By Tornike Kakalashvili
In Georgia like many other post-Soviet countries, there is a strikingly large number of free-ranging urban dogs that have already become an integral part of day-to-day reality. This issue especially is a grave concern for those people, who experience fear of dogs facing discomfort and anxiety all the time while walking in the streets.
-I feel unsafe to walk in the streets due to numerous stray animals around me. I remember I was bitten by a street dog as a teenager and since then I am afraid of them. I always carry an ultrasonic dog deterrent with me as a sort of weapon of self-defense, says Anna Maisuradze, a 26-year-old young professional from the capital city of Tbilisi.
I’ve reached the Animals Monitoring Agency, AMA, of the Tbilisi City Hall to find out what they are doing to tackle the problem. Nikoloz Kobuladze, acting director of the agency, says that a key and priority method to manage animal populations is to ensure a reduction in the birth rate of them, by sterilization or castration procedures and other internationally recognized humane methods. -Catching of animals is allowed only by humane methods to avoid threats to human beings and to control their populations. The authorized body shall catch, isolate and exercise veterinary supervision over them to ensure further procedures, reckons Kobuladze.
In 2019, the AMA has increased the number of sterilization and castration surgery by 30% compared to previous years and reached a record high number of 5600 vowing to continue this tendency. According to Kobuladze, from July to November 2015, the stray animals were counted, for the first time in history of the capital city – the official number of animals living in urban areas exceeded 43 000.
Mariam Shekiladze, spokesperson of the Georgian Society for the Protection and Safety of Animals ,GSPSA, the leading NGO of the country in this field, questions the accuracy of the monitoring, which was carried out throughout Tbilisi back in 2015. GSPSA believes that the actual numbers of stray animals just in the capital city are 70-80 000, while there are no less than 500,000 stray animals in the country, if not more. The GSPSA believes that the problem of stray animals is quite a complex one and requires a lot of effort to be solved pointing out that the interest of the state in dealing with an issue is almost zero at this stage. -There are two main reasons for having so many homeless animals in the country: the lack of legislation and the low level of public awareness in the country, supposes Shekiladze.
According to this animal rights advocacy, there is no enforced integrated law in Georgia that would regulate pet-care conditions and bear the responsibility for the pet owners. The situation in the Georgian regions is also complicated as an animal is often equated with the thing that is thrown into the street after no longer being a puppy or kitten. The situation in the regions is tough since, in addition to low levels of awareness, veterinary services are difficult to access. Free sterilization-castration programs in Tbilisi have been active in recent years, but that does not change the overall picture of the country.-This is in a country where about 3.5 million people live and only a maximum of 1% of the population helps homeless animals. Unfortunately, there are only a few shelters in Georgia, which are practically meager for this number of animals- Shekiladze considers.
The lack of educational programs also indicates the low interest of the state in finding the solution to the issue. The animal rights advocate thinks that there are no programs that will be aimed at raising awareness among the younger generation, and would help change the deplorable things that are happening on the streets of Georgia today.
Regarding the question of how the people can feel secure in the wake of an abundance of stray dogs, Mariam Shekiladze refers to that statistically the streets of Georgia are full of mostly meek homeless animals. She supposes that the provocateur of the animal’s aggressive behaviors is mostly still human beings. -Living on the streets is not easy, especially in a country where the rate of cruelty towards animals is quite high. The animal develops a feeling of distrust and fear of humans, and aggression is a feedback loop in which they try to protect themselves- Shekiladze reckons.
At the GSPSA we were told that the focus is mainly on dogs because they are more visible to the naked eye than cats. Populations of stray cats are actually much larger than those of dogs, according to unofficial observations. They assume that a stray animal that is not vaccinated, registered or sterile is a serious threat to society. Besides, the animal rights advocacy underlines a lot of efforts that have been made by the state in recent years to prevent rabies. According to official data from the National Food Agency of Georgia, cases of rabies are more common in domestic animals than in stray animals.Mariam Shekiladze recommends Georgians to be more prudent and caring towards homeless animals, which automatically means their personal well-being.
The spokesperson of GSPSA believes that solving this problem is for some reason a matter of luxury for both society and the state. Some citizens frequently say that there is no time or money for stray animals to have cared for as there are so many people in this country who are poor consequently human beings come first when it comes to social assistance. Nevertheless it’s important to get the issue with the stray dogs under control given that passers-by feel unsafe and animals like human beings deserve a dignified living.
Cover photo: Tornike Kakalashvili
Tornike Kakalashvili is studying Journalism at the Georgian National University SEU in Tbilisi. Currently, he is serving as a Young European Ambassador from Georgia to the EU neighbours east for the fourth consecutive year. For a semester Tornike was studying European studies as an Erasmus student at the Sapienza University of Rome, Italy. In addition, he was an ESC volunteer in Leszno, Poland working for the local NGO in the field of non-formal education and intercultural dialogue. Tornike is passionate about international developments and acquiring foreign languages.