Strays feels bite as pandemic spreads

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Athens (AFP)

As the coronavirus forces billions of people around the world to lock themselves in, another large population has also been hit hard – stray animals.

While pet owners in many countries are still allowed to walk their dogs, thousands of other animals – the exact number is not known – starve and go wild.

The massive closure of restaurants has also deprived hungry animals of leftover meals, forcing them to take greater risks.

For many, the restrictions amount to a death sentence.

“We are seeing an increase in the number of cats in the areas where we feed, some seem to have been abandoned, while others have wandered far from their usual places in search of food,” explains Cordelia Madden-Kanellopoulou, co -Founder of Nine Lives Greece, a network of volunteers dedicated to reducing the overcrowding of stray cats in Athens and other cities.

According to the municipality, the population of stray dogs in Athens is estimated at hundreds while cats number in the thousands.

“It is a huge concern for us that stray dogs may be exposed to more cruelty and poisoning, being more visible and hungry now, and therefore more likely to trust and approach people,” said Madden. -Kanellopoulou.

Over the weekend, Greek officials said an online platform was created for food donations and veterinary services for stray animals and pets whose owners are unable to care for them. of them.

“During the lockdown, we make sure that all dogs have enough food so that they don’t become aggressive. This week we will also start installing feeders in different parts of the city, ensuring that dogs and cats are fed regularly, “said Serafina. Avramidou, Athens city councilor for animal welfare.

Avramidou said she had also signed more than 350 permits for volunteers to visit feeding areas without being fined.

In neighboring Turkey, authorities in Istanbul distribute around a tonne of food for cats and street dogs every day.

– “We will take care of your friends” –

“We took care of stray animals before the coronavirus,” Tayfun Koc, a municipal food worker in Istanbul, told AFP.

“I say this to all our citizens, stay at home, we will take care of our little friends,” he said.

Authorities across Europe are gradually realizing that errant populations must be taken into account.

On March 14, after the nationwide foreclosure of Spain, Madrid officials closed the 125-hectare Retiro Park in the city center, where around 270 cats live in 19 different colonies.

For days, the volunteers were unable to enter. The town hall authorities finally allowed them to distribute food to the park’s gardeners.

A single volunteer can also enter the park three times a week, for an hour at a time, to check the health of the cats.

Mercedes Hervas, president of the Retiro Cat Friends Association, said that it was not enough time to check them all out and take care of those in need of medical care.

On March 30, a park employee found a dead cat that the group was treating with antibiotics. Hervas predicted that other cats would also die.

“You have to go from colony to colony and wait for the cat to leave. Maybe Olympic athletes can do it in an hour, we can’t, ”she says.

Elsewhere in the Balkans, the arrangements are more ad hoc.

In Serbia, where no effort has been organized by the state to feed and house stray animals, residents of several cities have organized local aid.

A similar effort is underway in North Macedonia, where NGOs are calling on people to leave food on the street for the estimated 10,000 stray dogs in Skopje.

In Croatia, some forty animal shelters that have had to close their doors to visitors implore citizens to not abandon their pets.

In Albania, locked up citizens say it is impossible to get permission to walk a dog, let alone feed stray dogs, so people go out in secret.

– ‘Death sentence’ –

“These measures taken for humans are effectively a death sentence for dogs and cats,” says Indrit Osmani, who heads the volunteer group Animal Rescue Albania.

In Bulgaria, veterinary clinics ran an information campaign after more and more pets were found on the street because their owners thought they could spread the virus.

There was a similar campaign in Beirut, where Lebanese animal rights groups reported an increase in abandoned pets.

The group, Beirut for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said last week that it had received “countless” calls regarding poisonings across the country, mainly around the capital.

Last month, he said the number of abandoned pets had “at least tripled in recent weeks due to panic” caused by the virus.

But in times of heightened health problems, pets are not entirely safe, even at home.

Last week, French veterinarians warned the owners against any attempt to disinfect their dogs and cats with a detergent or alcohol gel.

The move came after online footage showed dogs whose legs had been burned by disinfectants.

“Soapy water or dog shampoo works very well,” said Christine Debove, regional councilor for the Ile-de-France region.

Not only are dogs and cats unable to properly digest alcohol, but these products can also cause respiratory irritation and skin reactions, said Debove.

strawberries-jph / bsp / spm / i

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