Friday, August 24, 2012

It's A Dog's Life

Where I come from, namely the capital of Bulgaria - Sofia, there's a big problem with homeless dogs.  

The situation is sensitive and controversial; ever since the political changes in the 90's, the stray population has been increasing, beginning with the abandoning of many pets, whose owners couldn't or wouldn't care for them in the economic crisis.  The lack of animal shelters and organized veterinarian institutions, combined with people's rather primitive culture of not spaying their dogs, led to a full blown epidemic of packs of dogs roaming the streets of most towns and cities.  These animals are starved and sick, they suffer injuries, and the poor conditions they live in often make them aggressive towards each other and people.  They pose a health hazard, traffic accident risk when they cross the streets (roadkill is not a rare sight in Bulgaria), and they are mistreated on a daily basis by people who don't have the understanding or sensitivity needed to deal with the issue.  People, agitated by the inability of the government to find an appropriate and long-term solution (such as making adequate and better reinforced laws regarding the responsibilities of pet ownership), and rendered hostile by the dangers of living among scores of dogs which, after so many generations have grown perfectly wild, are turning violent.  There were many recent reports in the press of poisoned, shot, and mutilated animal bodies found discarded on the streets.  

This is shocking and saddening, but above all it exposes a very profound and deeply rooted social truth: the homeless animal problem in Bulgaria is fact a serious people problem.  

The solution is strikingly simple.  It will only take time, money, and a campaign for social awareness.

1. There must be created a network of government, non-profit, and private organizations to build infrastructure and facilities for treating the sick animals, and for rehabilitating them so they can become adoption-ready.  Unfortunately, many of them will have to be put down due to the extensive damage stray life has inflicted on them, yet it's essential that this is done in a humane way.  We are talking about tens of thousands of dogs, and it will be a long process before the populations are controlled, reduced, and ultimately transformed into family pets, or guard and service dogs.

2.  Violence against animals has finally been criminalized in Bulgaria as of last year (!), but offenders are rarely brought to justice.  This should change in order for the mentality of people could also change.  Moreover, it should be made clear that hurting or killing an animal is not just an immoral and ugly act (something many Bulgarians are willing to live with), but also a punishable one.

3.  The culture of adopting must be popularized, because most people still prefer to buy pure bred dogs (which comes with its own set of problems).

4.  The law must instate clear cut rules about pet neutering.  Now people simply discard newborn puppies in a box, unable and often unwilling to find new homes for them.

5.  Pets must be registered, immunized, and owners should learn to clean after them, which is not the case at the moment.  People need to evolve past the barbaric thinking that these are "just dogs", and comprehend that their attitude towards the animals mirrors their attitude towards both the world and themselves.  Brutality and neglect  don't make a good foundation for personal or national prosperity.

Not everyone in Bulgaria is cruel to homeless dogs.  Many feed them and provide health care when needed, temporary shelter, and treat them kindly, thus giving a small but precious consolation to the forsaken creatures.  My aunt and her family are just some of those people.  I took the following photos in the summer of 2008, when I returned home for my wedding.  My aunt and I went for a walk in the fields on the outskirts of our neighborhood, and fed the dogs living there.  It was a beautiful sunset, and there was something quite magical about playing with a pack of wild dogs not just a mile away from a modern urban jungle.  

Take a minute to look up the issue online, and please give your support to trying put a stop to this senseless problem.