More and more packs of stray dogs are roaming the streets every year. Neither experts nor institutions know how many of these packs exist or how many citizens have been harmed.  Most agree that the problem has been solved from a legal standpoint.  However, the conditions for the implementation of this law are absent.

Authors: Aner Zuković, Safet Šarić, Adnan Avdagić, Vedran Vojinović, Bojana Marić and Svetlana Krstić

{gallery}newsletters/16/1/1{/gallery}Eleven individuals were bitten by stray dogs in Zenica in January 2010.  In mid-December, a pack of stray dogs attacked a 16 year old boy in Trebinje who managed to escape.  Just ten days ago, in a village near Olovo, a pack of dogs slaughtered four sheep.  News about attacks by stray dogs has become an everyday occurrence in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). Citizens are constantly reminding the authorities of the severity of this issue.  However, many have begun to wonder if an individual will have to die as a result of such an attack before this problem is taken seriously. 

Poor Regulations

Directly following the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement, inhabitants of peripheral settlements surrounding towns throughout the country were coping with the problem of stray dogs. Five or six years later, pounds and services for stray dogs began operating and this problem was largely eliminated through the use of euthanasia.  Stray dogs were rarely seen on the streets. 

However, by passing a law which is a prerequisite for BiH’s EU membership, local legislators worsened the situation.  As is often the case in BiH, this law requires certain activities which can not be implemented in practice.  The Law on the Protection of Animals in BiH was passed by the House of Peoples of the Parliamentary Assembly in February 2009.  One year before, the Assembly of the Republika Srpska (RS) passed the same law at the entity level.  Even in a case such as this, the decentralized BiHpolitical system leads to separate laws for all levels of government.  It is then up to the legally required level – from the state to the municipality – to implement the law.  Essentially, the aforementioned law prescribes the establishment of pounds for stray dogs and forbids putting such dogs to sleep.  The latter stipulation of this law has been respected.  However, most towns in BiH lack pounds.  This problem is particularly acute in the Federation.  The only pound in the Federation is located in Tuzla and run by an NGO called Opstanak.  Conversely, the RS has opened pounds in Banja Luka, Doboj, Bijeljina, Prijedor, Pale, Bratunac, Foča and the Brčko District.  These towns allocate between 20,000 and 50,000 BAM annually from their municipal budgets for the maintenance of pounds.  However, activists for animal protection claim that this amount of money cannot even cover food costs for the dogs.

In BiH’s largest urban area, Sarajevo, not a single pound exists despite the fact that municipal authorities are legally required to establish them.  The Cantonal Communal Company Rad is assisting in the solution of this problem through “humanely removing animals infected with various diseases, stray dogs, carcasses and animal waste.”  A Rad representative emphasized that dogs are only caught and euthanized based on requests filed by the Inspector for Veterinary Services.  These cases only affect infected dogs.  We were given a request which corroborated these claims in which the veterinary inspector states an exact address where a dog with rabies can be located.                  

Velimir Ivanišević, the founder of a citizen’s association advocating the protection of animals and the prevention of cruelty against animals says that “the authorities have let stray dogs amass in order to increase their budgets.” To support his claims, he brought us a document detailing the partitioning of a budget.  This budget shows that the State Service for Stray Dog Control received 800,000 BAM in 2010, while 0 BAM was allocated for establishing a pound. Ivanišević believes that sterilization is a good technique at present.  However, the problem must be solved sustainably through the establishment of pounds which could provide further care for the stray dogs. 

“The Veterinary Faculty was not contacted when this law was in the process of adoption. However, the project was prepared by experts from the Veterinary Office and I believe the law was written professionally. The problem is that it was adopted by one level of government, while it should be implemented at lower levels,” said Dr. Amir Zahirović from the Veterinary Faculty in Sarajevo when recently interviewed on the Federal TV show Sarajevska Hronika.

Civic (Ir)responsibility

/* In the photo: Velimir Ivanišević

{gallery}newsletters/16/1/2{/gallery}Dr. Zahirović was unable to tell Atlantic Initiative how many stray dogs there are in BiH.  No statistics exist concerning how many dogs are infected with rabies, and of these, how many have attacked humans.  Although responsible institutions were also questioned, Atlantic Initiative’s team was told by the Institute for Public Health of the Federation that no such cases exist.  The Institute for the Protection of Health in the RS responded that it “only” has data concerning bites by rabid animals, but not specifically dogs.  

