An English version of a comment piece published here in Romania’s top news and opinion website, Hotnews: http://www.contributors.ro/editorial/zece-motive-pentru-care-propunerea-romaniei-de-a-ucide-in-masa-milioane-de-caini-nu-va-functiona-si-doua-motive-pentru-care-s-ar-putea-sa-functioneze/
No one wants dogs on the streets in Romania. In a country with up to two million loose canines, no one is standing on a pedestal in the centre of Bucharest shouting We Want More Dogs! We want a Dog for every school! In every office, a mandatory dog at every desk! Two dogs for every church!
For four years I have been writing about and filming stray dogs in Romania, including a film, ‘Man’s Best Friend’, released on Vimeo this week: https://vimeo.com/74578670
During this time, mayors, residents and dog lovers alike all agreed – no more dogs on the streets.
However when the council of a town in east Romania, Botosani, killed 200 dogs in 2011, there was a rumour that a local animal activist group was planning a ‘Dog Bomb’.
A ‘Dog Bomb’ is where pet-loving extremists orchestrate fertile dogs to breed over a six-week period and, once they have hundreds of puppies, they set the animals loose in the city. Dog anarchy follows. But it was only a rumour. No one – not even the Dog Bombers of Botosani – wants dogs on the streets.
So if everyone has the same end in mind, why can’t they agree on the means?
Following the horrific canine attack on a four year-old boy in Bucharest earlier this month, Mayor of Bucharest Sorin Oprescu pushed through a new law allowing councils to kill strays after 14 days in captivity – in a move fiercely contested by animal rights activists and now under dispute in Romania’s Constitutional Court.
Here are ten reasons why this new law may not solve the problem of dogs on the streets – and two reasons why it might.
1. In a massive city, with a mass of dogs, mass-killing is rarely effective. The more dogs you kill, the more space and food there is for new dogs. The World Health Organisation backs this up. As long as people dump dogs on the street and let dogs loose on the street to breed, there will be more dogs. When dogs disappear, other dogs appear.
2. To kill the animals, cities need vets. Vets must want to kill the animals. But many vets don’t want to murder. People did not study for six years to swap the surgery for the slaughterhouse. Last month in southwest city of Timisoara the vets voted not to collaborate with City Hall to kill the dogs. More could follow.
3. All dogs must die – except mine. When Romanians are surveyed, they say they want to kill strays. But if you ask the same Romanians, if they want to see the charming, big brown-eyed mutt which greets them every day with a cocked head and a wagging tail, killed by lethal injection, they will refuse. Because this dog is kind to children, friendly to strangers and he never bites – and, when he does bite, it’s because he’s scared. It is always other people’s dogs who are dangerous. The dogs in the other block. In the other yard. In the other city.
4. Bucharest tried mass-murder. As Mayor of Bucharest, Traian Basescu ordered the killing of around 100,000 dogs between 2001 and 2003. It failed.
5. The wrong dogs will die. The dog catchers will pick up the quiet, old, sad and castrated dogs – the ones that can’t breed. The problem is not just stray dogs. The problem is loose dogs. I’ve followed dog catching around the housing areas of the Bucharest suburbs. When the residents leave for work in the morning, they let their dogs out on the street. If they are caught by dog catchers, the owners pick them up from the shelter and pay a fine. These are virile dogs. They breed with strays. They create new puppies. The problem persists.
6. People will hide the dogs. There are a lot of old, single and idle people in Bucharest. Often they love dogs. They will be watching for the dog catchers and, if they come for their strays, they will conceal them in their flat, basement, garage or yard.
7. No-kill could become a black market. In the past, dog catchers in Bucharest took money from residents in blocks to leave their stray dogs alone. This could happen again.
8. It is hard to catch a dog. There are around 15 trained dog catchers for three million people of Bucharest and its suburbs. They catch dogs by shooting them with a tranquilizer gun loaded with sedatives such as ketamine. The city will need a batallion of trained marskmen who can be trusted with a gun and a litre of a party drug with a high street value.
9. Bucharest is a metropolis run by a village council. It can’t cope with grand projects and grand challenges. Or even small ones. I live on Piata Unirii – a square at the centre of the city. An international showpiece. In one year, they have not finished re-surfacing the pavement. It is a building site of dust, mud, rocks and holes. If Bucharest cannot lay a few paving stones in its city centre, it cannot manage the mass-murder of over 50,000 lives.
10. The capital never gave other solutions a chance. Councillors will argue back that the NGOs’ favoured idea of the sterilisation and the return of dogs to the streets does not work, because stray dog attacks on people keep rising. But the City never tried a mass-scale programme to see whether the dog numbers would fall. If, over a five year period, many NGOs could co-ordinate professional sterilisation in conjunction with all seven City Halls of Bucharest and the surrounding county of Ilfov, alongside comprehensive adoption and education about responsible ownership, while giving the authorities the right to euthanize sick, old and aggressive dogs, the problem could stop.
And two reasons why it might work…
1. Under the new law, in a small city in Romania, it will probably be possible to round and kill up to 1,000 stray dogs. But in Bucharest, this needs an unprecedented effort. The city needs to declare war on dogs. It needs a militia to go block by block, possibly forcing residents to leave their homes, while police carry out searches, removing every dog they suspect of being a stray. There must be no exceptions. They must enforce the 14-day rule before murdering the dogs. Killing 60,000 dogs means a massacre – and a massacre can only be effective if is ruthless and mechanical.
2. Politicians enlist citizens to be vigilantes. Using the media, politicians demonize all dogs as violent. The Government passes a new law allowing dogs to be killed. This sends a signal to citizens that they have the liberty to beat, poison, run over or lynch any loose dog. Anecdotally, friends are telling me of how bodies of dogs are appearing more often on the outskirts of Bucharest. If the nation’s leaders keep up the rhetoric, this may continue. The streets will be running with blood and poison and the blocks will be echoing with the sound of bats against brains until the last stray in Bucharest is dead – while the authorities bear no responsibility.