The situation for Albania’s stray dogs has become even worse during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Exit has previously reported on allegations that the Municipality of Tirana murdered almost 1000 street dogs in 2019 and the first month of 2020.
Activists that feed and monitor the dogs kept a log of all of those that went “missing”, those that were recovered from the Municipality pound- a total of 965 in just 13 months. Some 21 were rescued by activists but the remaining ones are not released onto the streets.
One activist told Exit that a Municipality employee said: “you don’t have to search for them any more, they are dead.” Another claimed that the animals were left by the Elbasan-Tirana highway to be hit by car drivers, killed deliberately, or driven to remote locations where there is no food and they would be left to die.
Thanks to the work of tens of volunteers in Albanian’s cities, street dogs have been relatively well taken care of. When they can avoid the Municipality dog catchers and their sedative darts that is. They feed them, treat medical conditions, get them vaccinated and neutered/spayed and monitor the wellbeing of the animals.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictive lockdown measures, this has become increasingly difficult.
Activists and leader of one NGO JETALTier und Mensch that takes care of strays in Durres and Fier spoke to Exit and highlighted a number of issues that are impacting the stray dogs in Albania at the moment.
She said that a lot of wrong information has been circulated, specifically that dogs can infect humans with COVID-19. While this is not true, it has led to a drastic increase in the dumping of family pets in Albania and Kosovo. This has also resulted in a number of cases where humans have killed dogs based on the misguided belief that they are dangerous during these times.
For those dogs that have been on the streets for some time, their way of foraging for food has been impacted. With restaurants and cafes closed, they are unable to find food and due to restrictions on movement, volunteers have been unable to feed them.
The government has refused to provide any assistance to volunteers, citing the pandemic as a reason why. Furthermore, it has not granted permission to animal rights organisations or volunteers to go and feed them or monitor their health. This leaves them in an impossible situation; take care of the dogs and risk a prison sentence, or stay at home and risk the starvation of hundreds of animals.
JETA Tier und Mensch has offered to provide a guarantee to the government that anytime granted will be used solely for taking care of the animals and not for personal reasons. The answer has still been no.
Activists are also coming up against obstacles and criticism from the community. One of the common arguments used against their plight is “people are dying and you care about animals?”
An activist from JETA Tier und Mensch said “the virus is an example of how much bad we have done with nature and the world. If we do not change something- take more care of animals and our world, what can we expect? As humans, we need to take responsibility for our actions and take care of all of our community, including its animals.”
They reiterated that they are not looking for any financial help from the government or municipality, just the permission to go and continue their work with Albania’s stray dogs. So far the state has been silent.