Lately, Malta has been witnessing an unnerving surge in cases of animal abuse, and many have been vocal in condemning such atrocious acts of cruelty. During times like these, a spotlight shines on what might be one of the country’s most (in)famous institutions – Animal Welfare (AW).
Throughout the past weeks, animal lovers fuelled by their blatant love for our four-legged friends have strived to highlight Animal Welfare’s shortcomings; and it hasn’t been pretty. Jumping on the anti-Animal Welfare bandwagon is pretty easy, and sometimes justified – some of the country’s most influential animal activists often speak out against this institution after all.
But as the same criticism piles on, month after month, the work that Animal Welfare does commit to seems to get drowned out in an echo chamber of negativity.
In light of this, Lovin Malta spoke to Noel Montebello, the director of Animal Welfare, to hear his side of the story.
“We have a rescue service, assume the roles of regulators, operators, and answer around 6,000 calls per year,” Montebello said.
“Civil Protection answer around 5,000 calls per year and have around 300 workers. We have 50 workers.”
Whilst other institutions, say, the police force, are focused on a single mission, e.g. enforcement, Animal Welfare assumes the roles of multiple institutions despite having a relatively small workforce. And whilst Montebello didn’t blatantly say so, it seems pretty clear that Malta’s Animal Welfare is severely short staffed.
“Animal Welfare doesn’t just focus on the rescue of animals – we also focus on enforcement and treatment,” Montebello continued.
“We always make sure that rescued animals are treated at the APH veterinary hospital. When they are admitted, they are all given a patient number. We’ve managed to develop a very accountable system – any patient that has been admitted to the hospital can be found on the system.”
But it seems like Animal Welfare’s duties don’t end there.
“A system of rehoming has been put in place. Through our work with NGOs, we home around 700 animals per year,” Montebello said.
“The work is enormous; we have also put schemes in place – €174,000 has been given to local councils for the local council fund. We even provide veterinary services to NGOs for free.”
One of the biggest critiques that Animal Welfare has received over the years involves its alleged inaction over cases of ‘clear’ animal abuse.
“When it comes to rescuing animals, we have to abide by the Animal Welfare Act, and even though an owner might be in compliance with said act, in the eyes of an activist the pet might still be getting abused,“ Montebello explained.
“Whenever there is an inspection, a full-time veterinarian is always present. Once you tick the checklist of the Animal Welfare Act, you cannot take action against the owner. Then again, if the animal scores a bad body score and is in a visibly bad environment, action is taken.”
Montebello said that amongst other things, the aforementioned act stipulates that a dog should be kept in a space that is at least two metres by two metres, with access to water and food.
Lovin Malta highlighted that, even though an animal might be kept in an environment that is in accordance with the Animal Welfare Act, this does not necessarily mean that they are necessarily being cared for.
In light of this, Montebello highlighted that legislation concerning animals is very frequently updated to better safeguard animals.
“As a country, when it comes to Animal Welfare, we have made gigantic steps. Every one or two years, the Animal Welfare Act is updated,” Montebello said.
“The Keeping Of Dogs Act was updated, for example, by increasing the fines that a wrongdoer is subjected to.”
“We fought a lot for the law concerning karozzini as well. We have released a law that states that horses can now get an extra three hours of rest. That is a step forward.”
As the conversation started touching upon the criticism aimed towards Animal Welfare, Montebello seemed like he had a number of interesting points to make.
“I am not one to speak out against criticism – but constant negative criticism takes a toll on workers, it deters potential employees from joining Animal Welfare,” Montebello said.
“One needs to understand that the organisation is human.”
Montebello went on to highlight how the criticism that AW receives often towers above the work that is done by the institution. He made reference to a particular incident which took place earlier this month which served to show the institution’s dedication and efficiency.
“Last night on the way home from a wedding, we saw a little dog in the road so exhausted it could hardly walk. I picked her up and she just clung to me. She is now safe and was taken to the APH hospital – she wasn’t chipped and in the care of AW,” the post reads.
“Big thank you to the people in the two cars that helped us who assisted with calling the AW. They were at the scene in 10 minutes.”
Montebello sought to further highlight Animal Welfare’s dedication by comparing the institution to its foreign counterparts – notoriously known for euthanising animals.
“We re-home everyone, we do not put any dogs to sleep – we don’t even have that option. If the dog is aggressive, we even try to get a behaviourist,” Montebello emphasised.
“We got in two veterinarians full-time with Animal Welfare, we built new pens. The work is ongoing and it is going well.”
“This is a sector that is bound to receive criticism.”