The following is a translation of an interview with Snezana Vidovic, President of the association animal rescue and protection, Sapa Zenica. The interview was published on Taco.net on 4.10.2014, and the interviewer was Jelena Paunovic from Journalists For Animals.
Snezana Vidovic: Let’s respect animals and their right to life
The entire world marks April 4th as the World Stray Animals Day. Five years after the Animal Protection and Welfare law came into effect, the situation for stray and uncared for animals on the streets of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) remains difficult. We spoke to Snezana Vidovic, President of the association for protection and animal rescue “SAPA Zenica” from Zenica, regarding the law, solutions to this problem, and the role of organizations in protecting animals.
Interview by: Jelena Paunovic
Today is October 4th, the World Animal Day. How do you view this date?
In celebration of the World Animal Day, the Association SAPA Zenica has for many years organized events, information stands, educational materials, sterilization weekends, film projections, workshops for children with an aim to help the general public, our fellow citizens to understand animal protection, to help them think about our relationships with animals and the need to respect and protect them, and to underline the idea that animal protection is an important social question. During these days we are reminding the public of the role of animals in our society, the way they are enriching and improving our lives, and how to treat them and to become a responsible society.
More than ever, it is important for us to be loud, united, and visible in the battle for those for whom we are the only voice.
October 4th is not a day of celebration, but for fighting and sending a clear message to a society that is tolerant of animal violence, abandonment, abuse, breaking laws, mistreatment of animals for various purposes as well as their slaughter; this is our daily reality for which we must be held responsible.
Every day we hear about how the Animal Protection and Welfare Law of BiH is not good and that it must be changed. Is that true? Would changes to the law lead to solutions?
Unfortunately, we are witnesses to the conversations about the Law for five years, and those in power are either not implementing it or partially implementing it. For five years the attempt to adopt sub-regulations regarding identification of pets has been obstructed; for five years no one has been fined for abandoning their pets (we have the highest rate of pet abandonment in Europe), for five years no one has been fined for animal abuse; for five years there has not been a systematic approach to sterilization across BiH, for five years the inspection authorities across BiH have failed to conduct inspections and oversight of shelters, which are in fact torture camps for animals that exist under dubious and even criminal conditions and hygienic services operating outside of the law and subordinate regulations; for five years BiH has lacked a central registry of pet that will lead to EU sanctions; for five years BiH has lacked an Ethic Committee and Advisory Council; for five years the majority of counties in the country have not implemented sterilization programs, built shelters, or establishing hygienic services; for five years no one was sanctioned for obstructing the implementation of the law; and for five years the authorities have been telling us that they cannot implement the law without offering a single reasonable explanation, but we conclude that these reasons are incompetence, inaction, ignorance, and unwillingness to eliminate practices that have failed for decades. Responsible societies do not debate whether or not to implement the law; responsible societies execute adopted regulations and seek solutions for problems which they created.
Here, the authorities allow problems to escalate; they contribute to public polarization and instigate the media propaganda machine to support an ad hoc method of slaughter, elimination, and removal of animals five years after failing to implement the law because now they see this as preventative measure under the guise of public security. There is not a word about causes, not a word about why the law was not implemented for five years, and not a word about their accountability. In the election period, the multiyear inactivity and incompetence is now being packaged as simulated action in response to the growing public pressure.
The campaign against the law demonstrates the immaturity of BiH society and the unwillingness of the authorities and the relevant profession to accept responsibility for resolving the problem that was created by our own society. This law doesn’t only address the dogs on the streets, but many other segments that need to be addressed and are being ignored such as transport, farming conditions, welfare, cultivation, protection of wildlife, laboratory animals, establishment of an Ethic Committee and other similar matters.
This law has demonstrated to us the pitiful state of the veterinary field and just the number of veterinarians and veterinary inspectors who are unable to understand their role in implementing the law or understanding the trends in the areas of animal protection and welfare. We still have veterinarians who are advising pet owners against sterilization, inspectors who do not understand the processes of animal registry or the use of microchipping, or who has oversight over certain parts of the law and relevant regulations. The state of the veterinary profession across BiH and its continuing murder of street dogs is as if they have never heard of the law or their oversight responsibilities, and places it in the light as simply the agent of politically-motivated and illegal decisions, or in a role of a silent observer.
