Almost all cat owners will be obliged to have their pets sterlised and registered by 2016.

Int: Belgium plans to neuter most cats (523) GUARDIAN NEWS SERVICE (ITCATS) By Ian Traynor in Ypres STANDFIRST: almost all Belgian cat owners will be obliged to have their pets sterilised and registered by 2016 The Belgian government has come up with a radical way to deal with the burgeoning cat population — to sterilise all but a select few of the animals within five years.

If it is passed into law, the country will embark on a phased neutering of all cats except exotic pedigrees at the start of next year, and there will be a ban on using corner shops, noticeboards and small ads to get rid of unwanted litters of kittens.

The feline population in Belgium, a country of 11 million people, has increased to an estimated 1.7 million, and the culling of cats has become a daily routine. According to the health ministry, more than 13,000 were killed in animal refuges last year, more than one in three of the country’s 37,000 strays.

“We are confronted with a dramatic situation,” said Jan Eyckmans of the Belgian health ministry. “So our minister asked the animal welfare council to come up with ideas.” The result is the Multi—annual Cat Plan 2011—2016, which says sterilisation is necessary “to halt the increase in the numbers of strays and cats collected in shelters”.

Initially, all cats in shelters will be sterilised. The next phase imposes neutering on cats from breeders and sellers. Finally, all cat owners will be obliged to have their pets sterilised and registered, costing about EUR130 for a female cat and EUR50 for a tom. Breeders and owners of Siamese, Abyssinian and other special pedigrees will be exempted from the new regime.

“If you buy a very expensive cat for EUR600 and want to have kittens, you can’t sterilise them all,” said Eyckmans. “We need to find the right balance.” Many are sceptical about the proposal. “Not a good idea. It won’t be easy. They’ll never be able to sterilise all the cats,” said Alan, who helps to run the Nos Amis Fideles (Our Faithful Friends) kennels in Waterloo, south of Brussels.

“Pet owners will rebel and refuse to do it,” agreed Marleen Meersseman, who helps to run a rescue service for stricken wild animals in the Flemish village of Nieuwkerke. “And this wouldn’t be Belgium if people did not find a back door.” But the animal welfare lobby is strongly supportive of the scheme.

“We don’t want the cat to vanish from the earth,” said Ann De Greef, director of Gaia, which is taking the campaign to the town squares of Belgium and reports “enormous support”.

“A cat can have one pregnancy every six months and 36 offspring in less than 16 months,” said De Greef.

While dozens of Belgian local authorities practise cat—neutering programmes, the new project is the first to propose compulsory sterilisation nationally. It will be watched closely in other countries wrestling with ballooning cat populations.

Cat culls have a long history in Belgium. In Ypres, in western Flanders, they have hurled the animals from the belfry of the 12th—century Cloth Hall for hundreds of years in an annual ritual to ward off the devil. But nowadays the cats are fluffy, velveteen toys. The cat cull is considered a tourist attraction and an excuse for a fancy—dress party.

Copyright: Guardian News & Media 2010

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