Society

Dog Attacks: Romania's Plan to Shoot Thousands of Street Dogs Delayed by Appeal to High Court

| by Phyllis M Daugherty
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Following the recent death of a 4-year-old boy who was attacked by street dogs in Bucharest, the Romanian parliament passed a law last week to allow dogs in public areas to be killed if they are not claimed or adopted within two weeks.

However, on Monday legislators from all parties joined to file a challenge and delay the order in Romania’s highest court, Reuters reports.

"We have to avoid reacting en-masse through collective killing …we don't want to see tens of thousands of corpses, "Haralambie Vochitoiu, one of the lawmakers, told Agerpres, the state news agency.

It is estimated that more than 60,000 stray dogs roam the streets of the capital city. Dozens of bites to humans are reported daily and tourism has been negatively impacted. The death of the little boy was merely the trigger that brought hundreds of protesters into the streets demanding government action to stop the attacks.

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Although animal activists in Romania and all over the world have joined on social media networks to protest the massacre of innocent stray dogs, on Wednesday, September 11, Razvan Bancescu, the head of Bucharest's animal- protection agency ASPA, denied that any such actions have taken place. According to Bancescu, not a single dog has been euthanized since the boy's death, ABC News reports.

The Constitutional Court announced its intention to issue its ruling on September 25.

ROMANIA’S STRAY DOG PROBLEM

It is unlikely Romania will be able to quickly resolve its stray and feral dog problems, regardless of the outcome of the Constitutional Court decision.

In the course of the country's forced industrialization, starting in the 1970’s under the rule of Nicolae Ceaucescu, thousands of rural Romanians flooded into the cities. That began an era of old apartment buildings being replaced by new high rise developments. Many of the people who relocated didn't-- or couldn’t--take their pets with them. Thus, thousands of dogs were turned out in the streets, where their reproduction was unimpeded.

Since then, there has been governmental ambivalence and dismissal of the need to address the issue of increasing stray dogs by building animal shelters and providing pet-population control measures, despite the pleas and warnings of animal-welfare advocates and officials.

Before the most recent death of a child, Bucharest employed only 12 dog catchers. Now in catch-up mode, this week the city moved to increase that number to 44, according to ABC News.

The 4-year-old’s tragic death was not the first case suggesting the need to take urgent action but ignored by city officials.

The following string of deaths have appeared in media reports, and undoubtedly even more deaths following attacks did not gain the prominence of headlines:

--In January 2006, a Japanese businessman bled to death in a central street after a dog bit him in the popliteal area of his knee and ruptured an artery.

-- In January 2011, street dogs in Bucharest attacked a female employee of a recycling firm, and she died three days later of complications related to her injuries.

--In 2012, a retired woman in her 50’s died of multiple wounds after being attacked by a pack of dogs and stray dogs killed a six-year-old boy in an eastern Romanian village.

ANIMAL-RIGHTS GROUPS PROPOSE STERILIZATION/ RELEASE

Animal welfare groups say the solution is not killing the dogs but sterilizing them. This, they argue, would stop the animals from breeding and enable them to live out their lives on the streets.

However, it is unclear how quickly this plan would relieve the conflict and suffering of sick, injured and starving animals and how the issue of attacks would be curtailed in order to provide safety to humans.

One hurdle to convincing lawmakers that a mass sterilization plan will be the panacea for the ills of thousands of roaming, feral dogs is that, according to the ABC report, one of the dogs involved in the attack on the 4-year-old was identified through a microchip implanted in the dog's ear.

This revealed that the dog had already been sterilized and that it belonged to a Bucharest animal rights group. The group, Caleidoscop, had adopted the dog in 2008, reportedly with the obligation that the dog would remain in their custody and would not be let loose again.

State prosecutors are currently investigating members of the group and may file manslaughter charges, according to the report.

ATTACK ON 4-YEAR-OLD BOY WAS PARTICULARLY GRUESOME

The deadly dog attack on the child in Bucharest brought graphic attention to the reality of the danger of thousands of stray dogs.

The child’s name was Ionut and he and his older brother Andrei, 6, were taken by their grandmother to play in a park in Bucharest's Tei neighborhood. After a while, Ionut and Andrei apparently wandered out of the park to an abandoned lot nearby.

Their grandmother was sitting on a park bench and did not notice that the boys had vanished from her line of sight. When she did notice, it was too late.

ABC News reports that Andrei, whom the dogs had bitten on the leg, ran to her, crying "Grandma, the dogs have Ionut!”.

Police later found the four-year-old boy in the bushes, half-eaten. Medical forensics experts later determined he had been bitten hundreds of times, and had bled to death from external injuries.

FEAR, PUBLIC HEALTH AND SAFETY INFLUENCE PUBLIC OPINION

Although the packs of stray dogs have roamed Romania’s cities for years, the Internet now allows instantaneous sharing of information and news reports; the public and legislators awareness has increased and, with it, their belief that the dogs are becoming increasingly dangerous. A recent poll reportedly shows that three-quarters of Bucharest residents now support killing the feral dogs.

Last year, 16,000 residents of Bucharest reported being bitten by feral street dogs-- an increase of 3,000 from the year before. The Anti-Rabies Center reports 10,000 people in the capital have been given immunizations after dog bites this year alone—and 2,000 were children.

WILL ROMANIA CULL STREET DOGS?

The court challenge is not the first time animal rights activists have thrown the fate of the dogs on the mercy of the Constitutional Court. When a similar “culling” law was passed by the legislature two years ago, it was challenged and overturned based on "procedural errors” in January 2012.

Sources: Reuters, ABC