The debate about the Romanian stray dogs is once again highly topical. This time at an international level since a 4 year old boy unfortunately was reported dead, allegedly after being attacked by dogs in Bucharest. On the Swedish news, September 9, we saw inhabitants of Bucharest protesting and requiring that “the 65 000 wild dogs” that spread terror in the streets, and prevent people from living a normal life, must be killed.
Stray dogs causes sanitary and welfare problems but it’s established though that mass killing is not the long term solution. As long as people keep unsterilized dogs outside their houses and apartments, there will always be a reproductive base for a new stray dog population. The killing of street dogs can therefore never be a one-off unless the problem is not taken care of preventively. The only way to permanently solve the problem is by explicit legislation, castrations and education in modern dog keeping.
With this said, complex of problems as to street dogs is firstly a political issue, and from a Swedish perspective and as a citizen of the EU, one begins to wonder whether the politicians of Romania really want to solve the problem or not.
A highly political issue
We can never neglect the fact that it is the unneutered dogs, owned or not owned, that continuously give rise to new stray dog populations. Several preventive measures should be taken both within legislation and education. In practice it’s impossible to distinguish the stray dogs from the owned dogs. Therefore it must be legislated explicitly that every dog that stays outside must be neutered with no regards to if the dog has an owner or not. If both stray dogs and owned dogs compulsory have to be neutered, these dogs cannot spontaneously originate a next generation of dogs, born to a life on the streets. To make this effective one must probably also legislate for owned dogs to have a microchip and be registered so that every person that doesn’t accept sterilization of their dog can be forced to pay a tax as a deterrent, the same thing must be applied to those who abandon their dog. Castration actions should be performed by NGO’s that are motivated by nothing else but “what’s best for the dog”, have the know-how and the organization to do this. In order for people to accept and follow laws like this, it is evident that the politicians have to vigorously stress that such a law exists and also work for a general change of attitudes when it comes to dogs. My experience is that the awareness of laws and regulations pertaining to this area today is very low and that the rendering of it varies between different parts of Romania. With media campaigns and educational work in modern dog keeping it will be possible to over time change todays’ attitude when it comes to low status dogs.
Why won’t Romanian politicians neuter and educate?
My simple answer to that is that the system is corrupt and that a group of individuals benefit from keeping a certain amount of stray dogs on the streets, this in combination with the disinterest in low status dogs and the lack of knowledge. What the situation looks like in every city depends on how each individual mayor address the issue.
If the mayor of a town is open for dialogue and cooperation with local or foreign animal welfare organizations they can together achieve success in curbing or even reducing the numbers of unwanted dogs by castrations. Currently, the problem seems to be that far from many, in deed very few, of the mayors are open to systematically allow neutering of all street dogs. The most common model is unfortunately a mayor that rather follows “the wind of majority” and buys political popularity by taking more or less radical actions on the street dogs. Periodically dogs are captured and kept in municipal pounds where they finally perish or get killed if they have not already died during the capture or transport. Several of the dogs that disappear during these periods of abduction do have an owner or are marked dogs already neutered and vaccinated by NGOs or dedicated local vets. Emptying the streets from unwanted dogs is in my opinion often done totally indiscriminately, especially when election time is approaching or at a time when dogs have caused serious accidents.
Too often when I visit Romania I hear people from different local animal welfare organizations say that “the biggest obstacle for us is to find an influential politician that is willing to cooperate with us and listen to us. Most politicians refuse to accept long term solutions to the problem with the strays unless it’s beneficial for themselves. They actually gain from keeping dogs on the streets, not only strategically to receive votes but also economically”.
How to make money on street dogs
During my six years as active within different stray dog projects in Romania, I have heard several stories about how local politicians and their coworkers on a regular basis make money from different fundings that officially are earmarked for castrations, vaccinations and ethical euthanasias, to be performed by skilled veterinarians and with insight from animal welfare organizations. Some stories almost sounded made up in my ears. Especially the ones about euthanasias in municipal pounds where the executive performer debits for an ethical and expensive method but in practice uses a cheap or maybe even free method. It didn’t take long though until I experienced myself that the utilization of the stray dogs for private financial reasons is not just rumors or made up stories. I must admit that I have seen far from every city and every municipal pound in Romania, so I cannot say that this is how it works everywhere, but the two examples below can for sure give us a hint of what reality looks like.
