80,000 strays and abandoned animals fill Portugal’s (official) collection centres

Animal Ombudsman, Laurentina Pedroso has warned there are around 80,000 animals held in collection centres up and down Portugal, a situation that also worries municipalities, writes Lusa, “some of which don’t know what to do with the animals”.

Ms Pedroso voiced her concerns in the parliamentary Environment and Energy Committee, which was hearing from various organisations, at the request of CHEGA, about the increase in what is now the crime of animal abandonment.

In addition to Laurentina Pedroso, the director of the GNR’s Nature and Environmental Protection Service (SEPNA), Jorge Amado, and David Pereira, of the PSP’s Animal Defence Programme, were heard.

Pedro Folgado, mayor of Alenquer, representing the National Association of Portuguese Municipalities (ANMP), was also heard.

CHEGA MP Rita Martins explained that although in 2022 there was a slight decrease in the number of animals captured – almost 42,000 – there is the perception that numbers have been rising consistently.

She explained the aim of the hearings was to understand the causes of animal abandonment in order to look for ways to minimise it.

Jorge Amado, from the GNR, said that since 2016 there has been no significant evolution in the abandonment or mistreatment of animals, and cited as one of the problems in the sector the difficulty, in some municipalities, of “putting an animal somewhere” at night.

Jorge Amado spoke of the GNR’s data – both on inspections and on cases of reported mistreatment – and in a response to CHEGA said he didn’t consider there to be insufficient inspections by the police force.

David Pereira also presented the latest figures for the PSP’s actions involving animal welfare saying that in the last year the number of complaints had increased, compared to previous years – particularly those of the pandemic, in which complaints were low due to lockdowns.

Pereira said he didn’t know the reasons for animal abandonment – “not pointing to the unfavourable economic situation as a possible cause”, stresses Lusa.

Laurentina Pedroso also didn’t point to the economic crisis as a reason for abandoning animals, saying people prefer to ask associations for help and keep their animals. There are, nonetheless, “a lot of people asking for help”, she said, considering that in a crisis situation a reduction in VAT on animal feed and veterinary services would be “very useful for families”.

The Animal ombudsman said that her perception nonetheless is that there is still a high number of abandoned animals.

She went on to say that the annual collection of data on abandoned cats and dogs does not give a sense of the moment: policies and strategies cannot be designed by waiting year after year to see what is happening.

In general terms, Ms Pedrosa told the committee that of the 42,000 animals taken in by collection centres every year, 25,000 are ‘adopted’ and around 2,000 euthanised, “so there are always 15,000 animals left”.

Since this is the case every year, there are at least 80,000 animals living in the collection centres now; next year there will be almost 100,000.

“And this is worrying, because of the welfare and the costs,” which in 10 years could amount to €100 million, she stressed.

Pedro Folgado also considered the increase in the number of animals in official centres to be worrying, saying that the solution to stray animals cannot only be to increase capacity of collection centres.

“Municipalities are struggling with absurd numbers of strays,” he said, pointing out that the councils are obliged by law to collect animals “and then have nowhere to put them and don’t know what to do”.

CHEGA’s Pedro Frazão said that currently just over 200 of the country’s 308 municipalities have an official collection centre, meaning there are almost 100 municipalities that will be relying solely on private shelters to address the problem..

And this is the part the committee did not address: the dozens of private shelters, which are also full to bursting – and spending thousands of euros every year on animal feed and veterinary bills.

Ironically, this ‘situation’ has grown from the animal protection legislation that came into force in 2018, prohibiting the euthanasia of unwanted animals unless they are seriously ill, or have acute behavioural problems.