The Romanian parliament voted for the euthanasia of stray dogs after 14 days in a municipal shelter. The decision comes after a 4-year old boy was mulled by dogs in a yard 1,5 kilometers away from a city park at the country’s capital. The tragic event was announced as a stay-dog attack by the police press-release and the incident was widely (and wildly) covered in all Romanian media.
Using the “dog card” for yet another time, the former mayor of Bucurest and current president Busesku wins the love of the masses with the politically inadequate “people are above dogs!” As a mayor Busesku already destroyed tens of thousands of dogs (including all that were neutered) in the city. Today, of course, there are twice as many dogs in the streets of Bucurest, but you should see those people voting for such a “decisive and brave politician”.
The well-played set of bloody laws that both president and prime-minister played is no coincidence. The same changes were voted back in 2011, but the Constitutional court of Romania ruled them as unconstitutional and they were dropped in the beginning of 2012. Today, they are written in the blood of a 4-year old child and seem untouchable.
Just like in Bulgaria, the Romanian state has no official data on the number of dogs owned. But, the statistics show that every year approximately 5 000 000 puppies are being born in the yards, courtyards and farmyards all over the country. ½ of them are destroyed by the mother’s owners at an early age, an insignificant number are rehomed and the rest are being dumped at the outskirts or in the closest settlement. It is the ones that survive who make the general, constantly stocked population of stray animals in the country.
The numbers are almost identical with what we have here in Bulgaria – a sociological research by Gallup from the end of last year shows that from 2 400 000 owned animals (both cats and dogs) 80% are being cared for outside the house, and 50% of the owners of female watchdogs admit to abandoning their puppies out in the street at least once. In the same time the number of neutered animals is low (17%) and it is mostly within the “apartment dog population” which is no important contributor to the stray dog problem.
Despite the obvious, the term “watch dogs” or “yard dogs” as the main source of new stray animals is being completely overlooked in both countries. Each spring and autumn season the yards spew thousands of unwanted puppies; closed down construction sites and depos get rid of their guard-dogs; villa owners chase away the animals for the winter. Neither Romania, nor Bulgaria control the dog owners of yard dogs and the few sanctions only apply to urban area owners. Registration is virtually non-existent.
To top this all the stray dog population programs are dumped on the political will and budget of the municipalities – most of which poor and often corrupt. Mayors prefer to invest in radical, lucrative and non-durable methods that bring immediate public approval and votes. The choice is between exterminating and the even cheaper dumping of animals in neighboring municipalities – the long-term solution simply requires too much effort. And a working Spay/Neuter program is by no means exhausted with the simple neutering of the existing stray dog population.
Just as 50 years ago we had to be taught to wash our hands by the then socialist state, today it is crucial to change the culture of dog ownership. People need to learn about neutering and deworming, they need to know where they can do it cheaply or for free. We just need a little control, nothing more – the abandoning of animals was already forbidden in 2008, by law, but since then there hasn’t been a single person fined by it. As the responsibility for this is tossed around between the Ministry of Agriculture, the Police and the Municipalities nothing is done to solve the issue. Instead, when there is a more severe case of a dog bite the most radical and unfounded opinions are widely distributed through the media, causing mass hysteria and putting emotions in the center of a simple, practical problem.
Yes, the Romanian experience is really very important to us. We need to carefully look at Romania’s last two decades and NOT do anything like them if we really want our stray dog problem solved. In some strange set of circumstances this happens to be one of the few things we have gone ahead of our neighbors. This is an obvious fact to anyone who has been to Romanian cities lately.
It can be said that the local populations in Sofia, Plovdiv, Burgas, Russe have been taken into hand as the municipal workers finally turn to the owners of yard dogs and begin to worry about the neighboring cities dumping dogs in their territory. Sofia and Russe are already offering free neutering to owned animals, you can barely see a dog in Plovdiv, and Burgas even boasts their own animal police unit in the municipal police which monitors registration.
However, steps in the right directions will remain only steps until we create a National strategy to solve the problem. It must include education and control of animal owners and be monitored on a state, not a municipal level, uniting the efforts to target both street populations and the animals in the yards.
Bulgaria has already shown, although with great difficulty, we can work adequately to solve the problem. In 5 years of comparatively good work Sofia has 3 times less animals living outside permanently. Just to illustrate this – at the end of his twice as expensive and ineffective dog culling program Mayor Sofianski “boasted” about 30 000 dogs in the street.
Populism is a big thing, but in the last few months the Bulgarian public has indicated that we’ve had enough of it. We are not cruel people either – as strange as this might seem, the very fact that so many animals are being released outside and not destroyed points out that our compatriots are just a step away from keeping their animals in a civilized manner. We only need to show them how and make it available.
Stella Racheva, Sofia 12.09.2013, TRUD