By Maria Gregoriou
The stray cat population is rapidly spiralling out control as a result of swingeing cuts to government and local authority funded spaying/neutering programmes in the last two years.
A female cat can give birth to up to eight kittens, three times a year, and with spaying programmes no longer keeping numbers down, whole neighbourhoods are in danger of being overrun with felines.
Aside from the public hygiene issues and the nuisance to residents, animal welfare supporters are naturally concerned that the mushrooming cat population is leading to an increase in cat poisonings and other acts of animal cruelty.
“Neutering and spaying is the only way of preventing the problem from spreading,” said the president of Cyprus Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (CSPCA), Toula Poyadji.
“If cats continue to reproduce at this rate, then more citizens will have to deal with kittens in whatever way they may feel necessary.”
Until 2011 the agriculture ministry gave funds to the veterinary services to finance a neutering and spaying programme. According to a veterinary official at the ministry, from 2006 to 2007 the government provided £10,000 (17,000 euros). For 2008 to 2009 funds were increased to €34,000, rising again to €50,000 in 2010 and 2011.
“Unfortunately these funds have been cut because of the crisis. We still make suggestions to the ministry but they are not approved,” said the official who did not wish to be named.
When the funds were available around 1,700 cats were neutered or spayed each year. But even this barely kept the stray cat population under control.
“The government funds used to neuter around 300 cats per municipality, but each neighbourhood alone has around that amount,” said Mary Anastasi, president of the Cyprus Voice for Animals (CVA) and lecturer at the PoliceAcademy since 2009 on subjects related to animal welfare and protection.
“If the funding was not enough then to keep cat numbers stable, then the extent of the cat population now can only be imagined,” she added.
Some animal rights groups have introduced their own limited spaying/neutering programmes, and have also done their best to pressure government bodies and private vets for help but with limited success.
Poyadji said she had spoken to private vets about arranging a programme to neuter cats from August to December, the months when cats do not mate.
“We asked them to neuter cats for half price but they didn’t like the idea,” Poyadji said.
The CSPCA has been helping the public neuter cats for the past ten years. If people take in cats to be spayed, the society pays part of the cost. The society helps neuter 300 to 400 cats and dogs per year.
According to Poyadji Nicosia municipality still provides around €2,000 a year towards the neutering of cats, but this only pays for around 150 to 180 cats.
Poyadji has also suggested to police that they put the established laws on animal cruelty into action, and using part of the fines collected from those found guilty to pay for a spaying programme.
“Police could use unemployed individuals to go to homes for which complaints are made about violence towards animals and fine the animal owner,” she said.
“They could work on a commission basis and receive, for example, 40 per cent of the money collected while the remaining 60 per cent can go to the government.”
So far, the CSPCA suggestion has not been adopted, but the society aims to lobby Attorney-general Petros Clerides and police chief Michalis Papageorgiou again on the issue after the summer.
The CVA group also runs a spaying/neutering programme where they give out coupons worth €40 towards the cost of neutering or spaying a cat.
“Animal activists are doing the job of the government. Back in 2006, for example, we asked for a police unit for animal welfare to be formed and the suggestion was welcome. But slowly the government lost interest and once again denied our request last week,” Anastasi added.
The Cat Protection and Welfare Society (CAT P.A.W.S) also provides animal owners with coupons for a discounted price for neutering.
“The cost to spay a female cat is from €70 to €80 while the cost for a male cat is €50 to €60. With the coupon the cost is around €40 for a female and €25 for a male,” Dinos Agiomamitis said.
This year the organisation has put a special programme in place that is aimed at people bringing in a large amount of cats to be neutered to get a cheaper deal.
“For five cats we will pay for 30 per cent of the charge. If six to ten cats are brought in, the percentage goes up to 50 per cent. As long as we have the money we will keep this up,” Agiomamitis added.
After a cat has been neutered a chip is placed in their ear so the organisation knows that it has already had the treatment.
CAT P.A.W.S has also reached an agreement with Strovolos municipality for around 25,000 leaflets to be sent out this month informing the public on why, when and how cats and dogs can be neutered.
The printing costs have been covered by the organisation and this is indicative of most municipalities. They offer no neutering programmes and rely on animal protection charities to inform the public and provide financial help where they can.
The Aglandjia municipality, for example, has no plans for a neutering programme, said its health inspector Kypros Voudias.
“In the past we have had problems with cats in the Aglandjia graveyard. We contacted Dinos Agiomamitis and he helped us move the cats to another area and also to get them spayed,” Voudias said.
The rising cat population, meanwhile, is putting a relentless pressure on cat shelters.
The Ayios Neophytos monastery cat park near Paphos, for example, is struggling to take care of close to 200 cats and kittens with numbers growing daily.
In the last four months alone, more than 100 kittens have been dumped there, according to volunteer Dawn Foote, who along with husband Mark has been involved in caring for the animals for the past two years.
“The problem is people are struggling financially and they are not able to care for the kittens or to pay for cats to be spayed or neutered,” said Dawn.