Every law can be changed, however we will never resolve the problem if we seek to change it in the way that it only represents the view of one political party, in a selective way that does not contribute to the solution, only creating further confusion and raising legal insecurity, and completely absolving the years-long inactivity of those responsible; keeping parts of the law considered to be unenforceable and adding responsibilities that are not preventative in nature, obstructing adoption of animals, not highlighting preventative measures and resolving the causes of the problem, hiding behind unenforceable and expensive laws and forgetting to explain to the electorate that the problem will not be resolved and it will be the same as before 2009, year after year just adding more resources for the purposes of killing. Here we are talking about the difference between the implementation of preventative measures in their entirety, which would bring about the solution in half the time that it would take to continue to consistently give resources for killing. This means that preventative measures could not be undertaken because of the cost, but funds for killing will be available year after year because no one has informed the public that there will be dogs on the streets for as long as there are bad owners, illegal breeders, incompetent inspectors, veterinarians, authorities; but that is not important, it is easier to kill than to truly address the root cause of the problem, it is easier to kill than to build a system and establish a foundation for implementing a punishment system which would help sustain the state budget.
Those who have for five years been startled by the law and who for five years have been talking about how the pre-conditions have not been met, so they continued to NOT meet those conditions for the next five years. Those who for five years have not moved their finger to institute a registry, punish and discourage animal abandonment; those who did not implement sterilization, those whose contributions have escalated the problem, and who are now trying to flip the script and shift the focus away from their inactivity and irresponsibility to the dogs on the streets. Solving the problem does not mean removing, eliminating, and killing dogs. But this is not in accordance with the populist rhetoric which we are exposed to every day from other residents and dogs will remain on the streets for as long as the systematic solution does not entail a consolidated approach to registration, punishment, sterilization of pets and abandoned animals, establishment of shelters, as well as creating conditions to enable a functioning system.
Encouraging ad hoc illegal solutions, or changes to the law similar to those from last year do not contribute to building of a system of good practices, eliminating the problem, and improving the standard of the veterinary profession, but it misleads all of those interested. Only through the full implementation of the existing law and with focus on preventative measures can we solve this problem.
Seven years of continual killing has barely reduced the number of street dogs by 32.5 percent, while five years of implementing preventative measures of sterilization and preventing new generations of abandoned animals would lead to a 95 percent reduction in the abandoned animal population.
But here no one is conducting an analysis of the absorption capacity of one region, or an analysis of the structure of street dogs and all contributing factors to the population growth, including the mentality, behavior of pet ownership and similar things. It is critical to consider this problem from the sociological and phenomenological points of view.
What are your views on the situation in Sarajevo?
What we are witnessing in Sarajevo is that the beginning of the political campaign has opened a hunting season on the dogs, a typical witch hunt, anarchy, fragmentation, and the most blatant breaking of the law thus far, for which we hope those responsible will be held responsible on all level of the state judiciary.
“Either a legal state or a Sarajevo without dogs” is the most shameful political trick and pre-election promise which has provided the hygienic services permission to indiscriminately catch dogs, take them to an unknown location or obscure locations in the vicinity of Sarajevo like concentration camps to which the dogs may or may not be brought to. Inspectors are silent and watching, criminal charges are mounting and will be processed sooner or later, and Sarajevo is filling newspaper articles about how it has become the city in which animals are being slaughtered.
Everything that we are seeing as part of the pre-election campaign will have repercussions in the field and will destroy the small chance we have to bring back trust in the system and the profession, while it will not lead to the solution of the problem.
Someone will have to provide answers to the questions regarding the dogs, such as from which locations they were taken, who ordered it, were they sterilized or not, where are female dogs with puppies disappearing to, what is the number of euthanized dogs and where are their bodies located? Very soon someone will have to answer for these actions and provide answers to these questions.
