Council of Agriculture Minister Chen Chi-chung (陳吉仲) on Wednesday asked whether a ban on euthanizing stray animals implemented three years ago has improved animal welfare. Taiwan sterilizes strays, which have increased from 128,000 in 2017 to 147,000, according to the most recent estimate, Chen said.
The problem is caused by three factors: people are still breeding animals, particularly in rural areas; people impulsively buy pets — or give them as gifts during holidays — and then abandon them when they realize the work involved in raising them; and the government is overstretched and unable to account for all strays, particularly in rural areas.
In a 2011 article on German news Web site Deutsche Welle, Sarah Kahn, then-head of the World Organisation for Animal Health’s international trade department, said about the effort to reduce the size of stray animal populations that “although national governments need to take action, the solution may lie in their collaborating with international agencies and non-governmental organizations.”
To tackle the issue more effectively, the government should take a three-tiered approach: continue its policy of trapping and sterilizing strays; provide all assistance and funding necessary to non-governmental animal welfare organizations that would help control the stray population; and implement legislation that makes it illegal to breed cats or dogs, meaning pet stores would need to adopt strays.
The government should also make it much harder for people to abandon pets, and should heavily fine those who abandon animals in the wild. People who want to hand pets over to shelters should be required to explain their decision, wait two weeks before handing over the animal to give them time to re-evaluate their decision and pay fees to the shelter for taking their pet in.
Exemptions could be made for people who relocate overseas for work or have fallen seriously ill and are unable to care for their pets, and the families of deceased pet owners. A person would never abandon their child at an agency without giving it plenty of serious thought, but in the case of pets, people often discard them as if they were dropping off their laundry at the dry cleaners.
A Nov. 17, 2011, article by US-based animal welfare group the National Animal Interest Alliance said that the US had brought its stray dog population under control, but had a “dog distribution problem.” Americans in some cities were unable to easily buy pet dogs, and would happily adopt mixed dogs or dogs with health conditions from shelters. This demonstrates that people can change their way of thinking about pets and learn to value them more.
In Taiwan pets would be valued in the same way if they were more scarce. This would require good policing of animal breeders, particularly in rural areas. The stray population could be brought under control without practicing euthanasia, but it would not happen quickly. In the US, it took nearly a decade to bring stray numbers down through a process of trap, neuter and release.
The government should continue to neuter animals, but should also launch an educational campaign to teach people to value their animals, and should institute legislation to prevent breeding.
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