Interview with Dr. Andrew Rowan, CEO of Humane Society International, about the dog killings in Romania



Interview with Dr. Andrew Rowan, CEO of Humane Society International, about the dog killings in Romania
By Claudia Moscovici
CM: Dr. Rowan, how did you find out about the new “euthanasia” law, mandating the mass killing of  stray dogs, recently adopted in Romania?
AR: HSI was contacted by many of our supporters and other international animal welfare organizations when word got out about the new law.
CM:  There are varying estimates of the number of stray dogs in the country and of how many of them have already been killed. Based on HSI sources, could you please give us these estimates?
AR: HSI has also heard varying statistics of dogs killed in Romania since the passage of the law but we have not seen any estimates based on either rudimentary or properly done surveys. In other words, it is not clear how many dogs there are. Our main concern is that this misguided and cruel program will not solve the street dog issue in the country.
CM: Stiri ProTV has recently announced that some individuals are taking the law into their own hands and killing stray dogs themselves. Some beat them to death, some stab them, others strew about poisoned food. Is there any way to stop these cruel actions?
AR: The passage of the law has now offered a free license to kill dogs, and with this, cruelty will be inherent. The easiest dogs to kill are also the friendliest dogs, and the least likely to actually harm people. “Innocent” dogs will fall victim to a thoughtless program created and sanctioned by the government, which has so far ignored alternative suggestions.
CM: Although President Basescu signed the law mandating the killing of stray dogs (“euthanasia”), the Prime Minister of Romania, Victor Ponta, has declared in a recent interview with Cotidianul that he’s against “euthanasia” of stray dogs and pro-sterilization. If the Humane Society International were to communicate with him or with members of his staff directly, what suggestions would you have for working together to address the stray dog problem in a more humane fashion?
AR: Street dog eradication programs have been in effect for centuries in countless countries around the world. Despite such programs, there are now 300 million or more street dogs living in towns and communities around the globe.  The World Health Organization states, “There is no evidence that removal of dogs alone has ever had a significant impact on dog population densities or the spread of rabies.” Mass sterilization, vaccination and community education are established components of an effective solution to large numbers of street dogs, and there are a number of model examples to look to worldwide.
CM: No doubt the Humane Society has encountered this problem in other countries as well. Which countries have faced a similar problem–namely, a large population of stray dogs–and, among them, which ones (and how) have they dealt with it in a more efficient and humane manner?
AR: In the last decade, we have seen an increasing willingness among municipal and city authorities to look for more effective and humane programs for managing street dogs. HSI is currently working with national and local governments in Bhutan, the Philippines, India and Mauritius in implementing mass sterilization and vaccination programs to address dog overpopulation. In Bhutan, the program is countrywide, and more than 50,000 dogs have been sterilized and vaccinated against rabies.
CM: Since a four year old boy, Ionut Anghel, died as a result of bites from a stray dog, people are worried that the large stray dog population will place the safety of their children, and their own safety, at risk. Obviously placing dogs in animal shelters would reduce this risk to humans, since the majority of the dogs would be off the streets. But how would sterilization of the dogs, including of those that can’t be placed in shelters, reduce the risk of their aggression towards human beings?
AR: Countries with a large number of stray animals need to start their population control programs through mass sterilization campaigns before shelters can be considered. The indiscriminate removal of dogs from the streets only opens up territory and food sources for new dogs. As the friendliest dogs are the easiest dogs to catch, they are the first to be removed from the streets, often being replaced by less socialized, more aggressive dogs, creating a greater concern for public safety. Sterilizing street dogs and returning them to their territories on the streets allows for a natural reduction in their population numbers over time, and maintains the most socialized dogs on the streets with the public. In addition, we have found that the public views these sterilized and vaccinated dogs (identifiable via an ear notch) more favorably and the human-dog interaction improves (e.g. the number of dog bites declines).
CM: Euthanasia of stray dogs is usually adopted for economic rather than moral reasons: it’s considered to be the quickest and least costly manner of eliminating the stray dogs.  Are there humane methods of addressing this problem that are also cost-effective? What international animal welfare agencies are willing to help with this cost?
AR: Usually, municipal dog culls do not come close to qualifying as “euthanasia” – that is, providing a “good death” for the dogs.  Instead, the killing of the dogs is often brutal and involves a great deal of suffering.  It is also not a cheap solution and, as the WHO statement above indicates, it is not effective.  The number of dogs may be reduced in the short term but the remaining dogs will rapidly repopulate the community. If a government were to tally the true costs of killing programs and designate that same amount of funding to a strategic, long-term program, the problem would be solved. A long term, effective program may require more initial funding, but it’s an investment in a solution that allows for increased public safety, fewer street dogs and more livable communities.
CM: What kind of short-term and longer-term collaborations between Romanian animal shelters/animal welfare organizations and the Humane Society International do you envision, which would help with the stray dog population in the country in a way that protects public safety and saves the lives of the animals?
AR: HSI has offered to assist the Romanian government in developing a dog population management program that would be both effective and humane. The programs we help implement worldwide to address this issue show short term results (fewer puppies on the streets within the first year), but our objective is to create a long term, sustainable program that will truly solve the street dog overpopulation issue in Romania.

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