David Newall of Romanian Animal Welfare Coalition (RAWC) puts forward the case for neutering, education and … street cleaning
You may assume that, speaking on behalf of an animal welfare organisation, I’m bound to take the ‘softy’ route and condemn legislation permitting municipalities to kill street dogs en masse. And you’d be right. Because the ‘softy’ route is not only the most humane but also the most effective approach to controlling and reducing a street dog population. Here’s why:
We’re not denying there’s a problem. There are thousands of dogs on the streets of Bucharest and Dogs Trust research conducted last year showed that 65% of Romanians consider street dogs to be the number one problem in their local area. The dogs have short, difficult lives and are prone to injury and disease. We don’t want to see them on the streets any more than the local community do.
But rounding them up and killing them en masse isn’t a magic wand to make the dogs disappear. When an area is cleared of dogs, others from surrounding neighbourhoods will simply move in, use the newly available resources and continue to breed.
One female street dog can produce up to eight puppies a year. So if she is lucky enough to live for five years, she could have produced around 40 more street dogs. If you have 500 female dogs on the street, in five years they could produce 20,000 puppies. And then they will start having puppies!
Mass killing is a fruitless, inhumane, ineffective task and certainly didn’t work in the seven years that Bucharest permitted it – street dog numbers did not decline.
If I can’t appeal to your heart strings, how about your purse strings? Aside from the fact that mass killing does not work, it’s also incredibly expensive. According to the ASPA euthanasia costs €60/dog (that includes catching the dog, accommodation for seven days and cremation). The estimated street dog population for Bucharest is 50,000 dogs, so mass killing would cost authorities €3 million (and still the street dog problem wouldn’t be solved).
The better way
It took a long time for the dog population of Romania to reach this stage, so a solution cannot be found overnight. But there is hope. Dog Population Management (DPM) programmes take a long-term approach but are proven to be effective. There are countless examples across the world where situations far bleaker than in Bucharest have been enormously improved after DPM activity: a reduction in the number of dogs and biting incidents.
DPM involves taking an organised, methodical approach. Firstly you need to understand where all the dogs are coming from. In one country it might be ‘latch key’ dogs left to roam and breed in the streets while their owners are at work. In other countries it might be a case of unwanted dogs being abandoned in the streets, others being genuinely lost or being born and bred on the street.
The charity GIA’s figures show that in 2010 approximately 250 dogs (puppies and adults) were abandoned at 10 vet practices (out of a total of 250) in Bucharest. This is a much lower number compared to the number of total dogs abandoned in parks, markets, subway and RATB stations, fields, woods, etc.
There are eight steps to a successful DPM and all need to be employed for the programme to work:
Legislation - a framework so everyone is following the same course. If one sector neuters its dogs and the neighbouring sector does not, the programme will not work.
Census - Nobody knows how many pet dogs or street dogs there are in Romania. In order to resources to best use we need to have a full picture of the scale of the problem.
Registration and identification – We need to know if the dogs on the street are owned and left to wander, have been abandoned or have never had owners. By making microchipping mandatory we can link dogs to owners and hold them accountable in cases of neglect or abandonment.
Neutering - This is the part where some readers may wince. But neutering not only prevents unwanted puppies, it can prevent some cancers and even improve your dog’s behaviour by making him less territorial or aggressive. By incentivising owners to have their dogs neutered and by conducting a methodical approach to neutering the dogs living on the streets it won’t take long for the burgeoning dog population to stop growing. The average street dog lives only three and a half years. The cost for neutering Bucharest’s street dogs would come to around €942,000, compared to the killing programme’s €3 million.
Education – This is actually the most important part. Authorities should educate both children and adults about the benefits of neutering their pet, understanding its behaviour and making them aware that there simply is no short term solution to the problem.
Adoption – There are far more street dogs than people looking to own a dog. But by encouraging potential new owners to consider rehoming a rescue dog or puppy before approaching a breeder or puppy farm even more dogs will be taken from the streets.
Cleaner streets – Dogs will stay in an area as long as there are resources to sustain them and will travel up to 7km in a day in search of food. Resources should be limited by increasing rubbish collection frequency, discouraging citizens from littering and improving catering waste management.
Euthanasia – You may be surprised to see euthanasia of dogs being suggested by an animal welfare organisation. Very importantly, euthanasia is not the same as mass killing. Far from it. The word comes from the Greek word meaning ‘good death’. This is not the mass shooting or poisoning or clubbing with shovels that we often hear about as a means to control street dogs. The fact of life is that in some cases where facilities for rehabilitation do not exist and street dogs are not healthy and happy, but affected by disease, aggression or serious behavioural problems, euthanasia is a sad but realistic part of a responsible dog population management programme.
This programme has already worked in Romania. In 2003 there were an estimated 4800 street dogs in the Oradea and Bihor area. After just seven years and 18,000 dogs neutered the street dog population dropped by 90 per cent to just 512. An incredible number of approximately 216,000 unwanted puppies have been prevented.
I know the topic of street dogs is very hot at the moment and I appreciate the opportunity of putting forward the case for a positive alternative to mass killing. If you are interested in finding out more or show your support for DPM contact the Romanian Animal Welfare Coalition: Raluca Simion or David Newall.