Romanian activists are wary of newly passed U.S.-style animal control law

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  November/December 2011:


BUCHAREST--Romanian animal advocates fear that a new national
animal control law ratified on November 22,  2011 by the national
Chamber of Deputies will initiate dog population control killing at a
pace unseen since then-Bucharest mayor Traian Basescu in April 2001
unleashed the most notorious dog pogram since the fall of Communism.
Basescu has since 2004 been president of Romania,  elected in
part because the 2001 dog killing helped to establish his reputation
for enforcing law-and-order.  The Chamber of Deputies is dominated by
the Democratic Liberal Party,  of which Basescu is a founder.  The
Democratic Liberal Party collected half a million petition signatures
in support of the new animal control law before bringing it to a
final vote.

“Not even the election campaign [that brought Basescu to
power] saw so much rallying, with such intense focus,  as this
campaign for the mass killing of dogs,”  charged pro-animal
legislative activist Carmen Arsene,  of Pitesti.
Approved by a one-vote margin,  the new law provides that
impounded dogs may be killed after three days if they are found to be
dangerous or seriously ill.  Otherwise,  the mandatory holding period
will be 30 days,  after which the dogs may be killed,  released,
rehomed,  or kept in custody at municipal discretion.

“Even if a city hall opts to keep dogs in shelters,”  instead
of killing them “everybody knows the extermination camps” that pass
for shelters in much of Romania,  Arsene charged,  where dogs often
die from conditions associated with overcrowding and neglect.
Meanwhile,  Arsene pointed out,  “other dogs will multiply in the
street,”  taking the places of the dogs who have been impounded.
“If a town chooses sterilization and return,”  Arsene said,
“the program will be sabotaged by other towns who will dump their
dogs” in that town to avoid killing them.

Arsene also objected to increasingly common municipal
policies that she alleged are meant to “obstruct and discourage
adoptions,”  for example that “you can adopt a dog only if you show
proof of having adequate living space and material resources for the
dog,   pay a fee,  and if the neighbors agree” to the presence of the

The new Romanian law resembles the animal control laws in
effect in most of the the U.S.,  but Arsene and other Romanian animal
advocates are wary in view of Basescu’s history and the aftermath of
the 2001 dog killing undertaken at Basescu’s direction.  Culminating
a series of less intensive dog massacres begun in 1996,  the 2001
episode brought a short-lived flood of funding to Romanian dog rescue
projects, but much of it was misdirected.  The most flagrant
offender,  Wolfgang Ullrich,  in April 2003 drew a 12-year prison
sentence in Germany for embezzling as much as $45 million raised  to
help Romanian shelters.

Most of the international animal charities that tried to work
in Romania between 1996 and 2005 withdrew.  The Austrian-based
charity Vier Pfoten,  however,  continues to provide sterilization
help to local charities across Romania.

In the Oradea region,  in northwestern Romania,  British
clothing manufacturer Robert Smith continues to demonstrate
neuter/return,  high-volume local dog adoption,  and the “open
shelter” concept that he introduced earlier in the suburbs of
Istanbul,  Turkey.

“Since Romania became a democracy in 1990,”  Smith charged in
a paper delivered to the Chamber of Deputies in October 2011,
“politicians have failed to understand where unwanted dogs come from.
They have embarked on sporadic and expensive dog extermination
campaigns which invariably fail.  Where neutering campaigns have been
tried they have not been financed or managed properly,  nor have they
concentrated on the source of the problem:  owned or semi-owned dogs.

“In 2004,”  Smith continued,  “there were at least 4,200
unsupervised dogs in Oradea,  a density of 70 unsupervised dogs per
square kilometer.  In June 2011,”  after seven years of Smith’s
program,  “the Oradea police estimated that there were only 350
unsupervised dogs left on the streets.  Additionally there are now at
least another 10 dogs per square kilometer,”  Smith said,  “who are
properly supervised.  We count all dogs not in totally secure
premises or not on a lead as being a potential problem,”  Smith
continued,  “and as being able to reproduce unless neutered.
“The source of the street dog problem,”  Smith emphasized,
“is not feral dogs foraging for food.  The most reproductively
successful dogs are those with feeders or protectors.  Very few
puppies from feral dogs survive.  Many puppies from well-fed dogs at
petrol stations,  factories,  blocks of flats,  car parks,  etc. do
survive,  at least to breeding age.  When municipal dog catchers come
to collect and kill these well-fed ‘semi-owned’ dogs,”  Smith said,
“obviously the people tolerating those dogs protect them.  Some bribe
dog catchers to leave their dogs alone.  We need to enlist the help
of the citizens who feed and protect dogs to have all fertile dogs

“Many cities in Romania have attempted over the last 20 years
to solve their dog problem by collecting dogs from the streets and
killing them–usually in barbaric ways,”  Smith recounted.  “Animal
lovers have tried to persuade the authorities not to kill these dogs,
but to accommodate them in shelters.  This is impractical,
unaffordable,  and often cruel,  because municipal shelters
invariably become canine concentration camps.  As we have shown,”
Smith finished,  “dog owners or semi-owners will co-operate with
neuter/return programs,  providing these are implemented by credible,
humane and efficient animal welfare organizations. This cannot,
however,  be done successfully by poorly motivated and uneducated
municipal workers–and certainly not by the same people who were
previously catching, poisoning and killing dogs.”

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