This column first appeared in Malta Today
The news that the Government would be handing out a €150 grant to encourage animal adoption from sanctuaries has not been met with the kind of whooping delight this administration was probably expecting.
On the contrary, it has left a sour taste in the mouths of those who truly love animals and consider their pets as an extension of their family. In fact, it is precisely because their beloved pets become like second children for many pet owners, that there was such a negative reaction from activists and those who volunteer at animal sanctuaries. It also explains why the announcement was followed by the inevitable quip that if a couple does its homework right, it can rake in €350 for having a child next year (as announced in the budget) followed by another €150 for introducing a pet into the family.
Ironically, encouraging people to have more children by offering them money and indeed even to adopt a child (there is a €10,000 Euro grant for that to help with the often exorbitant expenses), was not met with as much outrage as the offer to dole out cash to adopt a rescue dog.
One of Malta’s most vocal animal activists, Alison Bezzina, spelled out the reasons why most sanctuaries are fiercely against the idea concocted by Parliamentary Secretary for Animal Rights Clint Camilleri, pointing out that the funds should be better utilised:
“We don’t have money to fix the pens at Animal Welfare (Ghammieri) – so for another year dogs at Ghammieri have no heating, no bedding and water is coming in from everywhere.”
“We don’t have money to enlarge the space so that when an unchipped healthy dog is found roaming the street we don’t have to let him get run over before he is picked up by Animal Welfare.”
“We don’t have money for a nationwide neutering campaign which is what this country really needs the most if we are ever going to tackle the ever-growing dog population.”
“We don’t have money for decent and proper equipment so that Animal Welfare Officers don’t risk their lives every time they go out on a rescue.”
“We don’t have money to train such officers, and we don’t have money to have more than one emergency ambulance on duty with every shift,” she said.
I can only add that she is right on all points, especially when one reads of so many cases of animal abuse (and these are the ones which hit the news headlines).
Handing out money to people to adopt an animal won’t guarantee that the same pet will not end up abandoned and dumped somewhere when the family gets tired of taking care of it and no one wants to take responsibility for the commitment which dogs (more than cats) demand. I don’t have pets myself for that very reason, because I know from my friends just how much work and commitment are involved, from the compulsory daily walks come rain or shine, to the constant cleaning of cat/dog hair, to figuring out who is going to take care of them and feed them when one is away. I even hear of couples who have to take separate holidays to ensure that someone is at home to feed the pets.
It is when the novelty of getting a pet wears off and no one in the family wants to clean the cat litter box or when the cost of vaccinations, microchipping etc start accumulating that the true test comes along of just how much the family was actually prepared for a pet in the first place. A website which gives advice about pet ownership, www.petplan.com.au, had this to say, “Owning a pet is a massive responsibility that some people don’t realise. It is extremely important that you weigh up all the costs, your lifestyle and other factors when deciding whether or not you should get a new pet. Many pets are abandoned at shelters as their owners cannot or will not look after them. If you make the decision of getting a new furry friend, remember that it is for their entire life.”
(On reading this website I could not help but think that the same kind of advice should also be dished out to those contemplating bringing children into the world, especially when I see how many children are in children’s homes, but that is another article).
There is another aspect to this whole attitude by this administration which seems to think that handing out cheques is a quick fix for all of society’s ills. Money can solve certain problems it’s true, but when one is not addressing the root cause, then it is merely a temporary stop-gap measure. Whether we are speaking about animal welfare, the protection of children, women who are victims of domestic violence, or even giving a helping hand to single parents who are struggling to keep their head above water, it would be much more beneficial to assess where the problem is really coming from and channeling funds to the right areas in the first place.
Just like Clint Camilleri should have consulted with animal sanctuaries about what their real needs are before coming up with the €150 grant idea, so should those making decisions when it comes to social problems within families also zero in on where the money would be best utilised. Otherwise, the problems will not go away, but will simply continue to grow and become more complicated, as they have over recent years. And, as these problems multiply, they will have a ripple effect on other areas of society, from our schools where teachers are having to deal with children who come from a dysfunctional home life, to workplaces where employers cannot find enough reliable, well-adjusted staff, and even to our health care system which is being burdened by a spike in mental health care issues.
While throwing money at a problem by issuing cheques to people may seem like a positive popular measure and will provide the Government with the inevitable, hackneyed Facebook phrases of praise from its loyal supporters (prosit, King!) , it cannot replace well-thought out policies and long-term strategies. Whether it’s animal welfare or the welfare of human beings, we should demand to be treated much better than this by those whom we have elected to serve.