If you think homeless pets have it bad in some cities in the United States, you “ain’t seen nothin’.” In Bucharest, a relatively small city of 2.3 million people, 64,000 feral dogs roam the streets.
By comparison, the worst city for homeless pets in the U.S. is Detroit, with 50,000 stray dogs. But Detroit has a much larger human population than Bucharest, so Bucharest, with one stray dog per 30 people, has twice as many strays per capita as Detroit.
Things came to a head in Romania’s capital after a four-year-old boy was fatally mauled in early September. And he was just the latest fatality. A local woman was run down and killed by a pack of feral dogs, a Japanese tourist succumbed to a bite on his leg that severed an artery, and at one hospital alone in the first eight months of this year, 9,760 people were treated for dog bites.
How did this all come to be?
It began when former Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu bulldozed large residential areas of the city and moved the residents into high-rise apartment buildings. Thousands of dogs were left behind and began to roam the city, giving birth to a generation of ferals.
The situation is untenable. But what’s to be done?
At one hospital alone in the first eight months of this year, 9,760 people were treated for dog bites.
On October 6th, the people of Bucharest will vote on whether or not to allow the city’s entire stray dog population to be killed. The question is being put to a referendum because a law that was passed two years ago was ruled unconstitutional by Romania’s supreme court. And the current law only allows the killing of stray dogs who are sick.
Animal protection groups, both at home in Romania and across Europe and the United States, are outraged by the plan. But no one has yet come up with a better one – let alone the money to fund it.
Local organizations have been spay/neutering as many dogs as possible. Last year, they managed to fix 6,500 dogs – one tenth of the existing feral population and barely a drop in the bucket when you consider that one female dog can easily give birth to eight puppies a year.
The cost of neutering those 6,500 was more than $260,000 – a lot of money in a city where much of the human population can’t even afford to feed themselves, let alone their pets.
A concerted effort by major U.S. and European groups could certainly do the trick, but American groups are, if anything, more insular than ever.
A concerted effort by major U.S. and European groups could certainly do the trick, but American groups tend to focus their activities where the donors are, and are, if anything, more insular than ever.
Killing dogs as a final solution to the homeless pets problem isn’t just wrong; it’s expensive, too. Detroit, with half the number of strays per capita as Bucharest, pays $20,000 a year simply to haul away dead dogs to be cremated. And with an animal control budget that’s shrunk to $1.6 million, Detroit can only pay four officers to keep up with the killing. Overall, while the number of strays on the streets is skyrocketing, this city is rounding up just half as many dogs as it was in 2008.
So the situation doesn’t look good for Bucharest. And while European celebrities have been writing to Romanian President Traian Basescu to say how “extremely shocked” they are, it’s going to take a lot more than just letters to make a difference.
For his part, President Basescu says he’s personally adopted three stray dogs, and he urges other citizens to do the same. That, in itself, isn’t enough, either. But if you’re one of the dogs who gets adopted, it’s at least a start.