The Ukrainian Stray Dog Problem

Apparently the Ukraine is trying to get rid of its stray dogs ahead of Euro 2012.

Animal welfare groups accuse Ukrainian authorities of using illegal and inhumane methods of killing stray dogs that cause long, agonizing deaths. They say dogs are often poisoned or injected with banned substances as officials rush to clear streets ahead of the Euro 2012 soccer championship next summer.

Euro 2012 organizers deny any involvement in a stray eradication campaign.

Full official statistics are hard to come by, but figures and estimates provided to The Associated Press by authorities in the Euro 2012 host cities of Kiev, Donetsk, Kharkiv and Lviv show more than 9,000 dogs have been put to death over the past year. Animal protection groups believe the number is far higher.

"It's a slaughterhouse," said Asya Serpinska, head of the Ukrainian Association of Animal Protection Organizations. "We are convinced that there is an unofficial order to purge Euro cities of stray animals so that, God forbid, some stray dog doesn't bite some foreigner."

Ukraine has a large stray dog population, estimated at tens of thousands in some cities. The dogs, often running in packs, can be seen on streets, in parks and even children's playgrounds. Nearly 3,000 people reported being bitten by stray dogs last year in Kiev and about 1,900 in Kharkiv, according to city officials.

On paper, officials have embraced the internationally accepted practice of sterilizing strays, then releasing them into areas where they pose no public threat, placing them in shelters or finding them homes. Sick or aggressive dogs are humanely euthanized.

But in reality, activists contend, a stray dog handled by authorities has little chance of survival. The only question, they say, is how much it will suffer before it dies. Shelters are virtually nonexistent, pet adoption unpopular and sterilization costly; most dogs are simply put down, they say.

"It's capture and kill," said John Ruane of Naturewatch, a British-based animal welfare group that monitors the situation in Ukraine. "It's just barbaric."

When I lived in Bulgaria, it wasn’t uncommon to see packs of stay dogs roaming the streets of Sofia. (It wasn’t as bad in smaller cities but still existed.) It seemed that every neighborhood had at least one or two packs of dogs that would roam the streets looking for something to eat. When I lived in an area called Lozenets, the pack lived under a balcony of a nearby apartment building. While I lived there one of the dogs gave birth to a litter of six puppies.

The dogs were anything but aggressive. If they did approach you, their heads would be down and you could tell by the skittish way they walked that they were on edge. All you had to do was raise your hand and pretend you were throwing a rock and the dogs would scatter. And they were so hungry they’d eat just about anything. Sometimes if the pack was congregating near our apartment building, we’d drop chunks of stale bread from our apartment five stories up. The dogs would woof it down like we had just thrown them pieces of raw meat. As far as I could tell, there was never any effort made by the city to round them up. Animal shelters in that part of the world were unheard of.

While I don’t know how the packs of stray dogs in the Ukraine are different than their counterparts in Bulgaria, I don’t understand why animal rights activists are upset that the dogs are being killed. While I don’t condone the inhumane methods of killing stray dogs mentioned in the article, having packs of dogs run wild on the streets isn’t good for anyone. The dogs in Sofia were filthy, disease ridden, and looked like they were constantly starving. I don’t see why they be treated any better in the Ukraine. Simply sterilizing strays and releasing them “into areas where they pose no public threat” like the animal rights activists want just stops them from reproducing. It does nothing to feed or shelter the animals. Releasing serialized animals and letting them fend for themselves doesn’t strike me as being that humane.

Sadly, like Bulgaria, it appears the stay dog problem is more of a cultural issue than anything. Unless Ukrainians are willing to invest in real animal shelters and humanly euthanize the dogs, it’s going to return and persist long after Euro 2012 is over.