The Animal Welfare Department was established in response to the need that the Ministry for Resources and Rural Affairs felt through the continuous demand from the general public. This new directorate‘s purpose is to ensure that the animals’ rights are respected and that the laws governing the way animals are treated and abided to.
Dr. Mario Spiteri, now the Director General responsible for the Rural Development and Aquaculture Department, was the only component of the entity. Through hard work and endless efforts he managed to put up the current 15 team members with roles varying from clerical duties to field officers and educational mentors. Actually the team is made up from the Coordinator, 2 Clerks, 4 Animal Carers and 8 Animal Welfare Officers.
For the very first months, the Animal Welfare Directorate started operating from a minute office in another department. Soon after, due to the increase in demand for the directorate’s services the latter was granted larger spaces. It is now operating autonomously from the Ghammieri Government’s Farm where apart from the offices it has also some adjoining pens to accommodate the various abandoned and injured animals that are daily found roaming in the streets by the Officers.
The funds allocated for this directorate are spent on animal welfare initiatives mainly to cover for all the medical expenses incurred for the treatment of the injured strays collected by the Animal Ambulance.
One major initial expense which the department had to undertake was the purchasing of the Animal Ambulances. Large sums of money were spent to pay for their equipment and their licences, the 2 way radio system, the dart guns, catchers, extended pole needles, stretchers, harnesses, cages and carriers and digital photo cameras.
Centru San Frangisk
All the injured stray animals which are collected by the Animal Ambulance are immediately taken to Centru San Frangisk in order to be given the immediate medical attention they need. The veterinary service is given for free to all these animals, the Directorate pays only for the medicines.
This hospital is in function 24hours a day including public holidays and Sundays. It cost the government approximately 420,000Euro. Main targets behind this hospital is to give peace of mind to all animal lovers and owners i.e. knowing that if one’s pet needs medical attention even in the oddest of hours there s always a place where it can be taken, helped and even at times saved.
Provision of Financial help for the animal NGO’s
The Directorate already gave out around 450,000Euro in aid of various registered NGOs to be able to carry on with their projects. They were also supplied with the necessary raw materials and assistance in works with regards to renovation and improvement of premises which were done by the Ministry’s Works Division.
During the last 2 years hundreds of strays were neutered. The success behind this campaign is the result of coordinated efforts among the Animal welfare Directorate, the NGOs and the local vets. Neutering vouchers were issued to a number of trusted people who take care of stray cats which live in different colonies around the Maltese Islands. The vouchers were also issued for any dogs or cats which were collected by the Animal Ambulance.
In these last months the Ministry for Resources and Rural Affairs introduced a Legal Notice to promote the effectiveness of having all dogs Micro chipped. Through this law number of stray dogs will be controlled and thus a central database with owners’ details will be created. All the animal handlers and the Welfare Officers are trained and equipped to scan the rescued animals.
The Animal Welfare Team is working hard on disseminating more awareness in the general public. The local media through television and also newspapers is aiding in facilitating this process through regular spots in which people from the team give advice on how to treat their pets in the most respectful of ways and also how to handle strays in need if they happen to be around them. The general public is also urged to call and report any animal cruelties they might be witnessing. Through the Animal Welfare Act which was lastly revised in 2002, the Officers exert the authority to punish the perpetrators through the Courts of the Maltese Justice. Since the commencement of these spots, the Directorate also started the Ambulance Service in which people are urged to call the police whenever they see an injured stray animal.
The police have a direct line with the Ambulance and so in a matter of a short time, the animals are taken to a clinic in which they will be taken care of .Usually these animals are then taken to the Department and kept there in the adjoining pens, and hopefully being re homed in loving families after a monitoring period of some days.
Long Term Significance
The Directorate is also working in line with various educational entities and will be shortly embarking on various pilot projects;
Extracurricular Education in Schools
Professional educators from the Animal Welfare Department are taking it into their stride to go and visit schools and have circle time with children. These educators go and deliver lectures in which children are invited to give their views about how animals should be treated. Sometimes puppies are taken along for these visits so as to make it more tangible for children to understand how vulnerable these stray animals are.
Last year the Animal Welfare Team managed to rescue two Samoyeds which were left tight to a gate without any shelter, food or water. Their long coats were in a pitiful state and their health also deteriorating. After giving them the attention they needed from the Veterinary Services at the Department, they were properly groomed and put on a prescription diet so as to restore them to their former good health. Their story was given wide coverage from the media and attracted attention from the Prison Juvenile Section. This was a blessing for the dogs since they were to be homed together by the latter.
The idea behind the dogs’ adoption was to use them in pet therapy along with the youngsters who are held in their Young Offenders Section. The Directorate abided to this request and believes that in the coming future a pilot project could be in the pipeline so more strays would be trained by professional animal behaviourists and handlers and then re homed along with these young inmates who at times feel so lost and alone at such a young age.
The continuous calls and attention which the Directorate gets is an ongoing reminder of the many animals which are in need of help and care. The Animal Welfare Team adheres to its mission that is, being always at the front to assist any animal which happens to be in hideous mishaps. Educating people is another mission that is being laudably targeted – our nation ought to invest in citizens that as from an early age have a holistic personality. Schools are urged to teach our children how to respect and love animals which have feelings and hurt like us and like as Mahatma Ghandi always used to say – A country is recognised for what it is through the way its people treat their animals.