Stray Dogs in B&H Face Possibility of Death Sentence

Stray_dogsBy: Medina Malagić

A little more than a week ago, the House of Representatives of the B&H Parliamentary Assembly proposed an amendment to the Law on the Protection and Well-Being of Animals that states that stray dogs would be put down if not adopted after a 15 day stay at an animal shelter.

To put it more blatantly, a stray dog, through no fault of its own, has an expiration date stamped on its stay of welcome at an animal shelter.

Subsequently, a widespread petition is currently circulating that publicly calls for a stop to this amendment called ‘Stop the Killing of Abandoned Dogs’, and a protest took place yesterday in front of the B&H Parliament against the proposed euthanization. The moral outcry is evident from the very title of the petition, and ‘euthanization’, the euphemistic term used in the amendment, is not included in the title of the petition. Euthanasia is often performed by veterinarians as a humane way to end an animal’s life when the animal is gravely ill and suffering, and is usually a decision made by the owner.

The premise of this decision, however, is not the suffering or demonstrated aggressiveness of a stray dog that prompted a proposed amendment to euthanization. Since it is an amendment that is part of the Law on the Well-Being of Animals, is it now considered, based on this Law, that euthanasia of an animal is the best recourse and this is what well-being of an animal entails? Working to ensure well-being, whether it be of an animal or human being, denotes care and devotion, and the debate over when to use euthanasia arises when there is intractable suffering that seriously deteriorates the quality of life, or if it is deemed that there is a dangerous risk to the safety of others.

Is this what the lawmakers want to tell us? That this is what they consider the wellbeing of stray dogs? A stray dog is now considered guilty for being a stray. A stray dog has no home. It wanders the streets, looking for life’s essentials for survival-food, shelter and comfort, and without adequate governmental intervention or enough animal shelters equipped to provide the comfort that would ensure its wellbeing, will be quickly ‘taken care of’. The victims, unable to speak up for themselves to demand their rights, to refuse to be victims, are placed at the mercy of humans, the ones responsible for assuring their wellbeing.

The only risk that stray dogs, now facing the possibility of euthanization, pose to us is giving us the chance to once again turn a blind eye to the causes and effects. Do the parliamentarians ask themselves the cause for the vast number of stray dogs roaming the streets in this country? This is a classic example of dealing with the symptoms without addressing the cause. It is often far easier to adopt such proposals, minimizing the human factor of neglect that lies at the cause.

What happens to the owner who decides to give up a dog? Nothing. As these owners, who simultaneously give themselves the liberty to abandon an animal without legal ramifications, would it not make sense for these people to be sanctioned for neglecting the welfare of animals?

We should also not be surprised to hear the opposing argument, that priority should be given to the welfare of human beings over stray dogs. For the logic that reigns with the amendment proposal is that future attacks by strays on people would be curtailed, since there have been a number of incidents of dog attacks in B&H over the past few years, and therefore the safety of the citizens of this country is considered to be at great risk.

However, this is a man-made problem that, and after years of neglect, has unsurprisingly not gone away, and all of a sudden a ‘solution’ has been found to deal with this ‘inconvenience’. Another question that should be raised is where and to whom exactly should we look for an explanation and justification for the adoption of such an amendment? It was the decision makers of this country, people part of state institutions that have repeatedly proved their ineptitude, who proposed this amendment. However, pointing the finger at a group of individuals as the cause can also risk to obscure deeper societal attitudes and conceptions that have opened the possibility for such a decision to be made, as well as accepted by a large portion of the population.

While there have been attacks by stray dogs on people in B&H, the majority of stray dogs in B&H are not aggressive. If a law were to pass, it would continue the idea that stray dogs have an inclination for aggressive behavior and therefore must be swiftly dealt with, focusing only on the persistence of the attitude towards strays while ignoring how stray dogs ended up on the streets of this country’s towns and cities in the first place.

It also means that such a swift proposal that declares that all dogs to euthanized if not adopted within 15 days might give the impression that something is finally being done to substantially reduce the number of strays in B&H.

There are several reasons why this is merely an illusion of solving a problem and might not work. The message conveyed is a strong one. By legalizing the killing of stray dogs, regardless of whether or not they are aggressive, the government is sending a message that it is acceptable to kill dogs and that it is the best and most efficient way to solve the problem. There have already been numerous cases of the brutal mistreatment and killing of stray dogs by citizens, and a law on euthanization runs the risk of legitimizing this behavior indirectly and subtly. Thus, other alternatives, such as sterilization, are not even considered. The plan to euthanize dogs throughout the country might give the impression that something is being done, but it should be noted that it takes a lot of time and effort to catch stray dogs. It is not something that can be done at once, especially in a country where its leaders fail to provide sufficient public services for its citizens. In the meantime, breeding will continue and new strays will appear on the streets of B&H cities and towns.

So, given the questionability of the proposed solution to stray dogs in B&H, it is time to pose valid and direct questions that would reveal the inadequacies of this amendment and the distorted image and illusion of future safety that it creates, which would hopefully create a void, allowing the opportunity to come up with more realistic, humane and feasible solutions, one in which we also recognize our own accountability and responsibility towards living beings.

The proposed amendment refers to the law on the well being of animals, but is one that calls for killing stray dogs, all for some absurd premise that the safety of people would be ensured. It is a shortsighted solution that does not deal with the causes, but the consequences of human neglect.

Perhaps a relevant quote by the socially conscious Mark Twain, which was stated on the petition in B&H against the killing of stray dogs, is succinct enough to raise consciousness in changing human attitudes towards this issue: ‘’If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and man’’.

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