The coronavirus pandemic, which has had a huge impact on the human race across the globe, has had no less of an impact on mankind’s four-legged friends and has brought to the fore the complex interaction that exists between people, animals and the environment.
Animal companions have found themselves bereft of what would ordinarily have been a forever home for a number of reasons, foremost amongst which is the untimely departure of expat and migrant workers who returned to their homeland at the onset of the pandemic, with no time to make arrangements for their pets. Perhaps, they did not even consider that the abandonment of animals constitutes a violation of the Animal Welfare Act, Chapter 439 of the laws of Malta.
Closure of workplaces, such as bars and restaurants where staff are mostly foreign, may also have contributed to animal abandonment in instances where unemployment led to a difficulty in looking after an animal.
Recent media reports noted that as at the date of closure of the voluntary repatriation scheme, over 6,000 foreign workers living in Malta applied to return to their home country. A number of these are likely to be pet-owners who may face the difficult choice of having to leave a cat or dog behind unless they manage to make arrangements for pets to travel back with them, which in many cases may not be feasible.
This notwithstanding, leaving one’s pet to fend for itself on the streets remains an offence in terms of local legislation, which clearly states that no animal shall be abandoned and provides for a pecuniary penalty and/or imprisonment.
Animals shall not be caused any unnecessary pain, suffering or distress and no animal shall be abandoned - Animal Welfare Act (Malta)
There are a number of organisations that might be able to assist in rehoming one’s pet, including the MSPCA. There are also several non-governmental charity organisations such as the Association for Abandoned Animals, the Island Sanctuary and Noah’s Ark Dog Sanctuary, which could assist in the rehoming of dogs whilst the CSAF, Thomasina Cat Sanctuary and CLAWS, also non-governmental charity associations, could assist in the rehoming of felines.
On a positive note, many people who found themselves isolated at home during the pandemic have chosen to adopt a furry friend for company, with sanctuaries noting that the rate of pet adoptions had risen markedly. Naturally, there is the concern that many of these pets will be returned to shelters as life eventually returns to a new normal.
Dr Katrina Borg Cardona
Commercial Law - Civil Law - Expat Law
This commentary should not be regarded as legal advice. If you are facing legal issues, kindly contact us so we can assist you.