Will new law stop dog-killing by Bucharest mayor Basescu?
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 2001:
Bucharest, Romania–“Seven months of city workers
slaughtering street dogs in an effort to rid Bucharest of one of the
highest stray dog populations in the world may finally come to an
end,” freelance foreign correspondent Chuck Todaro e-mailed to
ANIMAL PEOPLE on December 2 from a Bucharest internet cafe.
“Pressure from local and international animal welfare groups
just last week helped to win passage of the first Romanian law
governing animal control,” Todaro continued. “The new law requires
a total transformation of present shelter conditions and practices.
Cities have 30 days to implement the changes, including that dogs
must be held for seven days to allow for reclaim or adoption. The
Bucharest holding time is now just 24 hours.”
The new law also requires cities to hire a fulltime
veterinarian, and kill dogs only by pentabarbitol injection.
Todaro in 1998 and 1999 helped as a volunteer in efforts to
sterilize and vaccinate the Bucharest street dogs, funded by the
Fondacion Brigitte Bardot and the multinational group Vier-Pfoten
before the election of hard-line mayor Trian Basescu brought official
attempts to kill all the dogs. Thus Todaro was both hopeful and
braced for disappointment.
“Two weeks before the compliance deadline, it is still
business-as-usual in Bucharest,” Todaro said. “The city still sends
out daily convoys of 18 cars, with crews who bring back more than
200 dogs. Dogs are still killed the day after they arrive, having
had little chance to be claimed or adopted. The question remains:
will Mayor Basescu obey the law?”
And what would Basescu stand to gain if he did?
Essentially a typical U.S.-or-European-style animal control
ordinance instituted at the national level, the new law was drafted
by Liviu Harbuz, DVM, in consultation with the World Society for
the Protection of Animals. Harbuz is chief advisor on animal affairs
to Romanian prime minister Adrian Nastase, who had two evident
political interests in pushing it into effect: to consolidate
support from opponents of Basescu, while simultaneously seeking to
show Basescu backers that he could be just as tough on dogs, albeit
in a more decorous way.
Basescu is the “likeliest challenger to Nastase in a
presidential election” and “the only credible opposition, according
to a study by the respected Romanian Academic Society,” said Reuters
news analyst Daniel Simpson on November 30.
Likened by the The Economist to former New York City mayor
Rudolf Giuliani, Basescu is the most politically respectable heir to
the conservative dissidence that boosted ultra-nationalist Corneliu
Vadim Tudor into a presidential run-off last year against Ion
Iliescu. Iliescu, as Simpson explained, “has run Romania for all
but four years since Stalinist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was
executed in 1989.”
Tudor eventually fell from popularity, but his
anti-corruption rhetoric did not.
“Discontent remains high,” Simpson continued. “Trade unions
have started bringing thousands into the Bucharest streets. Average
salaries of $100 a month make Romanians among the poorest people in
eastern Europe, and Nastase’s austerity commitments to the
International Monetary Fund will force them to tighten their belts
Basescu in June 2000 took office in a city once known as “the
Little Paris of the East,” recalled The Economist, but recently
“better known for litter and the world’s largest stray-dog problem.
And the troubles did not stop there,” The Economist recited.
“Hundreds of illegal pedlars clogged the uneven pavement. The
Dambovita river was filthy and stank.”
Among Basescu’s first actions as mayor, The Economist went
on, “was to sack hundreds of city-hall employees, to reduce
corruption and red tape. He also announced that all illegal kiosks
must be removed. When they were not, he hired bulldozers and moved
in. Traders fought pitched battles with police.”
Soon, “The river was blocked, drained, and cleaned.” The
fountains in public squares were made to work. The owners of
unfinished buildings, where construction stopped in 1989, “were
told “to resume work or the buildings would face the same fate as the
kiosks,” The Economist said.
Basescu also hit hard at prostitution and pornography. But
his major show of muscle was his purge of dogs.
