Pan-Russian Animal Welfare Organisation with Widest Regional Network says: Stop Going from One Extreme to the Other over Stray Dogs
29 April 2015
Position of the Big Hearts Foundation animal welfare charity with regard to the media uproar surrounding the death of a child attacked by stray dogs in Chita.
The past few days have seen an increasing furore over the most recent incident in which a person was killed in Russia by stray dogs. Unfortunately, reports of this sort of tragedy have become familiar to us in recent years but this incident – the death of a child – appears to be a high-water mark. Members of the State Duma have been voicing their opinions and the media has had much to say about the problem of stray dogs. We have seen the federal authorities putting forward laws that have, for reasons that remain unclear, been languishing for years. For example, finally, they have enshrined in law a power for municipal administrations to spend some of their budget on capturing stray dogs. The formal lack of that power over the months and years has paralysed efforts to regulate the number of stray dogs in a series of Russian towns and cities. We are hoping that the powers-that-be have realised that it is no good continuing to procrastinate; the problem of stray dogs need to be fundamentally settled at the national level.
Now, on an understandable wave of emotion, calls are being heard (including from the authorities) for stray dogs to be eliminated completely, up to and including a cull by shooting. A hatred and fear of animals is spreading. But methods like shooting have proven not to work over the long-term and they are, in effect, against the law (as courts in various places in Russia have ruled on more than one occasion). Finally, approaches like these provoke an impassioned rejection from the broad ranks of animal lovers and protests from animal-rights advocates.
However, it needs to be acknowledged that Russia’s grassroots animal-rights movement often does not fully understand how to address this problem. Inherent in the ‘traditional’ animal-rights movement is an unbridled radicalism coupled with insufficient knowledge and experience. They usually propose what appears to be the humane method of sterilising homeless dogs then releasing them back onto the street (CSR – capture – sterilisation – release) and a complete prohibition upon euthanasia in shelters. What they forget is that CSR is fundamentally incapable of effectively reducing the number of dogs and is recommended only for poorly developed countries that will inevitably have problems with stray dogs; it has never been used in countries where this problem has been successfully resolved.
The attempt to introduce CSR in a series of Russian regions has only exacerbated the situation – right up to cases in which people have been injured and even killed by stray dogs. Each such tragedy it is followed by a reaction from the authorities and the public that is expressed in a resumption of the shooting or mass poisoning of homeless dogs. So attempts to instantly achieve ‘total humaneness’ have led to the diametric opposite – widespread suffering for people and animals.
Many Russian regions, in effect, constantly lurch between two dead-end approaches: they have capture programmes that are poorly implemented or not implemented at all, sometimes replaced with ineffective CSR programmes, or they go for an extreme ‘cleansing’ of stray dogs in the aftermath of the latest tragic incident, without ever stopping to really reflect upon what method would be best. This has been going on for years and the stand-off between the ‘pro-animal’ and ‘anti-animal’ camps is only growing more intense.
We oppose this vacillation between two extremes.
What we propose is a level-headed, balanced ‘third way’ that has thoroughly proven itself in every developed country that has successfully resolved the problem of stray dogs or is well on the way to doing so. This approach is entirely workable in our country, too, with certain adjustments for conditions in Russia – there are examples of it but, unfortunately, they are still few. Based on the many years’ experience of international animal welfare organisations, we are of the view that only a complex approach will work, one that includes preventative measures: controls over the breeding of domestic pets, pet registration and chipping, subsidised sterilisation services for less advantaged pet-owners, a public awareness campaign to encourage the responsible ownership of animals and strict penalties for breaking the rules for keeping animals (incidentally, the question of this sort of liability is not yet sufficiently understood at all levels of government). For homeless animals we propose what is the most effective method – the development of a network of cooperating shelters. These would be private shelters, public shelters and, crucially, municipal shelters that do not turn away any animals brought to them by the public or the animal-control services – ‘open-admission’ shelters. There are now some examples of these in Moscow.
It has been illustrated in other countries that it is not possible to find a new owner for every animal and, consequently, it is acceptable to euthanize un-homeable animals in open-admission shelters after a certain length of time (if another shelter cannot be found for them). This is regrettable, of course, but to actually reduce the number of animals that are put down what is needed is not an arbitrary prohibition upon euthanasia (in reality, such bans are mere ornaments and what ensues is a horrible death for animals from hunger and illness in overcrowded shelters or on the streets). What is needed is for the authorities and animal-rights advocates to work assiduously over the long-term to educate owners so that they are more responsible, to reduce the production of puppies and kittens and to increase the level of professionalism amongst animal-rights advocates.
Our view is supported by the findings and recommendations of international animal-welfare organisations like ICAM, WAP, Humane Society (English & Russian translations of their documents can be found here)
It is also entirely possible to find the funding needed for these programmes. It is not true to say that, in the provinces, money is rarely always used for its intended purpose (that is to say, it is always misappropriated) and therefore nothing good will come of such programmes. As a rule, in the regions, too little money is spent on the problem of stray animals and fundamentally ineffective methods are used – that is why outcomes are so poor! If a sensible, comprehensive approach is taken we will see how well it works and it will then be possible to monitor expenditure more effectively. Also, if there was organised cooperation (rather than opposition) amongst those with concerns about animal welfare, non-government money could be raised more widely in the form of charitable donations.
Unfortunately, at the moment in Russia, the problem of stray dogs is a cause more of endless, overwrought discussions in the media than real debate of the fundamental issues by the authorities, with the involvement of real (not sham) specialists and responsible, experienced campaigners. More often than not, expertise is displaced by the same old ‘humaneness’ rhetoric from media demagogues, which has proven itself, over many years, to do no good whatsoever. In the regions, decisions are taken without any analysis of what has been done elsewhere or even a cursory assessment of what the consequences of a particular course of action might be. We believe that the time has come to put an end to this wrongheaded way of approaching the problem and formulate, once and for all, clear government policy in this area. We will be happy to put our experience and our activists to work in assisting in any way we can.