It is critical to establish a system and a centralized method to humanely control the population of stray dogs in Canton Sarajevo, but these actions are not building a system or creating trust in it. This is not the way to implement the law, especially Article 14 of the law which is being misused. The law must be implemented in its entirety and with the intent to prevent the cause of the problem through oversight and monetary fines.
Instead of building a system and a tolerant society, the agitators are calling for the spread of fear and hatred, misunderstanding, and are joined by educators who are purposely supported by the teacher’s union. Dogs are always present, visible, an easy target to take away the focus off of other burning election and nonelection related topics. The question is for how long the electorate will be vulnerable to the same trickery. At the same time I am not denying that the problem exists, but I am pointing out that this is not the way to solve the problem. This is not a question of love, but the question of choice between good and bad practice with the full understanding that residents expect a magical solution to a city without dogs; this problem cannot be solved overnight but gradually, especially because some residents are contributing to the problem. All of the other promises are insincere and are just another lie fed to the public. The easier way is not the right way. Everything that is occurring in Sarajevo today and across other cities in BiH is at the cost of animal lives while the authorities remain silent, which makes it a criminal activity.
Studies across the world have shown that the catch-sterilize-release method is the most efficient in terms of animal population control. Why has that method failed to produce results in BiH?
Catch-sterilize-release method is the most effective way of controlling population in mid and long term. But, like any other method, it cannot bring about a solution if it’s conducted in isolation; it must work hand in hand with registration of all pets, fines for abandonment of pets, education in terms of responsible pet ownership, sterilization of pet and promotion of pet adoption. In a situation where you are conducting sterilization of the current generation of abandoned animals while you are receiving new generations of abandoned pets or stray dogs, or those that are migrating from other regions, you will not see a positive drop in the population; in this case, the best case scenario would be population stagnation. You cannot expect to conduct sterilization in just a few cities across BiH and achieve success. It is critical to have a systematic and continuous approach, and for years we have been fighting for a country-level strategy for implementation of catch-sterilize-release program. I am sure that a program like this would offer BiH support from big international organizations, even resources from IPA funds because a project like this would also mandate rabies vaccinations for all dogs. Moreover, continuity is critical for sterilization efforts to be effective; recommendations from all global authorities on the matter state that sterilization must be conducted in a way that would encompass as large of a population in the shortest time possible in order to ensure that while you are working on one generation, you are not absorbing a new generation due to the prolonged duration of the project. So, continuity, a comprehensive approach, and focus are needed.
One dog removed from the street is replaced by another one; that has been empirically and scientifically proven.
After seven years of continuous killings, the dog population on the streets has been reduced by nearly 32.5 percent. While after 5 years of implementing preventative measure such as sterilization to impede new generations reduced the number of abandoned animals by 95 percent. The calculation is clear, exact, and unequivocal.
The media has reported that a shelter for abandoned animals is under construction. The cost of the project is 250,000 KM, while the capacity of the shelter will be 60 dogs. Do you think it is critical to invest that amount of funds? And, do you think that the shelter will resolve the problem?
There is a general misunderstanding of the purpose and function of animal shelters. Shelters are not the only measure for resolving the problem of stray dogs, but they are needed as one of the critical pieces in controlling the population of abandoned animals; besides, opening shelters is mandated by law. Good shelters are built in accordance with professional standards and conditions directed by law and relevant acts. What’s more important is that the shelter is managed properly and in accordance with standard operating procedures and practices. The better the shelter and the management are, the better is the security of the animals, their health (less risk of diseases spreading), and less cost for veterinary costs. A shelter in which animals are taken care of and have regular veterinary care and food, and where the hygiene standard is maintained, have a much greater chances for taking steps to being adopted or something similar. You must invest money is certain projects in order to receive a return on investment. I cannot state an opinion at this moment as we are talking about an incomplete project in Zenica, but we are as always available to help with education, implementing good practices, and developing guides, instructions, and similar.
