The Malta Independent 23 June 2024, Sunday
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Animal well-being and public health – a silent bond

Alicia Bugeja Said Sunday, 26 May 2024, 08:13 Last update: about 29 days ago

Our country is currently in the midst of an election campaign, at what’s an important fork in the road for the present and future of our country. This year’s democratic exercise can shape our country’s progress on both a local and a regional scale.  

Nonetheless, the Government is not sitting idle in its efforts to care for and protect the health and well-being of our animals, and thus the health of Maltese and Gozitan citizens alike. We remain as motivated and energetic as ever to reach the most ambitious of targets for our country, and whenever possible, exceed previous expectations.

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Over the past days and weeks, the Parliamentary Secretariat for Fisheries and Animal Rights registered multiple significant achievements. We managed to do so together, by improving on what we already managed to accomplish over the past couple of years. We have in some cases managed to surpass our initial targets. However, rather than resting on our laurels, we used these successes  as a source of motivation to propel this sector further forward by learning from key insights gained.

During last week’s Public Sector Expo, we officially launched the new Check Your Pet campaign – a new initiative, whereby all animal owners around Malta and Gozo can educate themselves on the general and specific needs for the animal close to their heart. This informative campaign will help families and individuals alike to understand, and take all the best steps needed on behalf of their pets, thus providing them with the highest quality of life and care.

For another consecutive year, the Animal Welfare Fund will provide direct financial support for the many sanctuaries and NGOs involved in our animal welfare sector. This year’s program of funds will see all beneficiaries receive up to a maximum of €8000 in direct aid, with the intention of providing both the peace of mind for the sustainability of current operations, and the financial boost needed to implement new infrastructural projects and initiatives.

We as a country remain eternally thankful and appreciative of the continuous support that these volunteers offer to those animals in need. For many, these NGOs and sanctuaries, together with the officials from the Animal Welfare Department, remain the first port of call for our animals, their owners, and the rest of our citizens.

In view of the above, our principle here remains consistent: this financial scheme will not only be a welcome relief for the daily financial burden of all these volunteers. They will also act as a stimulant for more passionate active citizens to get involved, leading to a healthier nation for those animals in need.

Another scheme which was introduced recently, relates to the National Cat Neutering campaign. Over 2023, veterinarians have neutered around 4,000 cats in different areas of Malta, in a humane, controlled and effective manner. Thanks to this procedure, our Animal Welfare officials managed to monitor, control and analyse both the individual picture of each animal, and that of the general population. This measure is intended to reduce the burden on NGOs and Animal Welfare resources by preventing the large population surges that we have experienced in the past.  Neutering is a kindness because it prevents unnecessary hardship.

For this year, this scheme will be extended: Thanks to a new pilot project, similar services will be offered for free for certain breeds of dogs. This pilot project, which will first focus on farm dogs and bully breeds, will have the same aim of the current national neutering strategy.:  By chipping these dogs, the Animal Welfare Directorate will monitor the population of dogs around Malta and Gozo, and the medical treatment needed to safeguard their physical conditions, while ensuring they are released within the same environment in which they were originally discovered.  It is the same approach we used for cats and it has worked.

This data is essential for policy makers and officials, so that at a local and national level, we can better understand their daily behaviours, and the way in which these animals interact with their surroundings. That way, local councils and national agencies are better equipped to take decisions on the infrastructural projects and local initiatives necessary, for a more holistic and cohesive vision for each specific town, village and region in our country.

All in all, these two initiatives will help our citizens and these animals live harmoniously. By protecting the Five Fundamental Freedoms of our animals, we are able to ensure the safety, health and well-being of our animals; in turn, this will in turn also aid in improving the quality of life, and the well-being of all of our citizens.

Our ambitious plan of reform and active development in this sector has indeed led to many benefits. However, now it’s certainly not the time to ease off. We must continuously re-adjust, remain open to new ideas, and redouble our efforts and our expectations in ensuring a better country for our children, and for all those present and future animals who can leave an indelible, but welcome impact on our daily lives.

A lofty goal indeed. We have already hit significant targets and important achievements during these past two years. In the next three years, we are focused on making the leap in quality that our citizens expect and demand of us, for the better of our animals and the country as a whole.

Alicia Bugeja Said is Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries, Aquaculture and Animal Rights

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