From Mauritius to Liverpool
By Sue Prince
My name is Sue Prince and I’ve just returned from Mauritius to celebrate my husband Martin’s 60th birthday. But our holiday was hijacked by a pitiful, tick infested, mange-ridden puppy, who will soon be joining our three dogs in the UK.
This paradise island, with its idyllic beaches and picture book Indian Ocean, is most people’s idea of a dream getaway – unless you’re an animal lover. Within two minutes of leaving the airport for our hotel on the northwest coast of the island we spotted the first of many street dogs struggling in the heat, left to fend for themselves on the side of busy roads.
I understand that there are between 200,000-300,000 dogs in Mauritius – an island measuring just 720 square miles (there is no estimate for the number of feral cats) and of those between 50,000-100,000 are strays. With every female dog of six months and over capable of having two litters a year, the problem has spiralled out of control.
The Government of Mauritius believes that stray dogs should be eradicated and their solution to the overpopulation is to Catch and Kill. This brutal policy was supposed to have been stopped over a year ago after undercover footage showing dog handlers were filmed brutally stabbing dogs to death in one of their compounds. The footage went viral.
But I was told that the killings haven’t been halted. It’s alleged that up to 20,000 dogs a year are being put to death by the very organisation that is supposed to promote animal welfare. New-born puppies, lactating mums with their newly delivered pups, previously owned dogs – all will be killed after spending three days in filthy concrete cages.
On its website the government says that stray dogs represent a threat to the Mauritian public and foreign visitors. It even states that dogs can kill people. Two motorcyclists did die in recent years, not by being attacked by dangerous dogs but through the careless ignorance of strays wandering onto the busy roads through no fault of their own.
The government even blames the dogs for ‘noise pollution’ but still does nothing to tackle the problem of stray dogs humanely despite repeated appeals from animal welfare organisations to undertake a mass sterilisation programme, a policy that works well in other countries faced with similar problems of dog and cat overpopulation.
This stray gave birth at a bus station. One of her dead pups lies nearby
Ironically, the government’s concern that stray dogs will affect the tourism industry could just turn around and bite them on the bum. One hundred and forty thousand British tourists visit Mauritius every year. Many will, like Martin and I, be animal lovers and we are in no rush to return.
Little Sam, our puppy, is named after his rescuer Sameer Golam who also rescued Little Sam’s sibling, Poppy. They both had severe mange and fleas and the inside of their tiny ears were covered in ticks. (I have before and after photos).
Martin and I spent an hour on a local public beach with Sameer and his wife Yoush who have devoted their lives to saving the strays of Mauritius. Between them they look after more than 70 dogs and as many cats. We sat on the golden sand cuddling Little Sam whose fur was barely visible because of the mange and a few remaining fleas were jumping about his head and body. Behind us an older puppy was dragging itself along the ground. It had been hit by a car – a common occurrence on the busy roads here – its spine most likely permanently damaged.
Animal charities working on a shoestring have argued long and hard for the Trap, Neuter and Release programme that would be infinitely better for both dogs and cats.
Responsible pet ownership, one animal lover told me, is not taken seriously either and many of the animals roaming freely on the streets are owned but neglected.
Caroline Chellen-Furzankhan from the Protection of Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) believes like most people that the only humane and compassionate way to tackle the issue is mass sterilisation and education, which is provided in many countries with similar problems.
She said: ‘We not only work hard to rescue and re-home animals but also provide free sterilisation services in slum areas and educate people about why it is so important to get their animals spayed and neutered. But we cannot do it without help. We do not get any grant from the government and rely only on donations and CSR (corporate social responsibility funding) from companies to be able to continue to do what we do every day.
‘There are dogs giving birth on the street, dogs suffering with Canine TVT (transmissible venereal tumours), dogs with maggots wounds, neonatal pups in plastic bags dumped and left to die and so many animals with skin disease, starved, abandoned and being totally ignored by people.
‘We have sterilised over 67,000 animals in Mauritius but we are never going to resolve the problem without government support.’
Carla Lane Animals in Need (CLAIN) sanctuary in Melling, Liverpool came to my aid immediately after I contacted them from Mauritius and agreed to help re-home three of the four pups, we are flying home in June. It will be worth every penny to know that they will have a much better life in the UK, off the streets and out of danger. Little Sam will join our two rescue dogs Millie and Bambi and our 16-year-old Border Terrier, Sooty. CLAIN will use its extensive network to find good homes for Little Sam’s sister Poppy and the two other pups, Lex, who was found on the side of the road, full of worms, fleas and ticks, and Chintsy, who had been left to suffer with a badly infected leg.
I contacted the International Fund for Animal Welfare, knowing that they provide Trap, Neuter, Release programmes in other parts of the world where dog and cat populations are similarly out of control. As a member of the International Companion Animal Management Coalition, they believe that communities must work together to find solutions to stray dog problems. Notably though, the ICAM Coalition believes that ‘responsibility for dog population management properly resides with local or central government.’
I have recently emailed the office of the Prime Minister of Mauritius, along with the office of the Ministry of the Environment to ask them to reconsider their policy on the island’s abandoned and abused dogs and cats. I would urge people to write too, since tourism is key to their economy.
Visitors to the island are also urged to ask their hotels to support CNR programmes and to get in touch with local shelters such as PAWS to discuss other options that would be beneficial to both humans and animals. We took food and towels to local animal shelters and we would urge others to do the same.
We met some lovely, genuine people during our recent holiday, which is why the apparent indifference to the suffering of thousands of innocent creatures was such a culture shock to us both. The distressing sights we witnessed could so easily be transformed over time by a mass sterilisation programme and a change in attitude by pet owners to animal welfare.
It’s been over 30 years since the government of Mauritius decided that Catch and Kill was the answer to the stray dog population. Isn’t it time for a rethink?
* Published in print edition on 28 June 2019