be careful!
Like any plan where funds are available, abuse can happen. I did hear about cases where cats that were already neutered end up being trapped to be ‘neutered’ once again. The poor creatures! This is the result of lack of co-ordination.
One other thing that has been alleged by feeders over social media groups is that some animals that had just been neutered were released immediately after the procedure. It is common practice that the cat needs to be kept at a safe location for a decent recovery period. Imagine yourself being chucked out of hospital immediately after an operation, in pain, with no proper food, shelter or medication! This is absolutely wrong and inhumane.
It’s heart-wrenching to see cats and kittens being run over by cars, or die of sickness and hunger. A lot has been done by the Animal Welfare Department and volunteers. But there’s definitely more to be done. Why are we taking to long to get together and come up with a strategy? Unless a national plan involving all stakeholders is enacted, this situation will not only persist, but it will even get worse in the coming years.