THE greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated, said Mahatma Gandhi. And tomorrow the Bermuda Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) is hoping locals will demonstrate that those words apply here by visiting the annual Animal Expo & Fair at the Botanical Gardens.

Diana Downs, president of the Bermuda SPCA, spoke with Mid-Ocean News this week about the event that attracts pet lovers and families from all over the island to enjoy the charity event that is a leading fundraiser for the SPCA.

“Our goal at the Bermuda SPCA is to provide effective, lawful means for the prevention of cruelty to animals,” said Ms Downs.

“We also want to promote the education of the general public on the care and well-being of all animals. We are also here to encourage and promote kindness to animals.

“The event this weekend is an annual event that has been going on for many years now and builds off our goal of educating the public.”

Ms Downs said this weekend’s fair is open to everybody, adding: “Every October we put on the event. On the whole for us it’s the biggest fundraiser and public relations day of the year.

“We invite people to come with their families and to bring their dogs, as long as their dogs are on a lead and they are socialised.”

Ms Downs spoke about some of the events and activities on offer at the event, many of them directed towards children.

“There is a petting zoo with some animals for people to see and enjoy and there are many games for the children to play as well as a big fun castle, tattoos and spin art.” she said. “This year we also have a lot of arts and crafts for the kids.

“There will be plenty of food available. We have all the usual fare: burgers, chicken, pizza, fish and chips, and plenty of ice cream, popcorn and cotton candy.”

Ms Downs (pictured) said one event that has proved exceedingly popular over the years is the pony gymkhana.

“It’s a fun event for kids and their horses to participate in,” said Ms Downs. “The gymkhana consists of an egg-and-spoon race, a musical sack race, the Halloween fancy dress competition and apple bobbing. This all happens while the kids are riding their horses.”

Other events in the ring include some highly anticipated dog events, including the exciting whippet races ¿ and a dancing poodle.

“We will have dog agility on display,” said Ms Downs. “We will also have whippet racing. Whippets are very fast dogs and they love to race after things. “There is a lady with a dancing poodle that everyone loves and then we have a police canine unit that comes down and carries out demonstrations to let the public know how a working dog performs.”

There is also a very big educational aspect of the expo that will help people to better understand their pets and animals.

“We have an animal welfare display,” said Ms Downs. “First and foremost are our animal cruelty display and a display which shows the reasons to spay and neuter your pet. Dr. Jamie Bacon, from the Bermuda Zoological Society (BZS), will have a display featuring the problems facing the island’s toad population. Mark Outerbridge, from BZS, will also have a display on the effects of the overpopulation of terrapins.”

Ms Downs said other highlights of the event are the live cat show and the SPCA parade of dogs.

“We would encourage people who have adopted dogs with the SPCA to sign up for the SPCA parade of dogs,” she said. “The parade takes place at 2.45 on Saturday afternoon and everyone is invited to enter their dogs into the parade regardless if they got their dog through SPCA or not. It is a real fun parade with the dogs and there are lots of different categories such as: Best Behaved, Most Like Owner and Most Appealing Eyes.”

Speaking about the history of the Bermuda SPCA and some of the problems facing animals in Bermuda today, Ms Downs said: “The SPCA was founded in 1921 and is a charity organisation. Today, we have over 1,000 members and every year our membership dues raise around $20,000.

“The biggest problem with regard to people taking care of their animals is that people are not taking the responsibility with their cats in having them spayed or neutered.”

Ms Downs added: “People are allowing multiple births and then we have all these unwanted kittens which are hard to find homes for.”

Describing the feral cat problem, Ms Downs said: “In the last two to three years we have seen a significant increase in the cat and kitten population.

“Part of this is because a lot of people in Bermuda feed stray cats which they might see in their gardens ¿ however, they don’t take the next step which is to have the cat spayed or neutered. So that cat goes on to have kittens and the next thing you know they have six kittens at the end of their garden and nothing has been done.”

Describing a solution the SPCA has developed for people who can’t afford to fix their cats, Ms Downs said: “If people are having financial difficulty we will work with them to help get those animals spayed of neutered. Contact us at the SPCA and we will be able to help.”

Ms Downs said anyone with pets can call the SPCA for information, noting: “People need to learn what their pet needs and what their natural requirements are. And that is something the SPCA can help you with. Give us a call any time.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s a rabbit, guinea pig, hamster, dog or cat. We are able to tell you the things that animal needs and the type of life it leads and what you need to do for it to make sure it has the most natural life. People looking for more information can always go to our web site”.

By Alex Scrymgeour The Royal Gazette