In a feel-good moment in parliament last Thursday, MPs of all parties approved a bid to outlaw the culling of cats and dogs in municipal kennels as a procedure to stop overcrowding.
From 2018, the only killing envisaged will be for cases where animals are considered to be “in suffering”, or “for motives relating to behaviour”.
While instant reactions brought declarations that this was an “historic day” for which animal rights activists had been “struggling for decades”, the truth is that it may well have just been a ‘feel-good moment’ that doesn’t stand the proverbial dog’s chance of succeeding.
The Resident talks to animal rescue heroines in the Algarve, and a long-established vet in the borough of Sintra. The vet has asked to remain anonymous, as he says his views “may not be understood by everyone”.
Tragically, the bottom-line consensus is that this new “project law”- almost certain to be ratified by President Marcelo – could actually cause more animal suffering.
“It sounds very nice on paper,” the vet explained. “But the reality is that it will make the lives of dogs in kennels even worse than they are now.
“Municipal kennels are already full to bursting. Here in Sintra, for example, they already have to keep dogs in garages and other parts of the borough because they simply have no more room at the municipal canil.
“There are two vets in charge of around 500-600 dogs.
“Now, with all the best will in the world, they simply cannot sterilise all the females on their hands – particularly as they have calls constantly to rescue or bring in other dogs, and this is just part of what they are employed to do.
“Remember, lots of these dogs have diseases. They have broken legs, other problems. What are these municipal vets expected to do? Will there be cages of 100 dogs stuck one on top of another? Because that is where this could lead.
“Healthy dogs which could have been adopted will be lumped in with dogs with Leishmaniasis and distemper and goodness knows what, and then what will happen to them? They will get ill. There certainly isn’t the money to treat them all…”
The vet warned that under this kind of stress, kennels would become “depressing places where no one would want to go to try and choose a dog for adoption.”
Animal rights heroines Karen Breen and Nana Van der Velden – both of them running shelters in the Algarve – say they “completely agree” with these warnings.
“The killing can’t and won’t stop until the mentality of not sterilising animals changes and people take more responsibility for their pets,” said Karen Breen, who runs non-profit Cadela Carlota e Companhia association in Lagos.
Nana Van der Velden of the Bamboo Animal Shelter near Vila do Bispo suggested that private vets should bolster the work of municipal kennels so that sterilisation campaigns get through to everyone.
“There is still so much that has to be done in the way of education,” she told us. “Portuguese men have to be taught that if their dog is being castrated, they themselves are staying intact. It sounds laughable, but I have heard men say ‘they feel the pain’ of a dog’s castration…
“This law will create a drama,” she added. “Full is full. We have all been full since we started our animal work. What are they expecting? Will animals be left to wander the streets? Will people come out after dark to chain animals to the gates of the municipal kennels?”
The Sintra vet added another side to the issue.
“Some dogs would be better off dead,” he told us. “It is not something anyone wants to hear, but by trying to save every animal, we will be causing problems for the healthy ones.
“My job is to prevent suffering, not to keep animals alive no matter what. I think this is what politicians who like to present nice vote catching ideas aren’t appreciating. These are people who do not especially agree on very many things – but one thing you can be sure of, is that they could not care less about dogs.”
It is a contention that will come as something of a slap-in-the-face for parliament’s only MP representing PAN, the People Animals Nature party. But as the people we spoke to stressed, recent legislation to criminalise animal cruelty has not stopped cruelty.
“I see terrible examples of it every single day,” said the vet. “Of course it is good to have these laws so that people who are negligent can be brought to task, but laws have to be feasible, and from what I can see of this one, unless more municipal vets are employed, unless municipal kennels are doubled or even more in size, and unless the budgets for food are hugely increased, this proposed new law cannot work.”
It is an attitude that has already been expressed by the Order of Veterinarians and which led to the proposals being re-drafted to introduce the 2018 time-frame.
Hopes are that by 2018 municipal sterilisation programmes will have prepared the way for the culling ban – but as Sábado has reported, a number of councils remain unconvinced.
Said Ribau Esteves, mayor of Aveiro, two years is just not enough time to “adapt the installations that exist” to stop killing in order to free-up space.
The “projeto de lei Nº 1012/XII/4.ª” may be noble and may have united political parties more often at each other’s throats, but if people ‘working on the ground’ are to be believed it does not make it any more likely to succeed.
By NATASHA DONN [email protected]
Photo: ANTÓNIO SILVA/LUSA