Botosani Brutality

15/10/2013 13:04 BST | Updated 23/01/2014 23:58 GMT

Botosani is the captial city of Botosani County, in northern Moldavia, Romania. It is largely famed - insofar as it is famed at all - for its rich cultural life, including the Botosani National Philharmonica and the "Vasilache" Puppet Theatre.

However, lurking in the shadow of these cultural giants lies a dark, shameful secret. For here, alongside the artists, musicians and puppeteers who make up the very essence of civilised society, acts of vicious cruelty and merciless slaughter against our fellow creatures are commonplace, and have been for some time.

As many readers will know, a recent change in Romanian law means that stray dogs are to be captured and taken to publicly funded shelters, where they are to be exterminated if they have not been found a home within 14 days. The Romanian government remains committed to the move, despite national and international condemnation, and their enthusiasm is apparently shared by the Mayor of Botosani, Ovidiu Portariuc.

In a recent interview, translated into English here, he is reported to have said that his regime had been waiting for legislation of this kind for a long time, and that, now it was available, he would be making use of it.

He also appeared to confirm that his Botosani County government had acted in this way before, some time prior to the new law coming into effect. Since it was illegal to kill a healthy stray until the new law was passed, the Mayor seems to have admitted to breaking the law as it stood until then. No doubt, as a professional politician, he will find a way to talk himself out of his apparently ill-advised comments, but the general gist - that the Botosani County government approves of killing stray dogs, legally or otherwise - is now common knowledge, thanks to the Mayor's own words.

Sadly, the Mayor's position is far from unique. Botosani has long had an evil reputation for the abuse and destruction of stray dogs, often in the most inhumane ways imaginable.

In May 2011, news began to emerge of a horrendous massacre at a public shelter for stray dogs in Botosani. Over 200 dogs were allegedly hacked to death in under two hours, leaving staff to hastily - and incompletely - hose down the shelter's bloodied walls while representatives of animal protection Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) looked on in horror, according to reported that the remains of the unfortunate animals were wrapped in plastic bags when the press arrived. Shelter staff were reportedly aggressive towards representatives of the media, hurling bricks and turning hoses on them, before barricading themselves inside the building.

The official explanation for the bloodbath was that some of the animals had contracted a contagious disease, necessitating the instant destruction of all the shelter's strays to prevent a possible epidemic. Veterinarian, Christian Peter Pancu said that he personally euthanised all the dogs by lethal injection, and that their deaths were quick and painless.

Needless to say, doubts remained in the minds of NGO representatives - why were the walls of the shelter splattered with blood? And how could one man personally, humanely euthanise more than 200 dogs in so short a time?

Unfortunately, even this orgy of destruction doesn't seem to be unique, or even uncommon. Workers at the local landfill were not surprised by the massacre, telling, "Last year bodies of many animals were in the trash where they were burned. When you do not want to kill them with their hands, do not give them food and dogs eat each other."

The adverse publicity attracted by such killing sprees, while hardly international front page news, is clearly not in keeping with the oily, Mr Niceguy facade routinely adopted by politicians at all levels, from the presidents of Superpowers to the mayors of obscure counties. This may explain why, in late 2012, long before the new dog-killing law was conceived, Mayor Portariuc seems to have hatched a devious scheme to transport stray dogs far away from his territory, into the county of Constanta.

According to Occupy For Animals, the so-called "pilot project" was to employ a company from Constanta called SC Puppy Vet SRL to capture stray dogs in Botosani and take them to the public dog pound in Constanta, more than 500km away.

While passing problems - stray dogs, in this case - on to someone else is standard procedure for most politicians, this may be a little more sinister than it first appears. For one thing, the pound in Constanta has an even worse reputation than its counterpart in Botosani. Occupy For Animals alleges that the pound, formerly operated by a company called Alfmob SRL, is nothing more than a facility for killing stray dogs, and that, in 2010, Save the Dogs obtained evidence to this effect.

For another, also according to Occupy For Animals, SC Puppy Vet SRL is non other than Alfmob SRL, operating under a new name. Alfmob SRL is claimed to have captured and killed huge numbers of stray dogs in Constanta, yet the Mayor of Botosani apparently signed a contract with them (in their new guise as SC Puppy Vet SRL) to capture strays and take them to Constanta, "to be adopted". Could this be what Mayor Portariuc meant when he claimed to have "acted before"?

Whatever the truth of the matter, it is clear that Botosani is not a safe place for stray dogs to be. The local government has welcomed new legislation that allows unadopted strays to be killed after 14 days, and purports to have already - and illegally - acted in this way before. It has also contracted with a company to capture and remove strays to a facility in Constanta that is reputed to kill strays with impunity, and Botosani's own shelter has previously been the scene of a horrifying stray dog massacre. Not, perhaps, a city that any dog lover would want to visit, cultural centre or not.