From the editorial of a recent Sofia echo
"FROM THE EDITOR: Stray dogs
17:00 Fri 07 Dec 2007
It has taken a tragic death to return the problem of Bulgaria’s stray dogs to public attention.
Because in the Nedyalsko case the victim was a foreigner, British expatriate Ann Gordon, the problem has got more attention than usual, with coverage outside the borders of this country. Within Bulgaria, few cannot be aware of the maulings in recent years that have left victims young and old severely injured.
Probably more by coincidence than by design, a few days after the Nedyalsko tragedy, Parliament approved new legislation on animal protection that includes measures to impose serious fines on people who abandon or are cruel to their pets.
Abandoning a pet’s young will mean a fine on conviction of up to 3000 leva. If homes cannot be found for an animal’s young, the offspring of the pet should be neutered, the law says. Rather than being abandoned, pets should be formally put up for adoption.
At the same time, Parliament approved clauses providing for fines of up to 1000 leva for cruelty to animals, 1500 leva if the perpetrator is a veterinary surgeon.
On the face of it, there is no serious shortcoming in the new legislation, which in any case Bulgaria had been pressured to approve to come into line with European Union law. However, this is yet another case of new legislation being the sole response to a problem in Bulgaria, and authorities apparently smugly feeling that something has been done. It may well prove that this law, like many others - think of everything from forfeiture of assets acquired through crime, to the mandatory wearing of seatbelts and the ban of using mobile phones while driving - will either hardly be enforced or end up being diluted into meaninglessness.
It is difficult to quantify the problem of stray dogs in Bulgaria, or in any of its cities in particular. Various quarters offer various figures. Nor is there consensus on the way to deal with the problem. Some believe that systematic neutering is sufficient, while others hold that only systematic and widespread euthanasia will work to reduce numbers significantly.
Compounding the problem is that, apart from the work done by a few NGOs, consistent action by municipal authorities has been scant. Dealing with stray dogs is a potentially dangerous, expensive and fairly thankless task. This is the case in major cities, and so much more so in towns and villages with scant resources. The stray dog issue tends to be raised only around the time of municipal elections or after a serious attack.
It is most appropriate that municipal authorities are the ones to be held accountable for stray dog attacks, and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the family of a victim may take court action for compensation. Perhaps having to pay substantial damages could focus the minds of local authorities. At national level, rather than approving legislation which may never be enforced - it is difficult to imagine police and prosecutors following through cases of irresponsible pet owners who allow indiscriminate breeding - it could prove more effective to penalise irresponsible municipalities, which after all are large-scale and static targets. Either way, all of those who travel by motorcade should occasionally glance out of the windows to notice that not all streets are safe for those who do not."