Fix pets first, says founder of successful neuter/return projects in Turkey & Romania
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2013: (Actually published on November 20, 2013.)
I read the September 2013 ANIMAL PEOPLE editorial feature “Successful neuter/return must recognize reality” with interest and agree with much of what you say, especially the bit about how difficult it is, probably impossible, to transfer a privately funded neuter/return project successfully to municipal funding and management, as we tried to do here in Oradea, Romania. But one important point occurs to me. You write about the difficulty of returning loose dogs to public areas, as illustrated by the six starving dogs who killed 4-year old Ionut Anghel in Bucharest on September 2, 2012, mentioning that “Neuter/return programs for street dogs were successful in Oradea, in the northwestern corner of Romania,” but did not mention that 90% of the “return” part of our project in Oradea was to return dogs not to public spaces, but rather to the factories, petrol stations, hospitals, car parks, disused buildings with guards, army barracks, hotels, farms and private homes and blocks of flats where they are to a greater or lesser extent fed and cared for by their keepers.
As you know, the most reproductively successful dogs are those with people who feed and to some extent shelter them. At least 90% of “pet” dogs in Romania live in yards or gardens where they can copulate at will if not sterilized. We were successful in Oradea because we concentrated on door-to-door canvassing and on sterilizing, free of charge, every female dog with a keeper. We did not spend all day scouring rubbish dumps looking for “stray” dogs. In Romania almost all dogs, even pet dogs, are “stray” in the sense that they are inadequately supervised and if on heat will copulate. Having said that, we have noticed in Oradea in recent years that far more dogs are on leads, or are closely supervised on the streets, probably a positive consequence of our work. Although I agree with you that it is often impractical, irresponsible and potentially cruel to return dogs to public spaces, especially recently dumped rather than indigenous dogs, there were until recently many harmless, neutered and vaccinated dogs on Oradea’s streets, with regular feeders, who caused no problems. Nature abhors a void. If there is a food source, there will be dogs. In order eventually to have no dogs on the streets, first the streets have to be full of sterilized but well-fed and harmless dogs. The alternative is to repeat the constantly failing catch-and-kill policies which have already been tried at vast expense in Bucharest and elsewhere. Catch-and-kill is doomed to failure because it does not target the source of the problem. It targets loose dogs in public spaces, rather than kept dogs on private property. More optimistically, you may remember that I have been visiting Turkey regularly since 1980, began doing neuter/return there in 1998, after “inheriting” several loose dogs when I opened a factory there in 1997, and still have two homes and an animal shelter there. Back in 2003 the Turkish government issued an animal welfare law incorporating neuter/return, to be implemented by municipalities. Implementation has been patchy, inefficient, and sometimes cruel. Nevertheless, in the areas of Turkey I regularly visit, around Istanbul and Izmir, I now almost never see the remains of dead dogs on the roads. And the roads are far better, and therefore for dogs more dangerous, than the roads in Romania. Turkish roads were littered with dead bodies in the 1980s and 1990, as Romanian roads are now. Nowadays in Istanbul I regularly see healthy, obviously well-fed street dogs with ear tags, indicating that they have been sterilized and vaccinated. Even business people I know, who are not in the slightest bit interested in dogs, know that they have nothing to fear from ear-tagged street dogs. So surprisingly, despite their ineptitude, at least some Turkish municipalities have succeeded with neuter/return. Turkey has made huge economic progress in the last 20 years, far more than Romania, one reflection of which is that I always feel uplifted when I drive from one side of Istanbul to the other and on to my house near Sapanca, 130 kilometers to the east, and do not see a single dead dog. I can also drive, and often have in the last 10 years, from Oradea west to the U.K. or northern Germany or Holland without seeing a single dead dog on the roads, but I cannot drive even five kilometers within Romania without seeing one. I used to say my life’s ambition was to drive from Istanbul to Ankara or Izmir without seeing a single dead dog. I haven’t been to Ankara recently, but have driven several times from Istanbul to Izmir and can say that I have more or less realized that ambition. Now I want to drive from Oradea to Bucharest without seeing one. But in Romania I am as far away as ever from success. Romania’s ignorant, short-thinking politicians are responsible for Ionut Anghel’s death, and will be responsible for more deaths to come. The way officialdom works (or rather doesn’t work) in Romania is little changed from Communist times. Ordinary people in Romania exist to serve the officials and politicians, not the other way around. ––Robert Smith, Foundation for the Protection of Community Dogs Oradea, Romania <firstname.lastname@example.org>