The Sunday Times, 18th May 2008

National neutering programme launched

First step to micro-chipping all animals

Thousands of stray animals roam Malta's streets. A national neutering programme for an ever-increasing number of abandoned animals was finally launched yesterday in a bid to reduce the stray population. Rural Affairs Minister George Pullicino said this was the first step to micro-chipping every animal in Malta, which aimed to put a stop to their abuse and abandonment. The first phase of the programme involves the neutering and micro-chipping (for registration) of stray colonies in public spaces, starting off in Mellieha, Rabat and Gozo, where the initiative has already started. The five animal welfare NGOs under the umbrella of the Malta Association of Shelters and Sanctuaries - the SPCAs in Malta and Gozo, Island Sanctuary, Noah's Ark and the Thomasina Cat Society - which signed a Memorandum of Understanding yesterday would also be neutering and micro-chipping their animals. But Mr Pullicino said other animal NGOs had 90 days to join forces and sign the agreement too. As to why the neutering programme had been so delayed in getting off the ground, the minister pointed to the lack of agreement between the animal NGOs themselves until those who agreed, which make up around 80 per cent, decided to go ahead without complete consensus. Half the sum, 175,000 (Lm75,000), allocated to animal welfare in the last Budget is being poured into the first year of the neutering programme. It is being used to fund the costs of the authorised vets and the aftercare services provided by the NGOs. The other half of the budget will go towards upgrading the country's animal sanctuaries, which have until the end of June to submit projects to an adjudicating panel, chaired by Austin Sammut. Until now, three sanctuaries have applied for funding to upgrade their facilities. The government is giving Malta's sanctuaries two years to get up to standard, warning that action will be taken if they do not comply. "We have no intention of leaving any sanctuaries (open) that are not up to scratch," Mr Pullicino said. SPCA president Barbara Cassar Torreggiani insisted on the need for everyone to join forces if the project is to really take off. The campaign had to go hand in hand with new animal welfare laws and their enforcement, she insisted, appealing for established groups and volunteers from every locality to help trap and transport the animals - "the hard work". Mr Pullicino said discussions on the use of wardens for animal welfare enforcement had started with the Local Councils Association, but it was reluctant to take up the idea. The government would, therefore, be studying the possibility of redeploying its staff for the role of enforcement. Meanwhile, a conclusion on the tender for the after-care animal centre in Ta' Qali should be reached shortly, Mr Pullicino said. Nine offers had been received and the adjudication by the contracts committee should be finalised in the coming days. Mr Pullicino took the opportunity yesterday to announce the country's first Director Animal Welfare Promotion and Services within his ministry. Mario Spiteri, former health promotion head, would be ensuring more synergy and constant contact with animal NGOs.

FABIO on TVM NEWS and signing the agreement