Show of force
“Something had to be done. We have about 22,000 people in
Bucharest bit every year and another 30,000 throughout the rest of
the country,” Harbuz told Todaro. “I am for neuter-and-release when
a dog has been living somewhere for 10 years and the people in the
area know him and can check and see that he has food and water, and
they can arrange for vaccinations every year. But we could not take
100,000 dogs and return them to the streets of Bucharest. That idea
was crazy. It was a biological bomb.”
The Fondacion Brigitte Bardot, Vier Pfoten, and other
organizations from Europe and the U.S. had already been sterilizing
dogs in Bucharest since 1997. In March 2001, however, they
negotiated a two-year contract with Basescu calling for a much more
intensive effort to neuter dogs and release them. Approximately
3,000 street dogs were neutered in just six weeks, up from just 5000
surgeries performed in all of 2000.
On April 19, however, the animal welfare workers were
suddenly barred from the city shelters while all the dogs inside were
slaughtered, whether neutered or not
“We estimated that there were 80,000 street dogs in the
city,” Simona Florea of the Fondacion Brigitte Bardot told Todaro.
“We could have fixed them all in two years.”
Instead, Basescu upstaged Harbuz’s introduction of the
language of the new Romanian pound law by ordering the dog massacres
that have continued ever since.
When Basescu’s tactics stirred international outrage,
Harbuz and Nastase sought to position their legislation as a humane
alternative, then withdrew it after animal lovers objected that it,
too, would lead to killing thousands of mostly well-behaved but
free-roaming and ownerless neighborhood pets.
Instead, Nastase indicated, his government would include
animal control legislation in a promised general humane law, which
WSPA guessed would take two years to pass.
But in early November, “A drunken old man in a village near
Bucharest left the local vodka bar late one night,” Tango Fashions
entrepreneur Robert Smith told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “The next morning his
remains were found with his clothing. His flesh had largely been
eaten by animals. News media said that he had been attacked,
killed, and eaten by 30 or 40 stray dogs who were taken from
Bucharest and dumped by someone to save them from extermination.”
Smith, as chief sponsor of two major street dog res cue
shelters in Turkey and the leading effort to evacuate Bucharest
street dogs to sanctuary, was immediately skeptical.
“The story seems very unlikely to me,” Smith said. “It is
uncorroborated– there are no witnesses. In our experience,
starving dogs would pick on the weakest member of their own
packbefore attacking a human. The man’s body may have been eaten by
wild pigs, Dr. Harbuz thinks, as well as or instead of dogs.
Perhaps he died of a heart attack or fell and hit his head. An
autopsy is impossible, as there wasn’t much of his body left.
“Anyway,” Smith continued, “the government used this
opportunity to [again] propose their new law,” which this time
passed with little opposition–not that Smith, for one, did not
find plenty wrong with it.
“The law will permit animal welfare associations to collect
dogs for neutering, vaccination, and release, with collars and
tattoo marks,” Smith explained, “because we would be ‘adopting’ the
dogs ourselves. Providing the dogs cause no aggravation they can
live out their lives on the streets, but now any mayor has a perfect
excuse to say ‘I have received complaints, you must remove the dogs
as per the new law, sorry, it’s not my fault, it’s a government
“I said to Harbuz that I had spent $100,000 in Campina,”
Smith continued, “where we have neutered and released 1200 dogs so
far, and now all my investment could be wasted with this new law.
No, he said, you should make sure you get the [dog control] contract from the municipality. Then you will be responsible for the
implementation and management of the new law. Neutered dogs with
collars and tattoos can stay on the streets, because you will be
responsible for them. We need to read the wording of this draft law
very carefully,” Smith noted, since in effect it may draft animal
welfare organizations into providing routine animal control service.
“Harbuz agreed with me,” Smith added, “that there is no
hope of the municipalities implementing this law humanely unless they
are provided with sufficient funds from central government. This
strikes me as one of those laws which sounds good in theory, ” to
WSPA et al, Smith added, “since catch-and-kill is what happens in
many western countries including the U.S.–but it will never work
properly in Romania. The government won’t provide sufficient funds.
