The small European country of Belgium is home to 11 million people and 1.7 million cats. About 37,000 of the cats are strays that wind up in shelters.
According to the health ministry, more than 13,000 cats were euthanized in animal refuges last year, more than one in three of the country's strays.
With so many felines overrunning the shelters, it became clear that something needed to be done to try to control the burgeoning feline population.
In order to halt the increase in the numbers of strays and cats in shelters, the Belgian government has decided on a somewhat controversial way to deal with the problem...
The Multi-Annual Cat Plan 2011-2016
Over the next five years, the Belgian government proposes to institute a plan to neuter or spay the majority of the country's cats.
- Phase One: All shelter cats will be spayed or neutered.
- Phase Two: Cat sellers will have to comply with the new law, sterilizing all kittens before selling them. Selling unwanted kittens through small ads or bulletin-board notices will be banned. Breeders and owners of pedigreed cats will be not have to comply with the kitten sterilization guideline.
- Phase Three: All cat owners will be required to register and sterilize their cats.
The animal welfare lobby is strongly supportive of the new law, however a few animal advocates remain skeptical. "They'll never be able to sterilize all the cats," said Alan, who helps to run the Nos Amis Fidèles (Our Faithful Friends) kennels in Waterloo, south of Brussels. "Pet owners will rebel and refuse to do it," Marleen Meerssemean, who helps run a rescue service for injured wild animals.
The new project is the first to propose compulsory sterilization of the cats on a national basis. It will be watched closely in other countries wrestling with the problem of feline over-population.