09/09/2013 12:29 BST | Updated 07/11/2013 05:12 GMT

The Plight of Romanian Stray Dogs

Recently, in Bucharest, a four year old boy was killed by dogs after he entered a fenced off private land - a tragic but common event, world-wide. Yet, bolstered by snapshot statistics from animal welfare authorities claiming "1100 people were bitten by stray dogs in the city", the story has become a international news story. Sadly, the government's failure to robustly manage the stray dog population humanely goes unreported.

Romanian President, Traian Basescu, leapt aboard the publicity bandwagon, declaring "dogs should not be put above humans". Riding the tide of publicity generated by the rabid headlines, he demanded emergency legislation condemning all stray dogs to death. Unfortunately, this inhumane [non evidence based] mass cull of vulnerable, helpless dogs raises questions about his decision-making abilities.

Bucharest Council appears to be operating a lip service referendum, asking residents whether stray dogs unadopted after seven days should be killed. Current legislation only allows the killing of sick strays, although, according to animal welfare groups, unofficial culling continues without any effect.

Interestingly, though, culling dogs can be very profitable. The President is therefore asking the tax payer to fund an expensive, non-evidence based, ineffective practice.

Any Dog Rescue states

"Bucharest in the period 2001-2007 has been spent almost 9 million to kill 144,000 dogs (62 euros per head). In Arad in the 2008-2010 period 2,986 dogs were killed for 308,048 euros, or an average of more than 103 euros per animal, in Slatina in the 2008-2010 period 1,111 dogs were killed by spending 205,500 euros, almost 185 euros per dog, in Brasov in the period 2003-2008 were killed 20,000 dogs, to the tune of 1.45 million euros (72 euros per dog), Constanta in 2008-2010 were killed 20,000 euros for the $ 1.5 million (75 euros per dog). The result is that the massacres of stray dogs has increased. Sterilization instead only costs 20-25 euros per dog"

As he must know, the President should be adhering to a number of directives. The Animal Welfare Conference in 2008 reached a number of conclusions relating to management of dogs in Europe.

The World Society For the Protection of Animals [WSPA] recommends humane, effective methods of management.

1. Promoting responsible pet ownership.

2. Legislative measures against cruelty to animals.

3. Identification and registration of dogs.

4. Neutering of stray and owned animals.

5. Vaccination against rabies and other disease.

WSPA says

"Killing street dogs is not effective, because it does not address the root of the problem". Indeed, historically, culling dogs has proven completely ineffective.

Romania's most common cause of death is Coronary Heart Disease with no flashing headlines. Dog bites or dog related illnesses don't feature in the top 50 causes of death. According to the WHO, Romania has one of the highest rates of road traffic deaths in Europe, but the President has not banned every vehicle from the roads.

Clearly, therefore, the President's decision is an illogical, futile attempt to capitalise on the media frenzy demonising stray dogs.

The problem began in the 1980s. Nicolae Ceausescu wanted to industrialise the country, forcing the population to vacate the country-side and move into cities. Vast blocks of apartments were built to accommodate them.

Animals were abandoned due to shortage of space. They reproduced, filling the streets with homeless dogs and puppies. The Capital's mayor declared that the fastest way to dispose of strays was to slaughter them. Other cities followed suit.

For more than 20 years, dogs' lives have been ended in the most painful ways - shot, poisoned, hung, burnt or placed into small kennels to die of thirst and hunger - but the problem of stray dogs remains. By 2008, a new animal protection law stated that no healthy animal should be destroyed, instead supporting neutering and spaying as a means of population control. The result has been countless dogs in pounds, who die of diseases, injuries, starvation and thirst. Unofficially, dogs are still being killed by poisons, disappearing from municipal pounds in their thousands, never to be seen again.

Occupy for Animals says:

"Approximately 5 million puppies are born in Romania in rural areas every year, some of them being killed by their owners and the others being abandoned in the streets and the woods, and as long as the dogs with owners will not be sterilized, through coherent programs, Romania's streets will never be free of dogs."

They report that mass culling of dogs has already begun, with the population believing they have a right to kill the animals by any means possible. No stray dog is apparently being spared.

This inhumane behaviour may have catastrophic consequences. America's FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] has found that cruelty to animals regularly appears in the records of serial rapists and murderers. The standard diagnostic and treatment manual for psychiatric and emotional disorders lists cruelty to animals as a diagnostic criterion for conduct disorders. A survey of psychiatric patients who had repeatedly tortured dogs and cats found all of them had high levels of aggression toward people. In two separate studies cited by the Humane Society of the United States, roughly one-third of families suffering from domestic abuse indicated that at least one child had hurt or killed a pet.

A wise President would tackle the problem of stray dogs humanely. His current, completely ineffective approach may have disastrous psychological consequences for Romania. President Barack Obama once said,

"I think how we treat our animals reflects how we treat each other ... And it's very important that we have a president who is mindful of the cruelty that is perpetrated on animals"

and India's Mohandas Gandhi said,

"The measure of a society can be how well its people treat its animals."

With power comes responsibility, and it is time Romania's President made the right decision for all creatures great or small.

Ways you can help.

1. Sign the petition

2. Adopt or Sponsor a dog