Shelters are necessary in order to remove certain animals from the street, such as those that may have behavioral issues and require monitoring and socialization, or those in need of veterinary care, or those that are candidates for adoption, including puppies or small dogs that have difficulties surviving on the streets. Function of shelters and their purpose is not to accumulate large numbers of animals in one place while the cost grows. We will never be able to remove all dogs from the streets and that is not even the purpose of shelters. Their function is to help us remove those that can no longer survive on the streets and for the purposes of adopting them. Shelters are not waiting rooms for death or a gathering places for animals waiting in line to be euthanized. Shelters should not be like the modern Alcatraz, but should be places that have an open door policy, transparency, are responsible and have a work ethic, and are places that you want to visit to adopt a dog. In the meantime, catch-sterilize-release projects as well as registration of pet owners and breeders must take place precisely because they are financially sustainable and will deter animal abandonment. This is the only way forward in addition to education, changing minds and bad habits of animal ownership, elevating standards of the veterinary profession and education of veterinarians, controlling waste and the environment in order to produce mid-term results; therefore, consolidate all known preventative measures.
The problem of abandoned dogs must be analyzed through phenomenological sociology, and provide an overview of all causes, including people’s habits, structure of animal owners, structure of animal owners by gender, age, sterilization, the method of homing dogs (house or on the chain), motives behind having pets, etc. For example, an analysis of 100 abandoned dogs demonstrated that 80 percent of full bred and mixed dogs had familiar owners and are dogs that are young or old sick dogs. We must educate pet owners, change culture of pet ownerships, and our relationships with animals. That is a process and all citizens must participate, including pet owners, nongovernmental organizations, and veterinarians. Unfortunately, the veterinary profession has not responded to this problem in a responsible and ethical way.
In your opinion, are we being manipulated by information on dog biting?
Information on dog biting is definitely being manipulated both from the statistical and political point of view for purposes of scaring the public, hiding the authorities’ incompetence to solve the problem, and demonstrating that the problem is unsolvable and using this to take attention away from other problems or causes of this problem.
It’s almost as if a part of the public and the political elite actually likes it when a dog bites a person because they can use that to justify a witch hunt against dogs, which crosses into the domain of psychopathology. We see this daily and it constantly forces us to deal with the consequences and not the cause for having so many dogs on the streets.
Statistics regarding dog bites and attacks are often used to justify public fears and an unjustified hysteria that has been coming and going for years now. These fears are allowed to escalate and when that happens all reasonable solutions appears impossible, which the acclaimed journalist, Ozren Kebo, best described in a recent article for Gracija, and then everyone skillfully hides behind that “impossibility” to solve the problem and instead calls for ad hoc “solutions” known as mass slaughter. At the same time no one is held accountable for the fact that the law has not been implemented for 5 years and that the problem escalated, but who is allowing it to escalate and who is preventing the implementation of prevention measures mandated by law is unclear and questionless. No, because it is easier to kill under the guise of public safety than to implement the law and preventative measures, develop a system, regain trust in the system and the profession, register pets, and punish irresponsible pet owners which also generate state funds. But that would require for someone to do their job, but that is obviously impossible or difficult because to start someone would need to tell our citizens the truth that there will always be stray dogs as long as there are irresponsible owners, illegal breeders, incompetent veterinarians, inspectors who ignore their work, and that the problem which has been created over decades in best case scenario can be resolved in a few years, and not just during the month of election campaigning.
A good number of dog bites can be attributed to owned dogs, and we are hardly ever provided an analysis of the situation that led to the dog attack or if a certain number of attacks is initiated by the same group of dogs. That type of analysis is critical to resolving the problem responsibly and to exclusively removing dogs that are shown to have unstable behavior.
You are the leader of Association “SAPA Zencia.” Since 2009, you have conducted 23,000 interventions in the field, you have adopted 700 dogs, you lead education campaigns, serve as an informal information center, and you have conducted 2000 cases of catch-sterilize-release. Who did you manage to accomplish all of that? Does the Zenica County provide financial support for that work?
