Cry Havoc!

My eternally vigilant, unsleeping internet “eye” has been picking up a lot of chatter lately about the “stray dog” situation here in Romania. It looks like there’s going to potentially be some important developments in the near future so it’s time for a lengthy, in-depth piece on the subject.

As with all things Romanian, there’s a tremendous amount of confusion and bombastic, hyperbolic speech, inflated statistics, vituperative calumny in the media and so much dust and chaff thrown in the air that it’s hard to know what the situation even is.

Let’s start with what is known then and work our way out from there.

Note: some of the links below go to Romanian-language sources and others are in English.

There are a lot of “stray” dogs in Romania

How many? Well it’s impossible to know for sure. The Romanian government can barely conduct an accurate analysis of its own finances so I damn sure don’t trust them to accurately estimate the stray dog population. Further compounding the problem is that certain local governments (and their corrupt politicians) have a lot to gain financially by inflating the stray dog population.

Suffice it to say, there are definitely a “lot” of stray dogs in Romania in just about every city in the nation.

Stray dogs are a problem

Not even this is an incontestable statement. I’ve written about dogs before and there are a goodly number of dogs who aren’t “properly owned” but are fed by and cared for by people in the neighborhood. They’re neither feral nor pets but are somewhere in between.

Nonetheless, there are enough stray dogs in most Romanian cities that they do provide a health hazard to people on several levels, from being a (potential) breeding ground for rabies and other communicable illnesses to actual assaults against people.

Again, even this issue is clouded with a lot of hyperbole. The continuing intransigence of idiotic gasbags like Michael Noer always harping on the dog attack in 2006 of an elderly Japanese man in Bucharest further muddles the issue. Yes, it does seem incontestable that a dog bit the Japanese man but there is serious debate about whether that bite was the cause of the man’s death.

Still, people are bitten by dogs on occasion and that’s never a good thing. Furthermore, there are homeless street dogs who do live a miserable, short existence and suffer needlessly.

Lack of unified policy

Making everything worse, there is no unified national policy on how to deal with stray dogs.

  • Some cities and towns are so poor that they lack the resources to do anything about stray dogs whatsoever.
  • Other cities, like my beloved Cluj-Napoca, are run by corrupt idiots who could do something but instead choose not to.
  • Some cities, like Bucharest, have an official government agency dedicated to “dealing” with the problem. But corruption and ineptitude hinder progress at every step.
  • A few cities, notably Oradea, have an effective plan in place and are making wonderful progress in finding a humane solution to the problem.
  • And yet a few other cities, notably Brasov, are run by cold-blooded murderers who use the issue to line their pockets in the most brazenly corrupt way while simultaneously increasing the suffering of animals.

Current events

Last week there was a small protest in front of the parliament to decry recent attempted changes in the legislation. I’ve seen a few English-language media sources pick up this story and vastly oversimplify it. Therefore it needs some clarification.

The bill in question can be found here, first introduced and passed into law in 2007 by a then-deputy named Marius Marinescu. In many quarters this is known as “Marinescu’s Law” because it mandated some very humane solutions to the problem.

What’s going on now, however, is an attempt by (mostly) PDL members to make some fairly major changes in the law, specifically that they want to go full steam ahead on mass euthanasia of stray dogs. Right now, this bill is stuck in a conference committee and I don’t expect any changes in the law to take place until next month at the earliest. Nonetheless, a lot of politicians broke their hands off patting themselves on the back for their position on the bill.

But the issue is coming to a head. As I said, I’ve seen a lot of “chatter” on the internet due to this, a good example of which can be found here.

On one hand you have the “do gooders”, mostly non-Romanian NGOs who want to donate time, money and effort in truly finding a resolution to the problem. One of these do-gooders is a by-god royal princess. Another is the Austrian organization Vier Pfoten (Four Paws). Another is the Romanian organization Ham si Miau (meaning “meow” and “bark” in English). And there is the Romanian organization Cutu-Cutu. There are also some other smaller (especially German) charities involved as well.

The general consensus of the NGOs and charities is that mass sterilization is the only viable answer, meaning that stray dogs are caught, sterilized and then released back into the neighborhoods. In some cases (particularly Oradea – more on this below) this has been put into practice with noticeably good results. In other cases, there’s a lot of talk and inflated, fake statistics but little result.

