Prague society combats problem of stray cats on the streets

23-12-2003

Visitors to Prague may notice that - unlike many other major cities - you very rarely see a stray dog on the streets here. Perhaps this is partly down to the fact that Czechs - as a nation of dog-lovers - are loath to leave an abandoned dog to fend for itself against the elements. Cats, unfortunately, don't seem to occupy the same special place in Czech hearts, and the number of stray felines roaming Prague's streets remains a persistent problem. The Prague Society for the Protection of Animals is one organisation tackling this issue. It runs a number of cat shelters around the city. We paid a visit to one of them.

Although there are no hard and fast figures on how many stray cats there are in Prague, the city's Society for the Protection of Animals estimates that there could be as many as 40,000 to 300,000 of them eking out an existence on the streets of the capital city. The society runs a number of cat shelters around Prague, which are intended to help alleviate this problem. I asked one of the shelters' administrators Dr. Eva Vrbova, how her charges came under her care:

"Half of the cats are taken from the homes of people who don't know what to do with them. The second, more important, part of our work is to reduce the amount of cats in the street. We try to catch them. We then treat and neuter or castrate them, and also give them vaccinations before trying to find them new homes. It is very important to "socialise" them or cuddle them so much that they can get used to people. This can take quite a while - sometimes even several months."

Unlike similar organisations in a number of other countries, the society does not destroy the cats it catches on the street, but vaccinates them and tries to find them new homes, which means that the cats it finds can be in a shelter's care for quite a while. I asked Dr Vrbova how long this process took:

"We have calculated this figure and it's about a few months, but it differs very much from cat to cat. Some pretty little kittens find homes very easily, but we have some cats- most of whom have been caught in the street - and they end up staying in the shelter for several years. But they feel quite at home there..."

I also asked Dr. Vrbova how the shelters were funded:

"We survive on donator's gifts. The donators are pensioners, children, and people who are not very well paid. We sometimes get some money from Prague city districts, but it's very rare unfortunately."

Dr. Vrbova also said that her society had been trying to attract corporate sponsorship for the shelters, but had so far attracted little interest despite the fact that tax breaks are available for this type of patronage.

Resources are often particularly stretched at this time of year, as Christmastime is known to result in large numbers cats being given as ill-advised presents, which are then abandoned on the streets by new owners who don't want them. Nevertheless, Dr Vrbova claimed that a concerted information campaign had helped ease this problem last year. She said she hoped that a similar drive this year would have a corresponding impact on the number abandoned pets that arrived in the shelters after Christmas.

For further details about the Prague Society for the Protection of Animals, you can visit their website at www.psoz.org. If you are interested in specific problems concerning the care of cats in the Czech Republic, you can write to Dr. Eva Vrbova at eva.vrbova@astrazeneca.com.

23-12-2003