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Abandoned dogs in the kennels of the Protectra de Animales de Málaga. Marilú Báez
Malaga's pet abandonment figures are in line with the rest of Spain, but way higher than the most conscientious EU nations
Animal welfare

Malaga's pet abandonment figures are in line with the rest of Spain, but way higher than the most conscientious EU nations

The reluctance to neuter animals, rising living costs, expensive vet care and unforeseen consequences of tougher animal welfare laws are among the common reasons for giving up a pet in the province

Ignacio Lillo

Malaga

Friday, 19 April 2024

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It is a devastating reality: every day in just Malaga city and its immediate surroundings a dozen dogs and cats are abandoned. This is evident from the statistics from the city's animal protection organisations and shelter and the animal pounds at Rincón de la Victoria, Torremolinos and Cártama.

The highest figures (also where there is the most growth) come from Malaga city. At the municipal animal protection centre individual owners handed over a total of 560 dogs in 2023, almost 100 more than the previous year. At the shelter run by the Sociedad Protectora de Animales, on the other hand, there has been a slight decrease, but still a high figure - last year no fewer than 1,121 animals were taken in. The number stays the same for Torremolinos with around 60 abandoned animals a year. In Rincón de la Victoria 117 animals were taken in and in Cártama another 150 dogs were rounded up last year.

These are very high figures that are in line with those from the rest of Spain, but way higher than the most conscientious EU nations. Such numbers suggest the need for some deep reflection on responsible animal ownership. The first issue is that, for many people, a dog or a cat is still a kind of 'toy' for temporary amusement, it is not regarded as a member of the family.

Added to this are further problems, such as the lack of sterilisation (there are many unwanted litters), the increase in the cost of living due to rising inflation and the collateral damage of Spain's new law (7/2023) on the protection of the rights and welfare of animals. These are among the causes most cited by the specialists dealing with this crisis.

At the Protectora shelter alone, more than three animals are taken in daily. This NGO, chaired by Carmen Manzano, is a direct witness to this chronic problem in society. Among the causes, apart from the low awareness of responsible ownership, she cites the high cost of veterinary treatment.

IVA and vets

"Very sick animals arrive with fractures, road accidents, cats that fall from a high-rise building... They are animals that have an owner, but the operations cost more than 1,000 euros, and many people cannot afford those expenses and so they hand them over."

Her criticism is not directed at the vets themselves as they must charge fees for their professional help, but at the high rate of IVA (Spain's sales tax - still 21%) charged by the state. She also accuses some hunters for being, in her opinion, a source of abandonment and unwanted litters, and she alleges that the shelter is full of the breeds most used for hunting (such as podencos). Similarly, the new animal protection law gives people "more excuses" to abandon their dogs due to being unable to afford the required insurance (although this is not yet mandatory).

José María Mancheño, president of the Andalusian hunting federation with headquarters in Archidona, defends the hunters against criticism from animal activists, even denying the data presented. "I question these abandonment figures, we only have data from the shelters, but we don't believe them: they're very interested in abandonment because it is their reason for existing."

To counter-argue, he states that hunting dogs are generally identified with a microchip. "If someone mistreats them, let them feel the full weight of the law, but there is no massive abandonment or abuse in this world. The masters of the hounds are increasingly professionalised, and their packs are perfectly cared for and insured, and the traceability of the offspring is controlled," he says.

On this point he agrees with the animal shelter that the new law is causing people to abandon their animals out of fear of the upcoming regulations, but he reminds us that the world of hunting is outside the norm. "Animal activists just don't want there to be hunting dogs, that's all."

Pets are popular in Malaga

Juan Antonio de Luque, president of the provincial College of Veterinarians, relies on the stats. Malaga province is among those with the most registered dogs and cats across Spain. Without a doubt it has the largest tally in Andalucía - almost 412,000 dogs and 90,000 cats. "In Malaga there is no more abandonment than in other provinces, but it is around the average. Still, Spain is a country where unfortunately many animals are abandoned due to socio-economic circumstances and poor awareness of animal care."

For this reason, the College of Veterinarians is involved in raising awareness about responsible ownership, and has taken its campaign directly to primary and secondary schools. "We want to show that the purchase or adoption of a pet is not a game or a gift, but a responsibility and commitment for the whole life of the animal."

Nor does De Luque hide his discontent over the IVA charged on vet treatment, in line with the same complaint from the shelters: "It is outrageous that the health of pets is penalised with a tax of 21% when we are a health profession and we undertake work that comes under public health, as it concerns both animal and human health (helping to avoid animal-to-human transfer of diseases)."

"No-one can understand how operating on a dog's fractured leg is penalised with 21% when for human healthcare the IVA is 0%. It's the same when vaccinating an animal, a healthy thing to do that also benefits everyone's health." At this point he flags up the new animal welfare standard: "All the political parties harp on about the reduction in IVA, but when they come into government none of them removes it, yet this new law is supposed to make us regard them as members of our family."

Other towns

In Malaga city and surrounding towns the problems vary by area and are different in the coastal and tourist municipalities compared to inland. Jennifer Haro is responsible for Animal Domus in Torremolinos, the shelter to which the town council has entrusted this service. "In many cases it is due to economic reasons or issues such as the birth of a baby in the family. In my opinion, in three out of four abandonments there would be an alternative solution," she says.

José Antonio Villodres, director of Don Animal - the company employed to round up abandoned animals in Rincón de la Victoria - highlights that his pound was already a pioneer in implementing a no-kill policy five years ago, long before it was considered in the new legislation. "We have 35 years of experience in this sector and have been in charge of this public health service within this municipality since 2003," he states, adding that, in his opinion, makes them exemplar both in Rincón and further afield.

Unease in rural villages over cost of adhering to the new law

Fear misinformation and a lack of coordination. This is what town halls are experiencing, especially in the smaller villages, with the introduction of the new national law as it will force them to assume responsibility for applying it without further funding. "They are seriously worried because they will have to take on all the expense of animal seizures by Seprona, property raids, etc., and that represents a significant expense," said Cristóbal Ortega, provincial government delegate for the environment. "No one wants an animal to suffer, but we cannot pass these costs onto the smallest authorities as it's not only for dogs, but also for horses and other animals. This could lead to the opposite of what the law intended and there will be less protection."

"The key to avoiding unpleasant situations is, to a large extent, to help people to solve their problem with scenarios such as the difficulties with taking their dog outside of Spain, moving to a new home or when a couple has a child," he says. "Were this better managed then real abandonments would be down to only 10% of the current total."

Rincón town hall estimates that around 40% of the dogs brought to their facilities have got lost or escaped from their homes and they are reunited with their owners. The rest are found out in the open with no ID or are surrendered by their owners. The main reasons given are: lack of money to care for them; change of address to a rental where pets are not accepted; behavioural issues with the dog in question; unwanted litters; lack of time or loss of interest; allergies of a family member; separation of couples; and older or sick dogs.

La Sonrisa Peluda is the shelter operating in Cártama and the managers there have not seen any significant increase in abandoned animals, rather a change in the pattern. Previously they rescued more hunting dogs and now the rescues are mainly with private individuals. "There are those who consider them members of the family and do not abandon them, but when economic issues arise, people get rid of the dog because it is an expense." Added to this is the insurance that the new law will eventually impose and the increase in veterinary expenses, as stated by the shelter's founder Javier Laguna. In Cártama there are still instances of hunters handing over their hounds to this NGO to avoid killing the dogs themselves.

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