Environment, Europe, Headlines, Human Rights

ITALY: Thousands of Pets Abandoned During Summer Vacation

Francesca Colombo* - Tierramérica

MILAN, Aug 16 2006 (IPS) - Summer vacation is a time of great risk for many household pets in Italy. Some vacationers leave without taking care of their faithful four-footed friends. And many leave their family cat or dog on the street without a second thought.. The problem has reached national proportions.

Each year, some 300,000 dogs and cats are abandoned in Italy’s streets or parks. The causes range from the ban on bringing animals to hotels, restaurants and other public places, to the high costs of paying for someone to look after the pets while the owners are away.

In Rome, for example, a case of animal mistreatment was filed when a man left his dog locked in a car for three days because he was going on vacation for a long weekend, according to a report from the National Institute for Animal Protection (ENPA).

“In Italy there is not an animal-loving culture. In the past 20 years the desire to have a pet has grown, and a three-member family usually has a pet, but there is not a sense of moral civic responsibility. The animals are seen as objects,” Gianluca Felicite, director of the Italian animal rights group LAV, told Tierramérica.

Eighty-five percent of abandoned pets die within 20 days on the streets, particularly in traffic accidents, which also cause distress for the drivers. According to the Italian transit police, in 2004 there were 754 automobile accidents resulting from drivers trying to avoid running over a cat or dog crossing the road.

Such accidents claimed the lives of 380 people, and left 9,978 injured. Meanwhile, 280,000 dogs and cats are killed each year under the wheels of cars or trucks.

Although Italy’s penal code calls for punishing animal abandonment with one year behind bars in the most serious cases – such as the death of the animal – and imposes fines ranging from 1,000 to 10,000 euros, it does not seem to deter pet owners, and the problem continues unresolved.

Although pets are abandoned throughout the year, according to LAV, the phenomenon reaches its peak (30 percent of the total) when the deer hunting season opens. The hunters put new hunting dogs to the test, and get rid of the ones that are not up to the task.

“It is an enormous problem, despite the campaigns for prevention and the appeals we have made in Italy. Many people don’t think about the responsibilities when they purchase a dog or cat. They see a puppy and bring it home, but they don’t realise that the puppy will grow up and will require care, walks, food,” the president of the Animal Defence Association in the northern city of Trento, Leoni Enrico, told Tierramérica.

The abandonment of dogs and cats, furthermore, feeds a questionable business at private dog pounds and shelters.

There are 990 public animal shelters in Italy, where there are 640,000 dogs and 1,290 cats, according to the Health Ministry. But these institutions are not sufficient to hold all stray pets. As a result, municipalities opt to entrust this task to private centres. The government contribution to the care for these animals runs from two to seven euros per day each.

So 5,000 private animal shelters share 500 million euros in state subsidies to care for the cats and dogs.

But, say animal rights activists, in reality these private centres do not use those millions of euros to care for, feed and protect the animals.

“Abandonment is on the rise, but so are the private shelters. From June to August, owners have the most incredible excuses to get rid of their pets,” Daniela Ferrari, a volunteer with the Italian group Animal Dimension, said in a Tierramérica interview.

Workers at a dog pound in the southern Italian town of Noha burned the vocal cords of 190 dogs to keep them from barking and making excessive noise. The centre continues in operation.

In general, the conditions at the private shelters are not good. The dogs live crowded together in small cages. Their eyes are often closed as a result of conjunctivitis, they have sores and are bone-thin from malnutrition.

Too often they are surrounded by their own excrement and are unprotected from the heat or the cold. They lack veterinary care, are mistreated, and up to 60 percent die while at the private dog pound. Hunger and lack of space make the dogs aggressive, leading to attacks and even cannibalism.

“It’s easy to mistreat animals. Many owners do so inside their homes. If someone wants to report it, the police themselves convince them not to. The cases are filed away because they are considered minor crimes,” explains Ludovica Lucia Ferrari, of the Association for the Defence of Animals, in the northern region of Lombardia.

(*Francesca Colombo is a Tierramérica contributor. Originally published Aug. 12 by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Environment Programme.)

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