The Malta Independent 24 October 2020, Saturday

Dog chaining still legal in Malta despite Private Member’s Bill presented in 2016

Rebekah Cilia Monday, 16 July 2018, 10:37 Last update: about 3 years ago

The chaining of dogs to a stationary object is still legal in Malta in spite of it being banned in the majority of EU countries which view the practice as cruel.

In 2016 PN MP Mario Galea put forward a private members bill calling for a ban on allowing dogs to be chained up for long periods of time and on collars which may restrict a dog’s breathing.

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The private member’s bill never went past the first reading, which is just the tabling of the bill. Two years have since passed and it is still legal to chain dogs in Malta. Since there was a new legislature in 2017 this means that the bill needs to once again be tabled in parliament. To date, nothing has been done and NGOs are questioning what has happened to the bill.

“No person shall tether, fasten, chain or restrain a dog, or cause a dog to be tethered, fastened, chained, to any stationary object as a primary means of stationary confinement,” reads the original bill. Mr Galea speaking on the subject said that “I think no dog deserves to live a life attached to a chain for all his life.”

Tethering and chaining refer to the practice of fastening a dog to a stationary object and leaving it unattended. Chaining more specifically tends to refer to the practice of using thick heavy chains to restrain the animal. Tethering usually involves the partial restraint of a dog on a rope or light chain.

The bill also prohibited the use of inadequate collars, especially the use of chains as collars and shock collars. Shock collars or electronic collars as they are also known deliver electrical shocks in varying intensities and durations to the neck of the dog.

As Galea explains, these type of collars are sometimes used as bark control collars. These type of collars are used to stop the dog from barking by delivering a shock at the moment the dog begins to bark. It is a dog’s right to be able to express itself through natural behaviour, he explains, with barking being part of this behaviour and a way a dog uses to communicate. Barking helps the dog communicate happiness, pain, discomfort, apprehension, anxiety and many other emotions.

Galea also speaks from experience as a dog owner himself, saying that he recognises his dog’s barking is a way to communicate with him what it needs.

The issue came to the fore in 2016 following a walk held by hundreds of animal rights advocates in St Julian’s in protest against the practice of allowing dogs to be chained all day. Following the lack of initiative from the government’s end at the time, Galea spoke with a number of NGOs regarding the subject and presented the private member's bill.

Once the election came in 2017 Galea (above) explains that he had two options: one was to either present the private member's bill again or to coordinate with the current Parliamentary Secretary for Animal Rights, Clint Camilleri. He chose the latter and since then Camilleri has presented him with a draft bill in this regard.

The draft bill is in line with that originally proposed by Galea with the same exceptions to the chaining clause. Dog owners will still be able to leash their dog when taking them on walks and when transporting them. The ban does not apply during veterinary procedures.

The draft also makes exceptions to animal welfare officers dealing with aggressive dogs. It allows them to instruct owners of aggressive dogs to temporarily restrain the dog in order to mitigate any danger 

An agreement was reached between Galea and Camilleri about the bill and the bill was to be presented once again to parliament. Unfortunately, to date, no bill has been presented. Camilleri even promised Galea that the Bill would be tabled before Parliament adjourned for the summer. However, Galea noted that parliament adjourned three weeks earlier than usual so perhaps this was the reason the bill was not presented.

“Research shows that chaining dogs only makes them more aggressive”, Galea explains. He said that when dogs are threatened they have the option to fight or flight. Chaining them only leaves them with one option: to fight.

There is also the problem that chained dogs have limited space to live in which means that he must eat close to where it uses the toilet. Also having been tethered means that the dog has a much greater possibility of knocking over its water with the chain.

Studies also show that these dogs which are chained have the least veterinary care, Galea explains, since most of these owners do not actually love their dogs.

Galea believes that there are not many cruel people who still chain their dogs but those which are chained are mainly done so outside, exposed to the hot summer heat and the winter cold.

The law does stipulate that if outside the dog must be provided with “adequate shelter” and food and drink. Animal welfare officials  today even have the right to break down an entrance, if the owners do not allow access after some time, following reports of animal abuse. However, Galea believes that the biggest problem with animal welfare is the lack of enforcement.

Galea lashed out at the previous Parliamentary Secretary for Animal Rights, Roderick Galdes, claiming that he employed people with Animal Welfare who were not trained for the job and who were not even animal lovers. He particularly mentioned the case of a dog who was drowning and when called on the scene the animal welfare officers made no attempt to save it. The reason they gave for not saving the dog was that it did not fall within their lines of duty.

When questioned whether Galdes was in favour of the bill at the time, Galea claimed that he was taking him for a ride and furthermore used his position as a parliamentary secretary within the government to have animal welfare take care of a horse of a private owner who happened to be his friend.

Galea intends to speak to Camilleri to keep on working on animal welfare issues and to use the summer vacation to finalise the bill so as when parliament is adjourned it is tabled immediately.

All is not lost with Galea saying that there are some good people working with Animal Welfare. He even said that they coordinate a lot with NGOs and that things were getting better. He also had words of praise for the NGOs and told of stories of their hard work.

As things stand having a dog on the roof provided they have some form of shelter is legal but dogs are social animals and require human company. Galea said that perhaps abolishing this would be the next step in terms of animal welfare laws. He also believes that education campaigns are essential to teaching people that dogs are not a commodity but a pet who needs adequate care and time. “If you do not have time to take care of your dog, do not get one,” says Galea.

This newspaper also sent questions about the subject to the Ministry for the Environment, Sustainable Development and Climate Change of which Camilleri is the Parliamentary Secretary of Animal Rights and also to the ministry Galdes’ now forms part of. No replies were forthcoming by the time this newspaper went to print. 

 

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