In the face of an exploding cat population, the Belgian government has come up with a radical new plan: neuter all but a few of them within five years.
The feline population in Belgium, a country of 11 million people, has increased to an estimated 1.7 million. According to the nation’s health ministry, more than 13,000 cats were killed in animal shelters last year, more than one in three of the country’s 37,000 strays.
“We are confronted with a dramatic situation,” said Jan Eyckmans of the Belgian health ministry. “So our minister asked the animal welfare council to come up with ideas.”
The result is the Multi-annual Cat Plan 2011-2016.
If it is passed into law, the country will embark on a phased neutering of all cats except exotic pedigrees at the start of next year, and people will be banned from selling pets at corner shops or using flyers and small ads in papers to get rid of unwanted litters of kittens.
The first stage of the phased neutering plan is that all cats in shelters will be sterilized. The next phase will require cat breeders and sellers to have their animals fixed. Finally, all cat owners will be obliged to have their pets neutered and registered, costing about 130 ($165 US) for a female cat and 50 ($64 US) for a tom. Breeders and owners of Siamese, Abyssinian and other special pedigrees will be exempted from the new law.
“If you buy a very expensive cat for [$800] and want to have kittens, you can’t sterilize them all,” said Eyckmans. “We need to find the right balance.”
Many have doubts about the proposal. “Pet owners will rebel and refuse to do it,” said Marleen Meersseman, who helps to run a rescue service for stricken wild animals in the Flemish village of Nieuwkerke. “And this wouldn’t be Belgium if people did not find a back door.”
But animal welfare activists strongly support the plan.
“We don’t want the cat to vanish from the earth,” said Ann De Greef, director of Gaia, which is taking the campaign to the town squares of Belgium and reports “enormous support.”
Belgium’s project is the first to propose a national mandatory spay/neuter program, and the initiative’s progress will be watched closely by other nations struggling with skyrocketing cat populations.
[Source: The Guardian]