Recently, there have been a number of individuals mentioned in local newspapers in relation to issues of ownership and the mismanagement/handling of a large number of dogs and/or cats, in residential areas. Problems usually tend to arise when the neighbours complain of the noise, or when they start smelling strange or stinky odours.
It is understandable that this could be a bother, however as an animal-loving individual, I truly understand those who, being tender-hearted or perhaps lonely, cannot help but react to an abandoned or stray animal’s plight and take it home to care for it, themselves. With one, two, three, or even four pets, this might be possible, however when one is talking about a large number of animals, it is important to take into account not only the means of the person in question, but also the space provided.
Sometimes, it’s also a question of sanitation. It is normal for animals to emit a faint healthy smell, no matter how much they are washed and cleaned. A huge conglomeration of animals would create an even larger and more permanent smell, which is not hygienic in enclosed spaces. Families living in suburban areas rightly complain when this happens and this too is understandable, since they personally did not opt to own these animals, and so should not be forced to suffer the consequences linked to their maintenance.
It is a tough issue, especially since in our small island, stray animals are abundant. Thankfully, professional organisations such as the Island Sanctuary, the AAA, the Malta and Gozo SPCA, Tomasina’s Cat Sanctuary and Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary, amongst others, are a blessing, since they provide a loving and healthy place where animals can be taken care of properly, not to mention a one-stop-shop for those families and people who want to adopt a pet.
It is also important to note that all the donations of food and materials, money and manual work relevant to these associations are given on a voluntary basis. People help because they care. They are aware of the need to help these animals, and they take action. In an ideal world, the state too would help such institutions and provide sustenance and subsidies, however unfortunately this is not often the case.
On the other hand, one must be conscious of those people who, though with good intentions, end up mistreating and allowing their animals to become malnourished, due to the fact that they have too many to maintain. This could be due to the fact that money is scarce, not to mention the lack of space. Having one person take care of a huge number of animals is a full-time job, which would also limit the time that person could go to work, in order to have the funds to provide for them. Leaving the animals cooped up on their own for long hours at a time, is also not ideal, leading to neglect.
In this case, the aim would be that of finding new loving homes for the animals, in order for them to be cared for exclusively and more attentively. One must think of them as children – one would, of course, have more time and attention to dedicate to two or three children, than to a group of forty. And obviously, if a person does not have the actual permits and the means to lawfully take care of such a large number of animals in the first place, he or she should not just pick up every stray animal that comes along.
If, like me, you feel that your pets are like members of your family, it would be almost impossible to let them go. However, love, one must remember, should be unconditional. The difference between loving a dog and being selfish, is that when you are aware you cannot decently provide and care for him, you try to offer him a better life by finding him another loving home. After all, real love is sacrificing your own happiness for others, not grabbing onto them just because you need them, without thinking about what THEY might need. Is shutting up forty or fifty dogs and cats in two small rooms love? How about those who, rain or shine, keep them locked in a garage or forgotten in a field?
If wishes were grains of sand, one could provide artificial sand for all the inlets in Malta, unfortunately reality is harsher, and one must consider the practical side of taking care of a huge number of animals, and not just go by one’s own personal agenda. It is important to keep in mind that if a person lives in a suburban area, that person must abide by certain rules and conventions. Loving and taking care of stray animals is laudable and generous, however it is important to consider the effect this would have on others, especially one’s neighbours.
I admire those who take this cause so much to heart, and I help them when I can, however I believe that the most important thing is to promote the happy and healthy co-existence of different species, be they human, canine, feline, etc. Those who want to actively help the animal cause, and offer their time or money voluntarily to improve these associations, or better yet, officially and legally start their own NGO, are an example to us all. Those who tempt fate with unplanned, unprofessional DIY measures, without permits, without respect for their neighbours, or practical reasoning, are not.