About the Rehoming Centre
The rehoming centre in Floriana started as the "Dogs' Home" in the early part of the 20th century. At the time it was a very simple holding centre where stray dogs were kept until such time they legally could be rehomed or destroyed (the latter was the case for the majority). For many years the RSPCA, then SPCA, continued to operate in this way until early in the current century when a firm decision was taken to no-longer be a "killing facility". Cats were added to the centre around 30 years ago. The centre is still commonly referred to in Malta as the Dogs Home, and the RSPCA (which we haven't actually been a part of for over 50 years).
In 2018 the rehoming centre, although on the same site, couldn't be more different. We made a significant number of changes during Spring of 2017 to bring us into line with international standards of running and operating an animal rehoming centre and especially in recognising the mental needs of animals as well as the physical ones.
On some occasions we do have kennels and cat spaces empty because we are rehoming at the fastest rate per unit of accommodation in the history of the charity and also because we are learning from the global experience that the size of an animal population in a rehoming centre can often reduce the ability to find homes. . Older areas of the site which cannot be cleaned properly, or are draughty, leaky or otherwise unsuitable for animals are not now used. We remain the only NGO centre in the Maltese islands with accommodation for Dogs, Cats, Kittens and Puppies.
First and foremost we are a rehoming centre for animals rather than beiong a sanctuary. It is unfortunate that the word "sanctuary" is used in both legal and charity circles in Malta because we believe the best place for an animal is in a loving home in the case of a dog or domestic cat, or in its own outdoor environment, neutered and monitored, in the case of a feral cat.
Our staff group is more heavily focussed on the need to rehome - every animal admitted since we changed the way we work in May 2017, has found a home (except those euthanased on a vet's recommendation). In the case of the dogs, the average stay is around 2 months and the longest stay since has been 7 months for dogs. In the case of cats, the average stay is around 31 days and the longest stayer has been 3 months. We do still have a number of longer staying dogs from prior years when methodology was different.
We are currently working in the background to design and fundraise for a new centre on a different site, more of this soon.
WHEN AN ANIMAL COMES IN
When we intake animals to the centre we initially do a brief intake survey with owners, and keep a written record which can help match the animal to future owners (this began in 2017). Within the site, we quarantine all incoming animals, this is to protect both them and our animals already on site. Since 2017 when we made some internal changes to the site and ceased offering animal boarding, we now have several distinct quarantine areas for both dogs and cats where new animals can be isolated away from our existing population. Importantly, new animals are also isolated from other new animals (rather than having one quarantine section for animals from all sources). Additionally, having a good tidy-up and move-round meant we could examine animals in a vet-room rather than in unsuitable locations.
Wherever possible we ask owners of animals coming into us to update their pet's vaccinations a week or so before we accept the animal. This way, the dog or cat already has some protection on arrival, and the vaccine was given while it was still living at home in a relaxed setting. This change has meant that the number of vulnerable animals on site is low and in fact we have had no disease outbreaks in the last year or so, despite bringing many animals into our care with contagious illnesses. Small, thought-through changes like this have benefitted our animals immensely.
On arrival all animals see a vet. We schedule our intake so that animals are admitted on the day of, or day before, our routine vet visit. Our current veterinary provider is Best Friends in Tarxien. Any that haven't been vaccinated get this done, and all are flea and worm treated. Neutering, chipping, and selective FIV / FeLV testing for cats will then be carried out over the next few days and weeks.
Very occasionally there can be a "logjam" in the quarantine as we wait for animals to move through into the homing kennels. In any future centre, our quarantine areas will be much more spacious and adaptable to help the flow of animals improve.
HOUSING ANIMALS ON SITE
After animals have spent some time in quarantine they will then move into our rehoming accommodation. Although Maltese Law allows for up to 5 dogs to be kept together per enclosure in a sanctuary, and up to 12 cats, we prefer to follow industry standards from countries with better animal welfare practices. Dogs are kept as ones or twos and cats will normally stay in the single, pair or small group they came to us. We don't mix random cats from different sources. Understanding that cats are a solitary species who get very stressed by having to share accommodation with unfamiliar cats, we do not group house. Occasionally if we have 3 or 4 animals from the same house then we will keep them housed together if there is an obvious social bond between them.
