“Animal welfare has improved, but we can never stop working” – Alison Bezzina



Despite challenges and setbacks, including those caused by the global pandemic, many of the recommendations of the animal welfare officer have been fully or partially implemented, while others are still being implemented.

However, practical changes, implementation and execution remain “appallingly” slow, said Commissioner Alison Bezzina in her annual report for 2021.

Following Alison Bezzina’s first year as Commissioner for Animal Welfare, the 2021 Annual Report was released with a list of recommendations that were implemented and progress made in 2021.

Bezzina, an animal rights activist, was appointed Malta’s new animal welfare commissioner in November 2020.

In the report, she noted that she had seen a lot of goodwill, hard work, and commendable initiatives from many stakeholders throughout the year.

“I am firmly convinced that a big difference has already been made and that we can slowly but surely bring our country to where every animal-loving person wants it. But we can never stop. No matter how tired, no matter how slow, we must keep moving and rowing upstream. Together, ”said Bezzina.

During Bezzina’s time as animal welfare officer, she submitted quarterly reports with five recommendations each. The three quarterly reports that were presented in 2021 can be found here.

recommendations

The Office of the Commissioner for Animal Welfare made 15 recommendations to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Food and Animal Welfare in 2021.

The report found that none of these recommendations were directly rejected, some are still under discussion, some have been implemented in full or in part, and some are in the process of being implemented.

As a first recommendation, the Office of the Commissioner for Animal Welfare suggested that the Director of the Animal Welfare Directorate (AWD) and the Veterinary and Plant Protection Ordinance (VRD) department be given permission to prohibit people from keeping other animals after a seizure. The ban would apply until the court decides otherwise or upholds a decision.

The report highlighted that this recommendation is currently being implemented. However, it is proving difficult to implement without violating the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

As a result, an amendment to the current CAP 439 (Animal Welfare Act) will be presented to the cabinet shortly. The Office of Animal Welfare Commissioner will propose a change in the law so that, while legal proceedings are in progress, the public prosecutor can apply to the magistrate to prohibit a person from keeping animals until the court has resolved the matter.

The Office of the Animal Welfare Commissioner also recommended enlarging the legally permitted dog enclosures, preventing petting of young animals in zoos, allowing the police to enter private property to save an animal, making microchiping of domestic cats mandatory and improving and increasing dog-friendliness Beaches. The recommendations mentioned are still being discussed.

Recommendations proposed also included amending the law to give courts a broader opportunity to prohibit those guilty of cruelty from owning other animals. This recommendation has been fully implemented, as the report shows.

In addition, the Office of the Animal Welfare Officer spoke out in favor of putting a stop to the common tendency to keep dogs permanently on roofs, in garages and courtyards. This recommendation is still being implemented. However, in order to make this change a reality, enforcement authorities need to be trained in how to enforce applicable law.

The new local council animal rights activists and animal welfare inspectors will begin advising owners that isolation is a form of cruelty and making changes accordingly. Enforcement through administrative penalties will be the next step in the enforcement process, the report said.

A recommendation on the regulation and proper approval of animal trainers, dog hairdressers and animal sitters was also presented by the Office of the Commissioner for Animal Welfare. This recommendation is currently being implemented along with another recommendation calling for better, stricter, and enforced regulations for dog breeding.

Meanwhile, the Office of the Commissioner for Animal Welfare found that there was a lack of competent and adequate staff in almost all areas of the AWD, including the Veterinary Services Directorate. The Office of the Commissioner for Animal Welfare has therefore advocated more staff in order to cope with the constantly increasing burden, but this recommendation is still being implemented.

A state-funded castration campaign for dogs and cats was also called for, because although it was announced that the budget for 2022 would provide 125,000 euros for the castration of stray cats, dogs were not taken into account.

The Office of the Commissioner for Animal Welfare also recommended that a central online portal be set up to stimulate all adoptions. These recommendations are still being implemented.

Finally, the two recommendations that were proposed in 2021 and which will be implemented in whole or in part include the humane treatment of farm birds, pigeons and wild birds that are not in possession, and the prohibition of bestiality.

Recommendations based on AWD’s examination of euthanized dogs

Throughout 2021, the investigative committee of the Office of the Animal Welfare Commissioner published a further 10 recommendations as part of the investigation into a number of dogs euthanized by the AWD.

The Commissioner for Animal Welfare advocated the need to consider the minimum time a dog should spend at AWD and the minimum number of aggressive incidents a dog should be involved in before being euthanized for aggressive behavior. These two recommendations are still being discussed.

However, two other recommendations have been fully implemented. This includes a consultation process between the decision-making body and a qualified and experienced behaviorist before a decision is made, and that until the behaviorists are approved, a second veterinarian should sign off cases of euthanasia along with the existing three-person body.

Another recommendation, which has been fully implemented, is fencing off an outdoor area at Animal Welfare in Għammieri so that dogs can run freely.

In addition, it was also recommended that employees who work with animals should be recruited in a more differentiated manner, that the AWD should not be dependent on volunteers in order to be able to go for essentials such as dog walks, dogs with a history of aggression should only be led by experienced volunteers / employees A qualified and experienced canine behavior therapist / trainer should be brought along on a regular basis.

In addition, the report also indicated that given the urgent need for a qualified behavioral therapist / trainer for dogs, the Veterinary Surgeons Council should give priority to the regularization of behaviorists and trainers under the Veterinary Services Act CAP 437 (4) (1b). This recommendation was submitted to VSC for consideration.

The recommendations also included setting up the AWD’s own website for communication with the public and strict controls on dog breeding, as well as an amendment to the law to avoid loopholes and curb irresponsible breeding.

Finally, the implementation of a long-term goal of creating a rehabilitation center specifically for aggressive and temperamental dogs is also being considered.

Major difficulties

The annual report also highlighted a number of difficulties in 2021, most notably the state of play with the Animal Welfare Directorate during the first six months after Bezzina’s appointment.

During this time the management worked without a director and without an operations assistant director. As a result, many practical proposals were put on hold until the new director was appointed in April 2021.

The lack of a director in the Directorate for Animal Welfare (AWD) also added to the existing public confusion between Bezzina’s role as Commissioner and that of Director.

The recruiting process to cover the long-term need for more competent personnel at AWD is another topic that “remains very difficult and slow”, says the report.

‘Expansion of the shelter in Għammieri to be developed in the first quarter of 2022’

In addition to competent human resources to fill the various positions, “Space is of the essence”.

The report stated that in the final months of 2021, due to the lack of space for more dogs and cats, the management was unable to work as intended. The directorate’s animal shelter in Għammieri “was full to the brim, so no uninjured stray dogs were taken in or subjected to urgent inspections”.

As a result, Bezzina noted that the Ministry has assured the management that an expansion will be developed in the first quarter of 2022 to accommodate more dogs in Għammieri.

Other initiatives & activities

The Commissioner for Animal Welfare tried to improve himself through other initiatives and activities.

These include school publications, door-to-door flyers explaining the five animal freedoms, an updated website, new social media platforms, legal advice, an extensive educational video campaign, PR and media presence, animal welfare inspections, and public support and participation.

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