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Who saves the animal rescuers?

The tortoise leisurely makes its way through the pool.

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Who saves the animal rescuers?

The tortoise leisurely makes its way through the pool. She appears briefly and looks satisfied - as far as turtle faces can be interpreted. She would have reason to do so, as she is looked after at great expense: fresh water is constantly being pumped into the pool and filtered. They are irradiated with UV lamps and heat lamps, and the water is heated to at least 28 degrees Celsius. In the Cologne-Zollstock animal shelter, more precisely in its bathhouse, there are half a dozen of these pools lined up next to each other. Inhabited by turtles that have been abandoned and would have died miserably in the wild.

But the life-saving shelters are in danger. Many homes in North Rhine-Westphalia have imposed an admission freeze for dogs or other species. The German Animal Protection Association warns that "practical animal protection" is in danger of "collapsing". And René Schneider, SPD animal welfare expert in the state parliament, observes that "the financing of animal shelters in NRW" is "increasingly on shaky ground".

Which brings us to the toad bathhouse in Cologne: the water and air heating there is energy-intensive. And expensive. Just like keeping reptiles in terrariums at 35 degrees. Or like that of 70 dogs in heated kennels. "The energy price explosion is hitting homes particularly hard because we use a lot of energy," says home manager Petra Gerigk. As she walks between the enclosures and kennels, it growls, meows and croaks incessantly. But she hardly notices that. Her thoughts are elsewhere - for the coming winter: "By then at the latest we will have a dramatic cost problem," she sighs.

It's not just the skyrocketing energy costs. What affects the homes is a bundle of burdens: donations are falling in the face of inflation, prices for medical treatment and food are rising rapidly, full-time animal keepers receive salary increases through the increase in minimum wage. At the same time, the number of animals in shelters is increasing.

"Corona animals" are still coming, which were bought carelessly in Corona times, only to be deported to the home soon afterwards. And the enclosures are still full of "Ukraine animals" that were housed here by fleeing Ukrainians. There are currently 1,200 animals living in the Cologne home, a year ago there were less than 1,000.

In addition, according to the state animal protection association, the first dog owners have asked homes if they could give their animal away, as they lack the money for the animals in view of rising prices. "Such inflationary animals," says Ralf Unna, Vice President of the State Animal Welfare Association, "will be sold more frequently from autumn, because people up to the middle class will soon be faced with the choice of whether to keep their dog with monthly costs in the three-digit range - or whether they go on vacation several times a year".

In their distress, many homes initially refused to take in more animals, which are particularly expensive to keep. Others suggested that no more Ukraine animals should be housed - animals like the two green iguanas in the Cologne home. Months ago, she was "taken in by a Ukrainian refugee family because they couldn't keep the animals in the accommodation," says home manager Gerigk, while an iguana climbs onto her shoulder.

The iguanas got their own house, as big as a child's room. The sensitive reptiles not only need space, but also rooms heated to 35 degrees and keepers who pour water into small basins to increase the humidity. In addition, as animals from non-EU countries, they had to be treated at great expense: with vaccination, vaccination card, blood test. But what would be the alternative? Send back to Ukraine? Unthinkable for Gerigk. "The loss of the animals would have broken the hearts of the Ukrainians," she says. In their case, however, there is now a happy ending: the iguanas will be brought back by their families at the weekend.

For the animal protection organizations, the solution to their problems would be simple: the municipalities responsible according to the law should adequately finance all homes, after all the private homes do the work of the municipality when they take in found animals. In fact, the municipalities also pay a flat rate for each animal found. But the amount "is negotiated individually in each municipality and is too low in the vast majority of municipalities," as Ralf Unna says. Nobody disagrees with this finding.

The city of Cologne is considered almost exemplary. She transfers around 500,000 euros per year to the home, which had to cope with expenses of one million euros before the current cost explosion. The majority of the smaller, often volunteer-run homes, however, negotiate lower daily rates. “Many board members of the homes allow themselves to be fobbed off by the administration’s negotiating professionals with daily rates that are too low. The homes need support from the state,” says Unna. That would be free for the country. It would only have to formulate a recommendation "which daily rates an animal shelter would have to receive per animal depending on the species in order to be able to manage adequately". No municipality would be able to lag behind this recommendation.

When asked whether it intended to write a recommendation, the NRW Ministry of Agriculture replied evasively that "the responsibility for the care and accommodation of found animals" lies "with the municipalities". Apparently, people shy away from a recommendation that would impose costs on local authorities.

SPD expert Schneider does not want to accept that. He announced to WELT that he would ask the ministry "what minimum payment would be required for the accommodation of an animal". The SPD wants to force the reporting ministry to make recommendations. The opposition considers it absurd that municipalities would be financially ruined as a result. Finally, the traffic light coalition in the federal government announced that it would permanently support adequate home financing by the municipalities.

Petra Gerigk sincerely hopes that politics will soon make stable financing possible. She is currently playing with the snow-white herding dog Bernd in his kennel: one and a half years old, waist-high, strong as an ox. His owners bought him when he was a cute puppy. As soon as he grew up, they felt overwhelmed and gave him away. He happily jumps and sniffs around Gerigk, as if he knew how lucky he was: he was still admitted. But what about all the others that are likely to come in the next few months? Nobody knows at the moment.

There are around 100 animal shelters in North Rhine-Westphalia. The Landestierschutzverband (LTV) alone as the umbrella organization represents around 138 member associations with around 80,000 members and 86 animal shelters. Most of the animal shelters in NRW are part of this umbrella organization. The LTV is in turn a member of the German Animal Welfare Association. In addition, there are other animal welfare organizations and associations that run animal shelters in NRW. For example, the "Association Against Animal Abuse" operates three animal shelters, the "Association of German Animal Friends" two homes and the "Federal Association of Animal Welfare" at least one animal shelter in NRW. In addition, a number of smaller animal protection associations have been founded in recent years. According to the NRW Ministry of Agriculture, this means there are around 100 animal shelters in the state.

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