The mayors will give the dog control contracts to friends or
incompetent companies. They won’t be able to buy pentabarbitol, so
they will kill the dogs inhumanely, or resort to poisoning. They
will hire transients and drunkards to collect the dogs. They won’t
be able to catch strays, so they will pick up pets. All the dogs
they collect will be replaced in the next breeding season.
“Animal lovers will protect dogs by bribing the dog catchers
or by hiding the dogs or by dumping the dogs elsewhere,” Smith went
on. “Campina is full of dogs dumped from Bucharest at this moment.
Pet dogs will still roam freely and copulate, thus perpetuating the
street dog problem.
“This law won’t work in practice,” Smith concluded, “except
where the mayor agrees to neuter/release implemented by an efficient
animal welfare association–in which case the law is superfluous
Interviewed by Todaro, Bucharest animal control director
Razvan Tiru, DVM, tended to affirm Smith’s suspicions. “A big
problem with this law is that we have to keep our shelters at 60
degrees,” Tiru said. “Meanwhile our are freezing.”
Wrote Todaro, “Since April 19th, the city-run shelter at
Pallady has acknowledged killing between 200 and 240 dogs every day.
Tiru claims the dogs are anesthetized by a medical technician before
a veterinarian kills them with magnesium sulfate.”
The use of magnesium sulfate injections to kill animals has
been condemned as inhumane by the American Veterinary Medical
Association Panel on Euthanasia since at least 1993. But a limited
exception is made if the animals are pre-sedated.
“However,” Todaro said, “recent video purportedly made at
the city pound in Chiasna (a Bucharest suburb) showed untrained
personnel killing dogs with their feet and giving injections without
“I know they do things this way,” Vier Pfoten Romania
director Ioana Tomescu told Todaro. “We shot video inside the
shelter ourselves, and a dog catcher told us that often they
‘euthanize for free.’ That means they kill the dogs with sticks or
Said Tiru, “If they do this without my knowledge, it is not
The Chiasna shelter was later closed, but Todaro on a
November 30 visit to the current Bucharest killing facility in Palady
found, “a row of cages packed with nearly 200 petrified dogs staring
forward. They were as silent as if they had already been killed.
Shelter technician Florica Florea considered their behavior normal,”
“There is always the opportunity to adopt a dog,” Ms. Florea
told Todaro. “Our doors are always open. We average 10 to 12
adoptions each day.”
But Todaro saw no evidence of that, and Tomescu claimed to
have more than 100 affidavits from people who went to the shelter
trying to reclaim a dog who had just been picked up, only to be
barred from entry. None ever saw their dog again.
“The problem is that people don’t know where the dogs are
going and if you go the next day it is too late. Sometimes they let
you inside and you can look for your dog,” Tomescu told Todaro,
“but most of the time they will not let you inside. I even have
declarations from people who arrived at Palady before the dog
catchers and they couldn’t get in to retrieve their dogs,” Tomescu
After months of campaign activity to expose the brutality of
the Basescu dog extermination effort, Vier Pfoten is watching to see
how the new law is implemented.
Speranza, a group focused on finding homes for dogs, may
soon be seeking a new home itself. Directed by Ioana Tomescu’s
mother, the current Speranza shelter occupies half of the city
shelter at Berceni, just outside Bucharest. After the new law takes
effect, Bucharest will need more impoundment space, and may
reoccupy the Berceni shelter.
“It will be unacceptable to us if in one part of the shelter
we save dogs and in the other part they kill them, ” Mrs. Tomescu
explained to Todaro. “In April,” she said, “when the massacre
began, they killed dogs just on the other side of the fence, and it
was unbearable to the people who worked here.”
The Fondacion Brigitte Bardot is donating dog food to people
who have adopted strays, but lack the funds to feed them.
“We started the program about 3 months ago with hospitals
about 20 recipients,” Simona Florea told Todaro. “Now we have 300.”
Todaro reported that the conversation became sidetracked when
one of the foundation’s office dogs began to fuss.
“We have about 17 dogs here in the office,” Florea said.
“Almost every day someone throws another dog inside. They say,
‘Open the door–I want to tell you something,’ and poof! they throw
another dog in.”