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Dog in Malta survives being shot in the head and buried alive

Star was shot, bound, then buried aliveA dog that survived being shot in the head and buried alive is recovering at the Hal Far animal hospital run by the Animal directorate of the Ministry of Rural Affairs in Malta, after over 40 lead pellets were removed from its skull by local vets. The female dog has been named "Star" in recognition of her courage and her survival is described as nothing short of a miracle.

Vets at the San Frangisk animal hospital were amazed that Star managed to survive the ordeal. Vet Trevor Zammit, who operated on her as soon as she was admitted said that  although still weak, Star is recovering quite fast.

When contacted by International Animal Rescue he said, "We literally had to spoon out pellets from under her skin. The person who shot her didn't do so accidentally because she was shot from quite a close range. She probably moved while the aggressor was shooting her, coincidentally but luckily missing her brain. Part of the cartridge was still stuck under the skin. It was probably what protected her from further damage," Dr Zammit explained.

Speaking about the operation he said that while she was operated on, Star was conscious and cooperative. The medical team barely needed to restrain her.

Star was buried, the covered up with a wooden plank held in place by part of a tree trunkShe is reported to be in a stable condition and eating and drinking water with help from the hospital staff but is clearly still traumatised. Janice Chetcuti, from the Animal Welfare Department, told International Animal Rescue Malta that "Star was found with her paws tightly bound with a shoelace and her muzzle was also tied up with a shoelace."

Welfare officers went to a field in the area to investigate a report of three ill-treated dogs. There they heard the sound of muffled whimpering that led them to a wooden plank held in place by part of a tree trunk. When they lifted the plank they came across the nose of a buried dog poking out of the soil. As they dug up the dog they found it had been shot in the head, its muzzle had been tied shut and all four legs were bound together.

Max Farrugia from IAR Malta said "I think animal cruelty of this nature should be a crime punishable by a jail sentence." He added: "I cannot find the right words to describe my disgust and contempt. What is even sadder is that legislation does not offer much protection to these animals."

In fact, by law, anyone found guilty of animal cruelty in Malta can be fined between €233 and €46,500 or jailed for a maximum of one year. A legal notice is to be published soon that will raise the fines to between €500 and €50,000 but the maximum jail term will remain unchanged and the punishment handed down will be at the discretion of the presiding magistrate.

Star is now recovering at the Hal Far animal hospitalDr Mario Spiteri, who heads the Animal Welfare Department, said that so far only one person had been jailed for animal cruelty. The man was jailed for a few days for dumping kittens in a skip in Qawra.

He said cruelty like that suffered by Star was extreme and rare and he could in fact only recall a couple of examples. In the past three years the Maltese courts have handed down 19 judgments relating to animal cruelty.

Animal welfare organisations in Malta also stressed the importance of microchipping to help catch the perpetrators of such crimes. This has just become compulsory in Malta following the publication of a legal notice.

A large number of people have already called the Animal Welfare Department offering to adopt Star. However, it will be some time yet before she is ready to be found a loving home. International Animal Rescue Malta also received seven telephone calls, including one from a British couple who want to adopt Star. All callers were told to call the Animal Welfare Department.

A police report has been lodged at the Birzebbuga police station, but both the AWD and the police need the public's collaboration to find the perpetrator of this shocking crime. The general public is being urged to help if they have information about the case by phoning (00356) 25904132 / (00356) 25904113 or sending an email to [email protected]