As well as the benefits to their mental welfare, housing animals in small units reduces the likelihood of fights, disease and injury; it also allows animals to have adequate access to water, food and litter, and to monitor health, appetite and behaviour.
Finally, you will not see sofas, carpets or other similar household items in our centre. We are very aware of the means of transmission of disease through an environment, so all surfaces in our animal enclosures are cleaned and all bedding and blankets are thrown out after animal use.
All dog units are cleaned daily. In the case of cats, we spot clean-certain areas as needed and rotate cleaning and bedding in each unit, because the sense of smell is really important to cats who can become upset if their continual marking scents (done with the side of their face) are cleaned off. In both our dog and cat areas, we use a specialist animal disinfectant (Anigene). We use bleach only in non-animal areas and infrequently in animal areas as an extra measure occasionally. Bleach exposure is known to cause considerable impairment to a dog's ability to smell, while cats find the ammonia smell from bleach uncomfortable as well. When a kennel or cat unit is vacated, we deep-clean and also use an airborne disinfectant.
You'll notice that throughout the site, different areas are colour-coded with mops, brushes and other equipment only in that colour being used.
All our animals are fed on a consistent diet, of the same brand. Each animal has a written feeding plan and, because we don't group house, we can be sure they get the right amount of food. We currently use Pet Nutrition House's products.
We have stopped mixing-and-matching donated foods, and also stopped giving fried chicken, Pastizzi and all other sorts of random foods! Since then, we find that diarrhoea, sickness and upset tummies have stopped. This has also saved us a fortune in having to buy gastric diets to cope with diarrhoea in the past. Having just a few products means we can store our food in metal units and the reduction in donated food, as well as better food hygiene in the staffroom, means that for the first time in many years, there is no rodent problem at the centre. For this reason, please do not donate food to the MSPCA other than Prince large dog tins and Princess Classic small cat tins.
All our dogs are walked every day (although one or two decided some years back that they didn't like walking and stopped going out!). Dogs are also rotated around the exercise yard several times a day by staff and have the opportunity to play with toys, and do obedience and other training backed up by treats. In the summer, the treats are frozen which the dogs appreciate in the hot weather. Like food, we try and standardise our treats by buying-in from our supplier or from just one source at retail..
Where previously our staff did not exercise the dogs, and regarded this as a duty for volunteers, we now expect all staff to dog-walk, alongside the contribution made by around 10 volunteers. Our volunteers now come in to the centre according to a rota, which means that there is good cover throughout the week. This, combined with standardising the staff hours every day means the dogs are able to get into a consistent routine and are not left unattended on Sunday afternoons as previously. Having staff walking the dogs also helps them get a good understanding of the dog's behaviour and training.
All our cats are given toys to play with. One particular aspect of this is that cats prefer to have multiple novel toys rather than having a favourite toy. So we will use everyday items like bottle caps, screwed up paper, and feathers.
SAFETY & CALMNESS
To keep the animals and people safe, staff are issued with panic alarms and walkie-talkies, as well as ear protection to prevent hearing damage from repeated exposure to loud noise, and safety boots for working.
The centre became a "No-Shouting" site in February 2017. Animals in our care are often ex-strays, or are missing their former home, so it made total sense to reduce things on site which scared them.
Since the changes, the overall volume and duration of barking on site have reduced dramatically, bites to people have reduced and animals are getting homed faster.
Dogs are now weighed once a week - the weighing is also an opportunity to get the dogs familiar with visiting the office and vet room, both to alleviate boredom and also to make them less scared of entering those rooms. Weights are recorded (so we can spot any worrying trends) and flea and worm treatment and records updated every 3 to 4 months.
