A Romanian law that calls for the killing of any stray dog captured and unclaimed for more than two weeks has stirred vehement protests throughout Europe and the United States.
Animal rights advocates have denounced the legislation upheld by the Romanian Constitutional Court late last month as "inhumane and ineffective" and unlikely to rid the capital, Bucharest, of its tens of thousands of abandoned and desperate canines.
The political campaign waged by Bucharest city officials to get legal authority to euthanize the strays was spurred by the Sept. 2 mauling death of a 4-year-old boy, Ionut Anghel, who was attacked by wild dogs in a city park while playing with his brother. A Japanese tourist was killed by dogs in 2006, and two years ago a Bucharest woman died after being set on by strays in a hospital courtyard, according to Romanian media archives.
An Associated Press report on the law adopted last month and upheld by Romania's high court on Sept. 25 quoted Bucharest City Hall as estimating the number of stray dogs in the capital at about 64,000. In the first eight months of this year, the report said, nearly 10,000 people had been treated for dog bites.
"The Constitutional Court ruling for dogs to be culled in Romania is both inhumane and ineffective," lamented Beryl Mutonono-Watkiss, campaign director for the World Society for the Protection of Animals, a group dedicated to fighting animal cruelty worldwide. "It is imperative that the government adopts a rational approach to address this problem."
Mutonono-Watkiss said the group's extensive experience in working on sterilization and adoption programs around the world "shows clearly that this legislation is neither practical, humane or effective and will not provide a long-term solution to Romania's long-standing issues with stray dogs."
Bucharest's roving dog packs are a legacy of the communist era, when suburban homes were bulldozed and replaced with huge, prefabricated high-rise apartment buildings. Residents forced to move from cottages with yards to the urban concrete sprawl often abandoned their pets to scavenge for survival.
Previous attempts have been made to reduce the stray dog population through spaying and neutering of those captured, but the programs have been unevenly applied and failed to resolve the problem. Activists with Romania's branch of the Four Paws animal defense group (link in Romanian) forecast similar failure with the new law.
With mass extermination of strays about to begin in the Romanian capital, the New York-based Guardians of Rescue on Tuesday called on animal rights defenders to rally Oct. 25 in front of the Romanian Consulate in New York to protest. A simultaneous demonstration was called for Los Angeles. The group also urged dog-lovers to offer to adopt Romanian strays to prevent their being killed and to raise money to provide longer-term shelter and care.
"Dogs in Romania are being shot, stabbed, hung and skinned with no punishment to the people performing it," said Dori Scofield, vice president of Guardians of Rescue. "They are mass murdering and barbarically killing the dogs legally, and we must take a stand against such atrocities."
Robert Misseri, Guardians of Rescue's president, called it "a tragedy that these faultless animals, whose only crime is being alive, must suffer the consequences of inadequate policies and indifferent and careless humans."
If Bucharest had proper reproductive controls and an adoption program in place, Misseri said, "this situation would not be as dire as it has become."