Abandoned dogs and cats are still being killed in Serbia. Dog catchers, without any training, catch stray animals by using more or less damaging force, by using contraptions that hurt and might kill. Without a bit of compassion and without a trace of empathy, they treat abandoned animals like garbage. That describes the attitude of local authorities throughout Serbia also. Most of the “shelters” that they have provided are next to the town landfills, and look more like concentration camps intended for short stay than real shelters. Often they’re so poorly built that they shouldn’t get utilization permissions. Towns of Loznica, Zajecar and Smederevo are some of many examples of “dark spots” on the map of humanity of Serbia - instead of care, the cruelest kinds of execution are being provided for the animals. Dogs die due to starvation, due to completely mistreatment; treatment they get is far from caring and humane. By the Animal welfare law, that kind of behaviour would be called abuse.
Legal regulations of animal protection are not obliged and are rarely applied: The Criminal Code of Republic of Serbia, article 269 (year 2005) and the Animal welfare law (year 2009), protect animals against abuse and killing. By doing nothing, the authorities encourage committers to repeat their crimes. One of the direct consequences of this approach are frequent poisonings. Socially maladjusted individuals scatter dangerous poisons freely at public green spaces, and by that they cause an overall threat to safety.
Animal owners are being treated like lower class citizens. Regulations which some municipalities have established - and which are being applied despite the fact that they oppose the Constitution and the Animal welfare law - speak of the subject for themselves. For example, a regulation which suggest that, if one wants to own a certain breed of dog, one needs to get a permission from more than a half of his/hers neighbors in the shared apartment building. It is still in power in Novi Sad, Smederevo, Vrnjacka Banja and other places. And the regulation which limits the number of dogs and cats which can be kept in a home is still in power across the entire territory of Serbia.
These several passages frame the picture of the situation of stray animals in Serbia, by the end of the year 2010.
Exceptions are Belgrade, Kraljevo and Kragujevac. In these cities CNR (Catch, Neuter, Release) system is approved, and it is a building brick of the solution to the stray dog problem. CNR implies that the good-natured, neutered, vaccinated and marked dogs should be put back in their original habitat - to the location that they’d been caught at, that is. By that their territory won’t be taken over by new, un-neutered dogs.
In Belgrade, in April of 2006, the Major had issued a document called “Strategy of solving problems of stray dogs in city of Belgrade”, based on CNR system. That was a big step for dog protection and welfare in Belgrade. In today’s time, this document should be enriched with new findings and experiences, on which we had came upon in the period behind us.
Now, let’s take a few steps back, in time when the first post-war (post-WWII) humane societies (founded in the ‘70s) – Society for the Protection of Animals of City of Belgrade and Society for the Protection of Animals of Serbia - had educated citizens and public institutions that spaying/neutering is the only humane and efficient method for lowering the number of strays. That was how the abandoned animals problem (so officially called today) was worked on - quietly, with lots of effort and personal sacrifices, without the support of government institutions. After many years of education done on the part of welfare societies, in the ‘90s spay/neuter application had become more common among animal lovers involved in street dog welfare, and among the dog owners.
In October of 1996, Center for sterilisation and care of stray animals had begun working as the first officially registered organization involved in spaying and neutering of abandoned dogs.
In the beginning of 2002, with a donation from the Brigitte Bardot Foundation, regular spaying/neutering services had been provided in Srećko Radojčić’s veterinary ambulance. There were still no guarranties whether the neutered dogs would be safe in the street if their mere presence would’ve bother someone. Many calm, good-natured neutered dogs were killed in Ovča. Concentration point for strays in Ovča (Belgrade), the notorious place of execution where millions of animals had been killed, has not been used in this purpose since 2010.
By the end of 2002, The Department for Environment had signed a “Letter of good intentions” with the Brigitte Bardot Foundation, by which they had guaranteed safety on streets for all dog protégés of the Foundation. This was the very beginning of CNR system in Belgrade. However, the authorities have failed their promises. The catching and euthanasia of BB dogs had been continued, and their caregivers (coordinators of BB Foundation) had continued the struggle for their release from Ovča. In the spring of 2003 many of them have become activist of then newly formed society, the “European Initiative 17”, which stands out for the lives of BB dogs and their safety on the streets. The rest of the caregivers had proceeded by themselves or as a part of other organizations. The first network of caregivers had been formed, and their networking remains significant today, since they rely solely on mutual assistance, strengths and information exchange.
In continuous struggle with the authorities, citizens and animal welfare societies had rescued caught dogs and cats from Ovča and returned them to their previous location or brought them to shelters. The shelters are private and all of them have a no-kill policy. They have plenty of financial problems and they’re all more or less overcrowded.
In that ambiance, in 2006 Major of Belgrade issued a Strategy which became a turning point in resolving the stray dogs problem. It didn’t happen immediately though - the Strategy has been efficiently applied three years after it had been issued. In those three years, Ovča’s business policy had its’ negative peak. The behavior of workers was very unprofessional, to say at least.
The government restructuring had affected Ovča also. Change happened when it comes to mass, uncontrolled euthanasia, and the practice of returning good-natured, neutered and vaccinated dogs to their original habitats has been carried out.
We could say that 2010 was the year in which CNR system really took place.
To resolve the problem of abandoned animals successfully, there are measures that need to be conducted consistently and simultaneously:
- Recording of owners and marking of pet dogs and cats, together with issuing a needed legal regulation, which would have a foundation in Animal welfare law. Regulations on pet breeders and pet shops is especially significant, since it regulates uncontrolled breeding and selling of pet animals.
- Stimulation of sterilisation of owned dogs and cats. This measure is inevitable in resolving the problem of abandoned animals. “No Kill Sterilization Strategy” relies on spaying and neutering of owned animals. The creators of Strategy are societies “Epar” from Subotica, and Help Animals from Belgrade, and it’s being applied in city of Leskovac.
- Creation of shelters
- Constant campaign, through which citizens would be educated about CNR system, about the importance of neutering for pet’s health and the resolution of abandoned animals problem.
- Consistent application of legal sanctions for acts of animal abuse and killing.
An extremely important step in resolving the problem in Belgrade is the financial help for food for private shelters since 2007, and veterinarian services since 2010.
That is a move which shows that the authorities in Belgrade are aware of the problem and that they are ready to solve it humanely and efficiently.