Association SAPA Zenica is a small team of hardworking, loyal, dedicated and motivated volunteers, which since 2009 have unselfishly fought by giving our time, love, money, and working in very hostile environments and being exposed to attacks, insults, and threats as well as being vilified. Surviving in that environment and preserving our Association as a public service in the framework of animal rights and a partner to other stakeholders is absolutely an achievement. To resist all attacks, challenges, attempts to divide us, and to preserve a unified front in Zenica, a city that may have the highest number of stray dogs within its and surrounding counties, is something that we are very proud of. SAPA is characterized by big internal strength and unity, its ability to see the big picture, and a sense of responsibility that we have accepted as a group of volunteers; it’s our wish to survive and contribute to the society in terms of resolving the problem connected to animals and to change consciousness and to show that we can and we should be recognized by the authorities as a strong partner working from the place of understanding, knowledge, and experience. It is hard to survive because there are many challenges and the public refuses to understand the causes of the problem and look at the big picture; instead they view the problem selectively, call for ad hoc solutions and it is very difficult to convince the public that we cannot resolve this problem overnight especially if we are not doing any prevention and dealing with the causes of that problem. It’s hard because the moment when you choose to be a volunteer in our society, there is an effort to destroy you instead of supporting you, and you are vilified and accused of being the reason for the existence of stray dogs because if you were not there, the dogs would be cold-bloodedly killed; and we just keep going in circles without holding accountable those who are truly responsible and going forth bravely by admitting that the only solution is to have prevention and implement consolidated measures. The majority of people hate you, accuse you but also have demands because they are confusing oversight and responsibility and not understanding that you as a volunteer wish to be there even if there are limits to the possibilities. Association Sapa Zenica has always known what it wants, we have a vision and a wish to do this volunteer work for the rest of our lives because animal protection is not a hobby to fill free time when you have nothing better to do, as some see it, but it is a way of life.
To answer your other question, Zenica County does not finance the work of the Association Sapa Zenica. Our work and activities are financed by our members and sympathizers, and it includes the cost of animal health, number of procedures, shelter fees, food, medicine, sterilization projects and other logistical costs, education materials and similar things. Some of our sterilization projects have been financed by international organizations which covered the cost of some logistics and veterinarian fees. Zenica County does provide partial financial resources for sterilization project up until 2013, which fulfilled some of its law mandated responsibilities in implementing Article 43 of the Animal Protection and welfare Law to provide medicine and materials for conducting sterilization and providing vaccinations. The Zenica County provided financial resources in 2010 and 2012 to a veterinary facility to promote animal health, for which we are grateful, and it covered 20 percent of the needs and costs just in Zenica; this didn’t include the cost associated with transporting animals from Zenica to Sarajevo for operations and diagnostic procedures.
Without outside help, Association SAPA has financed all of its logistics since 2009 with the help of its members. These project-related costs include transportation for catching and returning animals, food, hygienic equipment, some medicine, diapers and similar things. For years we have covered our own costs of rescuing in Zenica, and a number of other operational costs. We have a growing number of wounded and sick animals, growing needs and we need help. [To help SAPA Zenica, please see the end of the article]
Do you collaborate with international organizations for protection and welfare of dogs?
Association SAPA Zenica works with a number of organizations in BiH and outside of the country on education, pet adoption, sterilization projects, exchange of knowledge and experiences. Every day we are learning.
Ms. Vidovic, do you have a pet?
I have two girl dogs, Tyru and Suska. Both were adopted from the streets and that happened during my son’s first year. Tyra is with us since 2010 and she was saved as a baby with a difficult injury to her hip and legs. Suska was adopted from the street as a puppy as well in 2011 when she was about three months old; we found her in a state of hunger and with a difficult skin condition which was successfully treated. They are truly members of our family and are daily enriching our lives; they remind us that animals are a blessing. We are surrounded by prejudice, and with a lack of knowledge people sink into delusion; they think that if you have a child, you cannot have a dog, or two dogs. Everything can be done without problems and stress, it just requires a little good will and open hearts and mind, and children who grow up with animals are shown to be better, more empathetic and responsible people. We have indescribable luck to have Tyra and Suska in our lives. To all people thinking about getting a pet, I recommend that you adopt an abandoned animal and not to buy animals, but to open their doors to street dogs and cat, and they just might be waiting for you. Their affection and love are our biggest gift.
