The Malta Independent 22 August 2019, Thursday

TMID Editorial: Animal welfare - Laws mean little without adequate enforcement, resources

Monday, 15 July 2019, 12:27 Last update: about 2 months ago

That the latest shocking case of animal cruelty in Malta took place on the same day that Parliament approved harsher penalties for this type of crime is of grave concern.

On Wednesday evening, Parliament approved amendments to the Animal Welfare Act, increasing the maximum fine for a first conviction to €65,000. The maximum fine for a second conviction has been increased to €80,000. In both cases, a convicted person may also be imprisoned.

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Yet the harsher penalties certainly did not serve as a deterrent for the individual or individuals who butchered two helpless kittens on Wednesday evening, and dumped them on a street in Paola.

In a case reminiscent of the infamous Mosta cat killer, the kittens were cut into pieces and left on the tarmac for everyone to see.

The case is reportedly being investigated by the police.

Now, we are not saying that the government has not made steps in the right direction when it comes to animal welfare. Last year, Parliament outlawed the chaining of dogs (although, this move came after years of lobbying by NGOs and PN MP Mario Galea).

The Parliamentary Secretariat for Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Welfare, led by PS Clint Camilleri, has launched various schemes to help animal welfare NGOs improve their facilities and for new projects in favour of stray animals to be launched. Others schemes help animal welfare groups pay their massive veterinary bills.

Last week, the government also launched new rules for karozzini horses – which are the subject of controversy every summer. The new rules state that karozzini are not allowed between 1pm and 4pm in the hottest two months of the year – July and August. Horses must be kept in the shade when not working and must have access to fresh drinking water. Most notably, carriage horses can only be used on alternating days, and trips cannot be longer than 45 minutes.

While these new regulations are positive, animal activists immediately pointed out that, without proper enforcement, the rules will prove useless. In fact, horse shelters were built around Valletta a few years back, but horses were still being kept in the sweltering sun, with the tents used instead as car parking spaces.

Enforcement is one of the main problems in this country, not only when it comes to animal welfare but in all other areas.

The new Animal Welfare Act, in fact, states that “the Minister may make regulations as shall be deemed appropriate to provide for the establishment and imposition of administrative penalties and other enforcement and administrative measures as may be specified therein."

But it makes no reference to the actual enforcement measures that may be taken, or how enforcement can be bolstered.

It is also very clear that the Animal Welfare Directorate lacks the necessary resources, often leaving people who report animal cruelty cases fuming at the lack of action.

Animal Welfare Commissioner Denis Montebello told a newspaper a few months back that the lack of resources was often turning the authorities into “unwitting perpetrators of cruelty.”

And cases of animal cruelty are not that rare. We often hear of  cases of cats and dogs being poisoned, of dog fighting rings and of horses being almost starved to death.

So once again, introducing harsher penalties is a positive step, but one that means little if the rules are not properly enforced and if the necessary resources are not provided.

 

 

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