Disjointed approach to animal welfare rocketing out of control

In an apparent coincidence, two Algarve-based animal shelters have taken to print to bemoan a situation in which they feel that nothing they do seems to be making inroads on a snowballing scourge of unwanted cats and dogs.

It’s not enough to ‘blame authorities’ (which rarely do what they promise in any sphere), this is a problem that involves the seeming inability of everyday citizens to appreciate what causes animals to multiply out of control and do something about it.

Says AEZA – the multicultural Associação Ecologista e Zoófila de Aljezur – in a social media post that went out last weekend: “It is totally frustrating, exhausting and worrying that, after 22 years of activity at AEZA where we have been trying to encourage the population of the municipality of Aljezur to sterilize their dogs and cats – as this is the only possible and effective way to combat the thousands of births of animals that will never be able to find an adopting family and thus will swell the numbers of abandoned animals in Aljezur and in Portugal – the situation not only has not evolved in a positive way, but the prospects are in the direction of getting worse in the future.

“At the moment, we have 53 dogs and 54 cats in our refuge and in some foster families.

Photo: ANIMAL RESCUE ALGARVE

“With regard to cats, we are also responsible for looking after the approximately 18 colonies spread throughout the municipality of Aljezur, which should have over 90 animals.

“Apart from these numbers, we receive daily messages and phone calls from citizens residing in Aljezur with the intention of delivering more animals to us. Can anyone tell us how we might ever resolve this?

“Due to the evident lack of interest in this subject, shown by local and national politicians, by the authorities, by the majority of the population … what to do? Will a miracle be the only solution?

“We are going to try to fight this whole system that is completely indifferent to animals, as we have been doing for the last 22 years. How long will we hold out, that’s the question…”

AEZA’s despair has been apparent for some time now. Its social media page not long ago carried a post suggesting people who find discarded animals could “be the change” the creatures require themselves, instead of simply dropping them off at an already over-stuffed shelter that is invariably struggling to make ends meet.

Photo: ANIMAL RESCUE ALGARVE

AEZA’s facilities are diplomatically described as “provisionally converted farm buildings”.  To be fair, if they were reported to be “what is left standing following a devastating wildfire”, no one would be the least bit surprised: It is a fairly typical Algarve animal shelter, devoid of frills, fancies and even basic rendering.

Further east, shelters like ARA (Animal Rescue Algarve) are positively gold-plated by comparison. But even ARA, nestling in the region’s self-styled ‘golden triangle’, is finding the going less than glittering.

Trying to be as diplomatic as possible, the shelter put out a press release last week to warn that street cats in the region’s best-heeled quarters are “still multiplying at unsustainable levels”.

ARA’s own blueprint for fixing the problem has been ‘welcomed’ by local municipal authorities which are simply not coming up with the necessary support (see below).

Photo: ANIMAL RESCUE ALGARVE

The association “fears authorities have underestimated the size of the problem” (…) “Although the problem of feral cats is not new, the rate at which these animals are multiplying is extremely concerning, especially when most private shelters – like ARA’s at Cabanita – are full, and most municipal shelters are either inadequate or non-existent.

“ARA fears that the streets will become flooded with animals, alive or dead. Despite their best efforts, shelters are currently struggling to keep up with the increase in numbers, with the majority of associations being overcrowded and understaffed, meaning that, without urgent further assistance, there will be a breaking point soon.”

A lot of factors have contributed to this dilemma – the ban, since 2018, on euthanising animals for population control purposes being another reason for shelters becoming overwhelmed. But the bottom line powering the problem is a failure, at all levels, to commit to sterilisation campaigns.

Mulu, female Photo: AEZA-FACEBOOK
Mulu, female
Photo: AEZA-FACEBOOK

ARA also alludes to the dearth of adequate facilities and management that can catch and return feral cats to colonies post-sterilisation.

The general breakdown in good intentions means that 50 years since the Algarve’s first real ‘animal champion’ Bridget Hicks began her late-life efforts to change mentalities and protect animals from indifference, very little has in fact moved forwards.

No one wants to see sick animals dying in the streets, warns ARA, but that is where things are headed, unless something changes – and by something, the inference is clear: animal associations and shelters need the support of their communities and local authorities. They simply cannot work miracles ‘on their own’.

Hush, male Photo: AEZA-FACEBOOK
Hush, male
Photo: AEZA-FACEBOOK

ARA’s blueprint would bring feral cat populations under control in 10 years

In a perfect world, ARA’s ‘MEGA Community Cat Project/Vila dos Gatos’ (see our story “Beyond the litter box”) would sterilise 1,500 feral cats per year, providing them with regular supplies of freshwater and food in picturebook wooden ‘shelters’ constructed by prisoners at Silves jail.

On paper, if all the funding came through as required, the number of reproducing cats would be halved in five years and brought under control in 10. But this can only happen, stresses the animal association, if local municipalities commit to the plan, and ensure it remains manned and funded.

Just liking it/ giving it a ‘thumbs-up’ won’t help anyone – not least the legions of animals left in the streets to multiply and get sick or harmed, without any guarantee of being found in time to receive veterinary attention.

This is spiralling into what could become a public health issue, ARA warns – something, in the final analysis, that no ‘first world holiday destination’ should be leaving to happen.

By Natasha Donn
[email protected]

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