The Malta Independent 17 August 2022, Wednesday

MSPCA question and criticise Animal Welfare Department procedures

Saturday, 11 November 2017, 10:10 Last update: about 6 years ago

The Malta Society for the Protection and Care of Animals (MSPCA) has put procedures used by the Animal Welfare Department into question in a Facebook post.

"In October, a Mosta resident called MSPCA for assistance as a dog had strayed into and slept in a family's drive-way." The MSPCA said the animal appeared old and had a severe skin ailment. The MSPCA outreach manager called 1717 after having received a call from the man who found the dog.

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"After getting through to 1717 and providing all the necessary details including the number of the person who was near the dog, the animal welfare representative assured us that the officers would handle it. So far there was nothing untoward."

"The Animal Welfare officers that day were busy and only managed to attend to the case four hours later. What worries us is that once there, they checked the dog for a microchip, tracked down the owner and called him to tell him to pick up the dog and to take it to a vet, and they also said they would be following up to see that this is done. They then proceeded to leave the dog where it was."

"MSPCA questioned whether this was standard protocol and if yes, why public resources are being misused in this manner, when the law allows animal welfare officers the possibility to take the animal to the veterinary hospital for treatment and bill the owner for the expenses. This would certainly be more efficient, as the dog would have received the medical care it needed immediately, no human resources would be wasted in following up whether the owner did take his dog to a vet and the resulting expenses could have been recovered from the owner.

"Our position on the matter has been backed by the Commissioner for Animal Welfare, Manwel Buhagiar, as well as Animal Rights Group Chair, Myriam Kirmond, while a request for clarification sent to the Animal Welfare Director has not received an answer after being acknowledged on the 20th of October," the MSPCA said

"Additionally, developments in a case that happened last night have also been disappointing. A number of privately-owned animals that were confined in a large cage enclosure in Wardija were found killed and a dog had mysteriously found its way into the cage. Although the dog had no signs on her fur of having been responsible for killing the animals, we are not excluding this possibility. A report was lodged at the police station by the owner of the property and the assistance of the animal welfare department was sought. Since animal shelters are full, none of them were in a position to take in the dog on such short notice, and given the possible need for an investigation, as the dog could not have entered the enclosure without human help, it is reasonable to think the animal welfare department should have intervened. MSPCA will also send requests for clarification about this case. The dog is a young to middle-aged, white and tan, tal-kacca female and was wearing a tan leather collar. She is temporarily being fostered by an MSPCA friend.

The MSPCA said that these were not isolated incidents and "we suspect that an anomaly in the laws is making this sort of behaviour possible by the AWD. When the Electronic Identification Dogs regulation calls into action a Police Officer or Public Official they are allowed a get-out clause as the wording chosen is that they "may" act, while the public (including NGOs that are often overwhelmed) are obliged to act through the use of the word 'shall', which unlike 'may' is legally binding."

Since the original Facebook post, the MSPCA said, a phone call from Animal Welfare Director Noel Montebello to clarify the matter was received, "but has not been satisfactory. The Animal Welfare Director said that he cannot implement a different procedure as what we were expecting carried additional cost and manpower which he didn't have a budget for. We cannot accept this as a satisfactory answer as we believe, since the law allows such, the bill and therefore costs should be footed by the irresponsible owner who let his dog stray and did not report the dog missing which also carries a fine."

"Our Outreach Manager requested the Director to provide his answer in writing including Animal Rights Group and the Commissioner for Animal Welfare in his correspondence as they had been copied in the emails about the issue and were also interested in a clarification. Unfortunately, the Director in his ensuing written correspondence only stated that the case was closed as the owner eventually did attend to his dog saying that the procedure in the case of microchipped owned dogs is to contact the owner and that the owner was responsible for the dog."

"We are still of the opinion that AWD cannot justify this procedure as it does not prioritise the animal's welfare. MSPCA believes this continues to be an issue because animals do not have a voice and laws enacted to safeguard them are not being enforced appropriately."

"We have repeatedly called for better enforcement, as have several other NGOs, but sadly we have yet to see a meaningful improvement."


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