Human vs. Animal Rights: It Is a Dog's Life in Bulgaria

Editorial |Author: Nikola Petrov | January 20, 2011, Thursday // 17:22|  views

An inexplicable act of violence prompted rightful protests in Bulgaria in 2010. An unknown assailant cut off the four legs of a dog in the Bulgarian town of Dryanovo, forcing concerned citizens around the country to rise in mass indignation against its inadequate animal rights legislation. It was publicly demanded that Bulgaria's lawmakers should incriminate torture that causes death or permanent bodily damage of an animal.

However, as this disturbing accident did not remain ignored by the media, a peculiar debate kicked off in the Bulgarian society.

The animal rights cause was ridiculed in most "man-on-the-street" interviews, with the argument that the Bulgarian society and authorities should focus on "more important issues instead."

There is still a widespread notion that improving animal rights is insulting for the average Bulgarian citizen, since humans in this particular country do not possess a great deal of rights as it is.

The public opinion seems inclined towards the thesis that the potential imprisonment of animal abusers would be an outrage, since the Bulgarian judicial system is rarely capable of dealing adequately with cases of manslaughter.

While the latter is unfortunately true, the "human vs. animal rights" debate does not feel right for me. But what has caused this antagonism in the first place?

First of all, I would like to point out that Bulgaria is not an animal-hating nation. The fact that its society does not oppose animal rights infringement too passionately is the deep life frustration the vast majority of its population feels for one reason or another.

"The saddest place in the world, relative to its income per person, is Bulgaria," according to a survey published recently by "The Economist." The notorious Bulgarian pessimism has obviously escalated to a point in which people have taken the "dog life" metaphor too literally.

As a result, the strikingly unhappy society generally refuses to deal with animal rights issues, at least until Bulgaria becomes a "well-off" country.

So, what animal rights problems have been accumulated while the humans have been struggling with their own desperation?

Savage acts against animals like the one described in the beginning of this article are, fortunately, extremely rare. But there is another phenomenon which everybody, who has spent a mere five minutes in Sofia or most other Bulgarian cities, has certainly noticed. It is the vast number of abandoned pets.

The mayor of Sofia, Yordanka Fandakova, has mentioned several times that the problem with the stray dogs population is one of the most difficult she has to face. It has been pretty difficult for some two million Sofia citizens, too.

According to data from the municipal "Ecobalance" company, there are about 10 000 registered stray dogs in Sofia. Some 70 000 dogs have been registered wandering the streets of Bulgaria as a whole. The actual numbers are most certainly much higher.

The street is apparently not the appropriate environment for all these abandoned animals - I will not elaborate on the reasons why. However, there is a particular breed of dog-lovers, who do not see anything wrong with homeless dogs roaming the streets. In fact, they have the habit of throwing them leftovers from their kitchen windows.

This is the same sort of "animal care" which has obviously pushed thousands of Bulgarians towards throwing out their unnecessary pets - the "animals are just fine, as long as one does not need to look after them responsibly on a daily basis" mentality.

I have not forgotten the "human" cause - we do experience some problems too. While packs of stray dogs have rarely killed people, I can hardly think of anyone who has not been at least once attacked or chased by them.

An average of 800-900 cases of tapeworm infection are registered in Bulgaria each year. This number constitutes as much as 54% of the total instances per year in the whole EU.

Needless to say, the stray dogs can not be held responsible for the above mentioned health risks. Their presence on the streets is the result of human neglect in the first place.

It would be fair, however, to mention the recent increase of actual awareness towards the stray dogs issue.

In the beginning of 2011, the Sofia municipality vowed it will continue the program for limiting the stray dogs population. About 14 000 stray dogs have been castrated since the introduction of the program in 2006. Some 1 000 are currently placed in shelters.

This year, a new shelter for 1 000 dogs is planned to open doors in a Sofia district.

People who throw out their dogs or have forgotten to castrate them will now have to pay a fine of BGN 100-250.

More and more Bulgarians and foreigners have started adopting Bulgarian stray dogs - a trend that will hopefully going to receive an even wider popularity in the future. Until then, the castration and providing enough shelters seem to be the most appropriate practical steps towards dealing with the situation - the most important step being, as I see it, an increased level of awareness and responsibility.

I am far from the idea that implementing decent animal rights is more important than establishing normal conditions for humans. Thousands of abandoned Bulgarian kids live in wretched conditions are in desperate need of receiving the love and care they deserve: hardly any normal person would stay indifferent towards that and prefer to go on about the poor puppies instead.

But however obvious it might be that animal rights can overshadow human rights - neither in poverty stricken Bulgaria, nor anywhere else, I do believe that caring just a little bit about other living creatures should not be completely dropped out of the agenda.

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Tags: stray dogs, dogs, animal, human, rights, shelters, castration


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