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International Animal Rescue Saving animals from suffering around the world

Pet shops in Malta to be regulated

New legislation to protect animals in pet shops will be "a milestone in the history of animal welfare in Malta" according to Max Farrugia, IAR Malta's Chairman.

Puppies being sold at the Marsaxlokk marketFarrugia assisted with the drafting of similar regulations four years ago which never made it onto the statute books. He claims it is vital to introduce legislation because some pet shop owners have no interest in their animals beyond a purely commercial one. The new legislation will bring pet shops in Malta into line with European standards.

Legislation on this issue was first discussed by the animal welfare council in Malta in 2004. However, during the past year reports on the poor conditions in some pet shops have prompted the council to reopen the discussions. The regulations currently being debated are an improvement on those which were drafted in 2006. They are more stringent and give more power to the Animal Welfare Directorate to act against irregularities and non-compliance.

The word 'animal' in the legal notice refers to both pet and exotic animals, whilst the word 'enclosure' stands for the confined space in which the animals are kept.

It is specified that 'exotic animals' are all those that are not indigenous in the territory of Malta, including those bred in captivity in the territory of the island or intended to be kept as pets. 'Pet animals' means any animal kept in a household for private enjoyment. The 'pet shop' is the place from which animals are sold and the 'trader' is the person trading the animals.

The trader (pet shop owners amongst others) is to apply for a licence at least two months before starting any activity. Anyone trading in exotic animals will need a special licence. Licences are issued following inspections. If the shop does not reach the conditions stipulated, no licence will be issued. The licence is issued on an annual basis and will only be renewed following an inspection. On the licence the shop owner must specify what species he will be exhibiting for sale. The shop owner or trader must be of good conduct, and never have been convicted of cruelty to animals under the Animal Welfare Act, or convicted of a crime of more than six months imprisonment. He or she must also be over 18 years of age. The shop owner must ensure that all staff are experienced in animal welfare. Up until now, most of these conditions did not exist and a pet shop needed only the same general licence as any other shop.

Records of all the sales are to be kept showing the all the personal details of the purchaser, the animal sold, date of sale, number of animals sold, and any marks to identify the animal stipulated by law by the inspectors.

Records of all births and mortalities must also be kept. A veterinarian is to verify all the mortalities and and provide a report to the pet shop.

With the introduction of this new legislation no person shall sell or offer an animal for sale in open markets or on the street.

Animals that have not been weaned must not be sold. In the case of puppies and kittens they must be 8 weeks old and rabbits must be four weeks.

Animals are to be kept in accomodation that is suitable for the species. Lighting, ventilation, humidity and cleanliness must be adequate at all times. This means that animals are not allowed to be placed outside the pet shops. The right equipment to catch animals and prevent them from escaping must be kept in the shop.

Isolation units to avoid the spread of disease must be available. Animals infested with parasites are to be isolated immediately. Separate facilities for injured animals must also be available within the shop.

Fresh food is to be presented regularly and the food is to be prepared in a facility other than the shop.

When it comes to the sale, the pet shop owner is to give the purchaser basic information on the particular animal regarding its accommodation, care and food.

Emergency equipment such as fire fighting systems must be installed in the shop.

When a pet shop owner or trader applies for a licnce he must fill in a very detailed application to satisfy the requirements of the legislation. The law speaks about the stock density for small mammals and gives details of the minimum cage measurements. The most common animals sold are listed. A similar list for stock density is also available for caged birds. All cages must at least be large enough for the birds to spread their wings. There is also as stocking density list available for ornamental fish and other aquatic species.

Enclosure specifications for cats and dogs of different ages and sizes are also available. The legislation also specifies the housing facilities for reptiles.

This legal notice was referred to the Minister responsible for Rural Affairs in December 2009 but to date no action has been taken to make it become law.

Informed sources told International Animal Rescue in Malta that pet shop owners do not welcome this piece of legislation. They regard it as too stringent and argue that a considerable number of them will have to close down. In response they have organised themselves in the General Retailers and Traders Union to defend what they regard as their rights. A meeting was also held recently between the petshop owners and traders and top officials from the directorate to explain and discuss the legislation.

International Animal Rescue is urging the Minister not to cave in to the petshop owners and their union and instead to promote good conditions and standards of care for all animals in pet shops.