On the other hand, there are some politicians and private companies who stand to gain a lot if the law to permit mass euthanasia gets passed.

The politician beating the drum the loudest for mass euthanasia seems to be Cristian Atanasoaiei, who had this lovely quote on the topic:

“Mi se pare nedemocratic ca un grup de oameni să decidă pentru o comunitate. Când spun un grup de oameni mă refer la iubitorii animalelor.”

Or in English (my translation):

It seems quite undemocratic to me that a group of people should decide what’s best for everyone. When I say “a group of people” I’m referring to animal lovers.

And whom exactly is the “other” group besides animal lovers? Animal haters? Come on now.

There are a lot of accusations flying against Elena Udrea, currently the Tourism Minister, that she too is in favor of mass euthanasia due to the belief that this will increase her future chances of becoming the mayor of Bucharest. Vier Pfoten (amongst others) have outright accused her of being in favor of “mass murder”.

How to Profit off of Sterilizing Stray Dogs

The first answer is “corruption”. I’ve seen figures as high as 9 million Euros in Bucharest’s case, money spent allegedly on catching, sterilizing and releasing animals and yet the problem persists and seems no better than it was years ago. I’ve also seen figures as high as 40 million Euros for nationwide “catch and sterilize” programs nationwide that have also been largely ineffective.

If you’re interested in lining your pockets from EU/local government/NGO money there are several methods:

  • Get paid by the number of strays you catch and then inflate the numbers. Catch 10 dogs a day (on paper) but only actually catch one or two.
  • Pay gypsies (known as hingheri) a pittance to do your catching for you.
  • Catch only puppies, pets and/or friendly neighborhood dogs as they’re much easier targets. Leave the vicious, wily ones alone.
  • By leaving the vicious ones alone, they will continue to breed and/or menace the neighborhood, increasing political pressure to keep funding your “dog catching” program. After all, if you actually put an end to the problem, you’re not going to keep getting paid, are you?
  • Rent out your “dog catchers” to smaller towns and cities. Again, inflate your numbers and don’t catch the vicious ones so you can keep milking these other local governments for money.
  • Furthermore, charge these other cities and towns for the cost of “sheltering” their stray population.
  • Underfeed or just plain old starve captured dogs, pocketing their food and medicine money.
  • Inflate all of your other reimbursable expenses, such as gasoline/petrol consumed to do all this “catching and sterilization” work.
  • Overcharge on all of the medical expenses involved in sterilization, including brazenly saying it costs 50 euros per dog when a neighborhood vet (who is honest) charges 10 euros or less.
  • Get paid for every stray dog that is adopted out to a good home. Then begin counting dead dogs as “adopted”.
  • Overcharge on the “cost” of building animal shelters. One shelter in Bucharest allegedly cost 1.5 million euros. Also be sure to buy the land/buildings for the shelters from your corrupt buddies.

How to Profit off of Euthanizing Stray Dogs

Unfortunately, there’s even more profit to be made from dead dogs.

How does one do this?

  • Again, milk your local government’s budget, donations from NGOs and even the European Union to pay for your “work”.
  • Again, offer your services to other cities/towns and rip them off as much as you can get away with.
  • Get paid per kilo of dead animals. And since there are very few scales, you get to visually estimate the animals’ weight, hence inflating your profits.
  • Sell off the medicines used to put down animals. Unfortunately some of these contain ketamine and other substances which can be used “recreationally” by humans, i.e. to get you “high”.
  • Catch and euthanize pets, puppies and friendly dogs instead of truly “stray” or feral dogs.
  • Complete paperwork on every euthanized dog to “prove” that it was terminally ill, even when it wasn’t sick at all.
  • Sell the dead dogs to a rendering plant AND simultaneously list the dog as “adopted” so you get paid twice for the same animal.
  • Hire one of the most inefficient and corrupt companies in Romania to dispose of the deal animals.

That firm is Protan, which saves money by simply dumping dead animals somewhere illegally and then pocketing the money it should’ve spent for proper disposal. As far as I am aware, Protan is the only company doing business in Romania in the field of disposing dead animals (rendering).