Message for the end
Let’s respect animals and their right to life. Let’s not allow to have other create fears and hatred in us. Let’s not sink into delusion and allow others to manipulate us. Let’s open our hearts and mind for others and those different than us and understand that we are not the only ones on the planet, ruling over life and death.
Many of the photographs in this blog were taken during a recent visit to meet the volunteers of SAPA Zenica and the dogs they help. If you wish to support SAPA Zenica in their work in Bosnia Herzegovina, donations can be made via bank transfer to:
UniCredit Bank d.d.
Address of the bank: Kardinala Stepinca b.b. Mostar
Details of beneficiary:
IBAN CODE: BA393385804819527135
Full beneficiary’s name: Udruzenje za spasavanje i zastitu zovotinja SAPA Zenica
Full beneficiaries address: Fra Grge Martica 15
Or you can make a donation via Paypal to AWABosnia (details below), but please be sure to mark your donation for ‘SAPA Zenica’.
For more information about SAPA Zenica, please email: email@example.com
BOSNIA! IMPLEMENT HUMANE STRAY-DOG AND CAT POPULATION CONTROL AND TREATMENT
Stop massive killing of dogs in Sarajevo
Petition to save Bosnia’s stray dogs! Please sign!
Also see the petitions on the Petitions page.
Related articles in this blog:
Veterinary Office of Bosnia: is it possible to solve the problem of stray dog?
The “Aggressive” Dogs of Sarajevo
The Campaign Begins With a Slaughter: You will kill the dogs, but what will you do with the beasts?
Stray Dogs of Sarajevo to be Killed in Election Ploy
Stop the Killing of Strays in Sarajevo
Bosnia: Sarajevo set to become the next Bucharest
BOSNIA: kill and slaughter until the dog is no more…
Bosnia Killing Dogs – No Different to Romania!
Ambassador’s Notes: Embassy Sarajevo Views from U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina
Jelena Paunović: I got bi’en by a dog in the election campaign / Jelena Paunović: Uj’o me cuko u predizbornoj kampanji
Masovni pokolj pasa u KS košta 680.000 KM / Massive dog slaughter in Canton Sarajevo will cost 340 000 EUR
AlJazeera: Kontekst: Problem zbrinjavanja pasa u Sarajevu (Context: The problem of disposal of dogs in Sarajevo)
Emergency phone numbers available for Canton Sarajevo residents to report dog attacks / Hitni telefoni za prijavu napada pasa dostupni građanima KS
Criminal Charges Pressed Against Acting Prime Minister in The Government of Sarajevo Due to Forming Illegal Dog Catching Service
Bosnia: Sarajevo creates unit ‘to catch stray dogs’
U državama u kojima ne vlada zakon prava, vlada zakon linča
Stranka za BiH: Odluka Vlade KS o uklanjanju napuštenih pasa je neustavna i nezakonita
Sarajevo: Podnesena kaznena prijava zbog formiranja ilegalnog šintorskog servisa
Funds are needed to help individual rescues, for spay-neuter projects, for education also to continue advocacy work in Bosnia, uncovering the truth about what is happening there.
Donations are managed by AWABosnia, an independent group of animal advocates. On their website, Animal Welfare Advocates for Bosnia, you can set up a monthly donation via PayPal, or if you want to make a one-off donation, please go to your PayPal account (or set one up, it’s very easy) and send the money to: firstname.lastname@example.org as a ‘gift’. Click on the image below to be taken to PayPal’s home page.
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This site is dedicated to Vučko. Read his story and don’t let him have suffered and died in vain. Please help the stray dogs and cats in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The situation there is utterly dire, Vučko is but one amongst many horrifically abused animals. Even just one dollar or one euro will help make a difference.