In Zahirović’s interview, a journalist asked how many dogs we can expect in the future if there are currently 200 unsterilized dogs in Sarajevo.  “Female dogs can give birth to between two and twelve puppies, so the numbers multiply quickly,” responded Zahirović.  Since the number of stray dogs can grow so quickly, the current law will not solve the problem.  The number of stray puppies will grow uncontrollably while BiH is left with no effective mechanism for dealing with this issue.  Zahirović also noted that stray animals risk catching infections and contagious diseases which represent a threat to humans.  The greatest obstacle is that of dogs with rabies.  “If a bitten individual seeks medical help within 24 hours of being bitten, prior to the virus spreading throughout the body, serum may be applied.  There is no medicine for rabies,” he added. 

Early in 2010, <> published a story about Professor Nerma Hamidović who was bitten by a stray dog in Tuzla.  She was given an injection in an ambulance (which she had to pay for) but was unable to report the dog.  Hamidović was informed that in order to report the dog, she would have to locate it herself and provide its exact location.  Although Tuzla is the only location in the Federation where a pound exists, Hamidović was nevertheless a victim of attack by a stray dog.  Nevenka Šabić, President of Opstanak, currently runs the Tuzla pound where 50 dogs are housed.  For her work, Šabić received 1000 BAM from the municipality.  Opstanak has been sterilizing dogs delivered to the pound for two years.

“Many people buy excellent purebred dogs and then let them loose when they’ve had enough of them.  Care of these dogs then falls to the municipality.  If these dogs bite someone, who is to pay the fine?,” Šabić wonders.  She claims this is more frequently the case because “people have heard there is a new law in force which will create a registry of dog owners, so they are putting their dogs on the street.”  NOA, an association for the protection of animals in Banja Luka, and ARKA, an analogous association in Brčko claim that irresponsible dog owners are at fault for the unprecedented increase in numbers of stray dogs.       

Municipal Officials Taking Charge

In November 2008, the municipality of Foča dealt with the problem of stray dogs by establishing a pound in Filipovići, a town just outside of Foča. The municipality invested 25,000 BAM in this project. “The dogs are regularly fed three times a day, and vaccinated,” said Zoran Krunić, Head of the Department for Inspection and Communal Police Forces in the Foča Municipality. The department constantly monitors the conditions in which these dogs live.

Following an official bid, this project was allocated to the Veterinary Service in Foča.  The Veterinary Service catches dogs, feeds them, vaccinates them and takes complete responsibility for them. Krunić reported that the Veterinary Service employees catch dogs once a week, and even more frequently if necessary. Euthanasia is only conducted when veterinarians confirm that a dog is sick.

Anđelka Blagojević from Foča said that there aren’t stray dogs on the streets today, but that she can remember how critical the situation was just three years ago.  Foča is the only municipality in the region which has found a permanent solution for the stray dog issue.     Other towns which established pounds simply erected temporary sheds.  “The sustainable solution to the problem of stray dogs is the urgent establishment of many small pounds, or one of high quality, the veterinary inspection of animals in question, the removal of dogs from the streets, and protecting and housing these animals,” concluded Zahirović.  He claimed that Sarajevo could have solved the stray dog problem years ago.  Ivanišević noted that the construction of a pound was planned for the Saraajevo Canton in 2000 and the plan was approved by the Cantonal Assembly.  City authorities have not implemented this plan for “unknown reasons.”  Rad informed Atlantic Initiative that the city of Sarajevo, in cooperation with four other municipalities, as well as the municipality of Ilidža, has started an initiative aimed at the construction of a pound for stray animals.

However, experiences in the RS prove that the mere construction of a pound is not sufficient to solve all the problems associated with stray dogs.  Five-year old Đorđe Petrović was attacked by three dogs at a bus station in Brčko. The boy’s aunt, who was with him at the time, said “Đorđe was playing when three dogs attacked him from the bushes. One bit him. We managed to prevent a greater tragedy by immediately taking him to the hospital.” She added that stray dogs often attack people in Brčko.  Similar problems frequently occur in the city of Bijeljina despite a functioning pound.

Atlantic Initiative concludes that although BiH has succeeded in adopting an important law which is a prerequisite for EU membership, it has concurrently forgotten about its citizens who are subject to daily attacks by stray dogs.  This problem is growing daily and local legislators should act now before a fatal attack occurs.