And wouldn’t you know it, it seems like Protan is a long-time favorite of the PDL, the party that in Cluj does nothing to help stray animals, the party of Atanasoaiei, who wants to euthanize dogs in the capital, the party of Elena Udrea, and the party of George Cripcaru, the mayor of Brasov, who has single-handedly profited the most off of the suffering and murder of dogs.

Adding Insult to Injury

If that weren’t enough, one of the potential amendments to the current law is to punish anyone or any organization which interferes with mass euthanasia:

Potrivit deciziilor luate de Comisie luni, ONG-urile, dar şi orice persoană, care vine şi revendică un patruped sau mai mulţi câini şi îi lasă după pe stradă riscă amenzi usturătoare şi chiar închisoare.

Or my translation:

According to the proposed amendments made by the committee on Monday, NGOs or even individuals who rescue and rehabilitate a dog and then return them to the streets could be punished by heavy fines or even jail time.

A Happy Story

The good news is that one town – Oradea – seems to have gotten its act together and stopped stealing long enough to actually do something successful about the stray dog population.

In 2003, there were an estimated 7,000 stray dogs in Oradea. Now there are less than 700, all as a result of a well-organized “catch, sterilize and release” program conducted jointly by the city and a local NGO called SOS Dogs. An English link is here.

From their own website (editing and highlights my doing):

After some research and a meeting with the mayor, Mr.Petru Filip, the municipality of Oradea agreed to cede 15.000 square meters of land to the west of the city to FPCC for 25 years, on which to build a neutering and adoption centre. SOS Dogs Oradea was born as a partnership between FPCC, the Municipality of Oradea and Noah`s Ark. Initially SOS Dogs Oradea was sponsored by Dogs Trust, Battersea Dogs Home and North Shore Animal League. It is now financed and managed by FPCC.

In 2003 the Municipality of Oradea gave exclusive dog management rights to FPCC and 7 years later we still enjoy excellent cooperation with the local authorities, who refer all complaints about unsupervised dogs to us.

Our policy is to return neutered and vaccinated dogs to their owners or to their community or territory, unless those dogs show unprovoked aggression to people or other animals or unless they are unable to lead acceptable lives in their original environment.

We do not put dogs to sleep unless they are incurably ill, in severe pain or aggressive. We follow the policy of the World Health Organization’s “Guidelines for Dog Population Management” (Geneva 1990) and various other academic studies which show that killing dogs is ineffective; in truth academic studies are not necessary since the evidence is before the eyes of any visitor to Romania. Despite mass extermination campaigns by misguided municipalities the street dog as a species is thriving.

There you go. Excellent cooperation from the (non-corrupt) local government, financed entirely by non-profit entities, and a humane program of sterilization and adoption of healthy animals. AND IT HAS WORKED!

In 2003 the roads in and around Oradea were littered with live and dead dogs. It was impossible to drive from the Hungarian border in Bors to Oradea city centre without seeing scores of stray dogs foraging for food and without seeing several dead bodies on the road. In 2010 we are unlikely to see either a single dead dog or more than a couple of live dogs on the road from Hungary to the city centre. Often not a single unsupervised dog is visible.

This is because since 2003 FPCC has neutered and vaccinated over 10.000 dogs in Oradea alone.

It really makes me want to cry that a viable, realistic, solution is available in Romania and yet there are so many corrupt politicians and profiteering companies who want the problem of the stray dog population to continue so they can increase their power and influence while lining their pockets.

If any changes are to be made to the national law concerning stray dogs in the near future, it needs to be a wide-scale adoption of exactly the same program operating in Oradea today. It is the only humane solution out there. And you know what? It’s the right thing to do, even for those people who aren’t “animal lovers”. Abandoned dead dog carcasses and suffering, sick, possibly aggressive animals are a shameful blight on this country.

The time to do something is now. Call, write or otherwise pester your local government and senator/representative to adopt Oradea’s animal control model. Donate time, energy or money (including your 2%) to a non-profit animal care organization. Volunteer your time at a shelter, if there is one in your community. Please don’t let this suffering and corrupt profiteering continue!