During one of my many trips to Romania I visited a veterinarian who runs a private clinic and currently also is an entrepreneur in the castration business. He is a so called “old school paper vet” (this type of agricultural vets, that rather work with bureaucracy than hands on with animals, are so common in Romania that they actually have got their own epithet). He has an agreement with the mayor of the town to neuter 100 dogs per month. He also has another agreement with an animal welfare organization of approximately 50 castrations per month on their behalf. Just by coincidence I had a chance to read through the bills he sends his clients and I discovered that he systematically bills both clients for neutering the same dogs. After seeing the premises where the dogs were neutered and recovering before they return to the streets I realize that he does not have the capacity to castrate even the 100 dogs a month in the way and with the procedures he claims that he applies. Judging from the condition the dogs were in and the lack of documentation, my guess is that perhaps only a third of the neutered dogs returned to their turf and survived the procedure. My misgivings turned out to be justified as I discovered several dead dogs superficially buried behind the clinic with this vets marking in the ears.
Another time I visited a municipal pound where about 100 dogs are gathered, many of them have been kept since the pound opened five years ago. The place was steadily filling up with new arrivals but the constant number is remaining at approximately 100 dogs. From what I can see the overcrowding is regulated by the dogs themselves since they are placed up to 5 dogs in 4 square meter boxes. Un-spayed females and males are crammed in together with pregnant females, sick dogs and puppies which function as food for the larger dogs. The mayor of this town has employed two veterinarians, who also run private clinics on the side, to take care of the dogs at the center. As the veterinarians hardly ever visit the place an animal welfare organization has started negotiating with the mayor. They asked for a key to the center so they could make up a schedule for volunteers to at least clean for the dogs and feed them some days a week with the help of private donations. The mayor agreed to the proposal but when the organization after a while questions the veterinarians handling of the dogs he denies the volunteers entry to the pound and as a consequence the dogs receive no food, water or care. After a couple of weeks the relations stabilizes and the volunteers are once again permitted to take care of the dogs. A plea was also made to the vice mayor of this town, who himself is a devoted pure breed dog owner, to try to get permission from the politicians to castrate and vaccinate the dogs at the municipal pound in order to be able to place some of them in local families. The organization also offered to start extensive castrations of the city’s dogs and thereafter return them to their turf, this by their own funds and their own veterinarians. But the vice mayor says “no” as he claims that he has the intention to build another municipal pound in the city for a huge number of dogs.
A new entrepreneur business
In fact the politicians appropriate very large sums of money to the handling of the street dogs but in reality the money rarely benefit the pound dogs or prevent new puppies from being born. The whole social structure is corrupt and it seems like greedy hands have found the perfect income and the perfect object thru which they gain political popularity – the handling of the low status dogs that nobody cares about but a lot of people seem willing to pay for and vote about. I dare to maintain that the Romanian politics regarding the street dogs has created a whole new entrepreneur business among devious veterinarians and managers of dog pounds. A corrupt veterinarian that attests that a castration activity is ongoing creates a legitimate expense in the official budget. At the same time pounds for the dogs are lucrative as they are subject to high and regular expenses in the official budget, as on the paper the dogs receive care, food, veterinary attention and also ethical euthanasias when needed. But I’m sure that anyone who ever visited a couple of Romanian municipal pounds have seen with their own eyes that the dogs get neither of this, at least not in proportion to what is paid for.
If Romania ever in a long term way is going to succeed to solve the problems with the street dogs, the corruption must be stopped and thereby also the lacks of confidence people feel for the whole political system. In the meantime, we have to support animal welfare organizations in their political work and their work with massive castrations to at least prevent the birth of new stray dogs. The situation is urgent and it’s obvious that Romania cannot deal with this by itself.