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Saturday January 25, 2014

It's time to let the cat out of the bag

To the side of my front door there’s a handsome wooden sign depicting a comical stripy black and white cat below which reads: Amis des chats- Bienvenue. Naturally that’s asking for trouble which is why a generous dollop of the valley’s feline population seems to end up on the doorstep.

It is of course impossible to give house room to swathes of waifs and strays or gatos silvestres as they are known here in Majorca, but I have always tried to do my bit. Where possible kittens have been neutered and re-homed but in the current economic crisis one might as well whistle in the wind. Who wants a cat when many islanders can barely afford to live?

In Palma where there are feral cats aplenty, a law permits locals to ‘adopt’ a colony, which in practice entails filling out endless paperwork with no guarantee of approval. If successful, the applicant becomes responsible for handing the animals over to the authorities for neutering and when returned to their regular patch, feeding and caring for them. However, not all colonies are approved and so hundreds of cats continue to breed – each female can litter up to 20 offspring per year – without controls and food handouts which are forbidden. Such rules are applied in other areas of Spain too. In turn they become a nuisance to locals, some of whom employ barbaric measures to cull the population. The creatures are often poisoned, beaten and have chemical fluids thrown at them until eventually rounded up by the authorities, caged at Son Reus animal pound and destroyed. It is estimated that as many as 120 are killed each month.

In truth without its street cats Palma would find itself overrun with rats and cockroach infestations but many still regard them as vermin. When I first moved to Soller I remember being incandescent with rage when I witnessed a group of boys throwing rocks at a huddle of timorous feral cats and wept with my German neighbour when two local teenagers peppered his beloved tabby with pellets from an air rifle ‘just for fun’. It died an agonising death in his arms.

Since then – maybe naively – I feel things have gradually improved for our local cat population but perhaps that’s because in Soller we are lucky enough to have a mayor who doubles up as a vet. He is sensitive to the issue and a simple system has been put in place at the town council whereby kind souls wishing to neuter and offer food to colonies of ferals are given an authorisation badge and are not forced to leap through numerous bureaucratic hoops to make the grade. Vets locally also offer a heavily reduced rate for sterilising ferals and this is turn has created greater goodwill. All the same I ensure that our beloved moggies are each clearly identified with collars and name tags so that trigger happy teens know that there may be recourse if they should dare to take a pot shot.

While focusing on feral cats, it’s important to remember that they are not alone in pounding the streets on a cold night. Countless dogs – once pets, now cruelly abandoned – often suffer a worse fate as local animal shelters and charities battle valiantly to find them new homes. Not all are lucky.

And if I feel sorrow for the unloved felines and canines of Majorca, I only have to read of the appalling treatment of man’s best friends in other European destinations such as Cyprus, to know that others have it a whole lot worse.

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