Photo Credit : Maria Slough, mariasloughphotography.com
At the Brussels premiere of ‘A Dog’s Life’ in the European Parliament, viewers were exposed to the inhumane conditions that hundreds of dogs have to endure behind the closed door of shelters in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Taking to the streets with Bosnian-born Milena Malesevic, who has rescued since 2006 more than 1,000 dogs, ‘A Dog’s Life’ followed her work. This is the first in a series of documentaries focusing on this issue.
European Parliamentarians in attendance were reminded of the harsh reality facing stray dog populations across Europe. With this in mind, this premiere was an opportunity to call on MEPs to sign a pledge on the humane management of stray animals. Dogs and cats on the continent (including EU countries), continue to be subject to cruel treatment. It is an issue that Eurogroup for Animals has been raising for many years, including, most recently, at a conference organised under the Maltese Presidency (April 2017).
In making this film, British celebrity and animal activist Peter Egan has expressed his grief. “To witness innocent dogs subjected to such indifferent cruelty and a total lack of kindness was horrifying. To see a species, which has helped mankind evolve over thousands of years, treated in such an inhumane and careless way left me feeling sad and bewildered. ”
Stray animal populations raise public health and safety concerns primarily due to the risk of transmission of diseases to humans (e.g rabies) and injury caused by the animals’ potentially aggressive behaviour. Stray dogs and feral cats also face serious animal welfare issues, lacking basic veterinary care, food and protection. The situation is worsened by low levels of social empathy and public awareness about this issue. The film allows viewers to reflect on the need to involve communities and local stakeholders to work towards the humane treatment of stray animals.
“Promoting the development of guidelines on humane management of stray animal populations and advocating for their application in the EU and beyond should be a priority for the European Parliament”, said MEP Davor Skrlec, co-organiser of the film screening. Reineke Hameleers, Director of Eurogroup for Animals added, “Promoting responsible dog ownership is key to significantly reduce the numbers of stray dogs and the incidence of diseases transmitted from animals to humans.”
British MEP and the Green Party of England and Wales’ Animals Spokesperson, Keith Taylor, said: ‘‘The plight of stray animals across Europe is one that rightly evokes strong emotions. We need pan-European progress on this issue and a standard approach that respects not just public health, but the health and well-being of the all too often forgotten animals condemned to a life of misery on European streets.’’
The panelists agreed that several factors influence the size of stray animal populations. Prior identification of the root causes of stray overpopulation is key when implementing sustainable long-term solutions. While the streamlining of neutering and vaccination plays an important role in tackling the issue across the EU, a focus on human behavioral change is essential. Breeders, sellers and buyers have to be aware of their responsibilities though target campaigns. Mandatory identification and registration at the EU level are necessary to ensure proper legislative enforcement and to allow the tracking on the number of the stray dog populations.
During the discussion after the film screening, panelists looked at the ways forward – they heard from local caretakers about the most effective stray population management strategies and why the EU should show leadership in streamlining results through Europe-wide guidelines . Although more work needs to be done, things are moving in the right direction. For example, recently Bosnia and Herzegovina together with other Balkan countries have started cooperating with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). The aim is to develop national roadmaps, monitor their situation on a regular basis, and reduce the stray dog population with humane methods by 2025 .
Lucy Mathieson, Communications Officer, Eurogroup for Animals, Email: email@example.com
Giulia Tarsitano, Programme Officer Companion Animals, Eurogroup for Animals, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
 The European Parliament adopted on 13 October 2011 a declaration on dog population management in the European Union calling on Member States to adopt comprehensive dog population management strategies.
 The World Organisation for Animal Health – OIE guidelines on stray dog population control highlight the human health, animal health and welfare problems posed by stray dog populations in many countries across the world. The OIE recommends control measures which do not cause unnecessary or avoidable animal suffering.