There is no time limit on how long we keep dogs and cats. While the effect of having a more dedicated and flexible staff-group in homing more animals is evident, we still have a number of long-stayers from previous years when the MSPCA worked in outdated ways. These dogs will stay with us until they find a home, or their health deteriorates to the point of needing euthanasia.
The best bit! More about our adoption process here
TRAINING AND IMPROVING.
Every 3 to 4 months we assess ourselves against the Code of Practice of the Association of Dogs and Cats Homes in the UK using their self-assessment tool. This is is the standard to which the majority of large and small rescue centres in the UK, Ireland and Channel Islands aim to achieve.
We are the first in Malta to do this and at the time of writing the only animal centre that carries this out. This acts as a continual flagging-process on areas which need to improve, and shows up anything which may be deteriorating. We also have an ongoing internal training programme and send all permanent staff to at least one overseas animal sheltering or animal behaviour event or course each year. Maltese animal shelters have sadly fallen way behind the standard accepted elsewhere and we hope to be at the forefront of changing this.
By keeping ourselves assessed in this way and keeping updated on best practice, we are not only ensuring that donations are spent in the best way when it comes to animal welfare, but also that we are as far as possible close to the latest thinking when it comes to designing our new facility.
Finally, we are inspected for licence every year. It is illegal to operate an animal rehoming / sanctuary facility housing more than 5 cats or dogs without a licence. Being licenced means that our premises, processes, and records are checked every year. We work hard to fundraise, train and improve to meet this licence.
We are aware that there are Illegal "animal sanctuaries" operating out of apartments, and others which do not comply with the legal conditions needed for a licence. We hope that adopters will realise the value of adopting a pet from an NGO which follows the laws put in place to protect animals from harm. In our case, we meet the law and also exceed it.
BEING "CAT FRIENDLY"
We have made considerable improvements to our cat care and accommodation. This has been helped greatly by a change in staffing which has focussed cat care throughout the whole team rather than one or two people. Cats are now socialised to lots of staff members rather than just one main carer, which means they cope with a variety of people, are better when they meet potential new owners and are homed more quickly.
Every cat is now given a place to hide (this can be as simple as a cardboard box with a blanket) , a high-perching place, at least one litter tray per cat and is able to go about its life without fear of a fight with another strange cat, and able to access food, water, and toileting without being intimidated or bullied by a more confident cat. These important changes cost nothing to do, and they were able to take place in 2017 because of the efforts and initiative from our new group of junior staff. We are especially proud that our maximum time for finding cats a home has dropped from 7 years, down to just 3 months, and that we have had no disease outbreaks for over 12 months.
We are sharing our expertise widely. We work to the principles of the Million Cat Challenge in the USA and also are contributing expertise to the Cat Friendly Homing project being rolled out globally by International Cat Care. Our processes and changes are being adapted for branches of the RSPCA in the UK. We have lectured on improving homing and streamlining processes at several congresses and training courses in the UK over the course of 2017 and 2018, reaching attendees from more than 40 countries. In this regard, we are pleased that at least in this regard, we are torchbearers for Malta.
Most importantly, the number of cats rehomed has almost doubled in 2017 compared to prior years.
How much does all this cost? - well it currently costs us around 120,000 Euros a year to run the Rehoming Centre, this includes the Home to Home service and alongside the information and advice given out by our staff by phone, email and in person, via the center.
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YES: Thin blankets, bed sheets, towels.
NO THANKS: Duvets, pillows, thick blankets, carpet.
YES PLEASE: Prince/Princess dog and cat food (tinned) only.
NO THANKS: Dry dog or cat food
NO THANKS: Animal medications
Please note that, thanks to our sponsor's support, we pay well below the retail prices for our dog and cat food. If you would like to make the most of your donation, a monetary donation rather than that of food purchased in a shop, will go a lot further. That way, all your donation goes towards feeding, rather than the shop or supermarket profits.