The plight of stray dogs in Romania is well documented but Bulgaria has a similar problem. It is difficult to get hold of any definite figures but in 2012 it was estimated there were around 10,000 stray dogs in the capital of Sofia alone. This figure was apparently down to just under 7,000 stray dogs in the capital in 2013.

But this is just the tip of the ice-berg. Every city and town across Bulgaria has numerous stray dogs, some municipalities do more to control the dog population that others, but add to that the fact that every year thousands of puppies are born to yard and chain dogs and dogs belonging to villagers that roam free, and there is a growing, unchecked problem. The vast majority of these puppies are either killed by the dog owner or more commonly just dumped in the forests or on the edge of the road, left to starve, be run over or poisoned. The ones that survive go on to add to the population of stray animals and unless neutered, the problem grows exponentially.

On top of this there are many former guard dogs that were got rid of as the recession bit and construction sites and depos closed down and in the winter many owners chase away the dogs and cats that have lived quite happily at their villas all summer, not wanting to pay for their keep over the harsh winter months or take them back with them to their apartments. Abandoning animals in Bulgaria is actually illegal under a 2008 law, yet as of yet not one single person has been fined under the scheme as far as we are aware.

Around 80% of Bulgaria’s owned animals (dogs and cats) live outside, either chained or running free around the village. Only around 17% of owned dogs and cats are neutered, and these are mostly animals living in apartments in the towns and cities. Under Bulgarian law all owned dogs should have paperwork and be registered with the municipality, with un-neutered dogs attracting a yearly tax, but very few councils enforce this.

One of the major problems is that the neutering programs are made the responsibility of local municipalities and are thus done on the whim of politics and dependent on budget and with most local councils being poor and often corrupt, neutering programs simply do not get done as often or in a manner in which they should be done. Many municipalities pay per dog that is neutered and therefore those doing the operations intentionally do only a partial job, so the animal can continue to breed and they can continue to collect money.

Unfortunately the long term solution of neutering takes too much effort and it is easy and cheaper to either exterminate or just dump the animals in a neighbouring municipality, thus moving the problem. The stray dog problem is passed back and forth between the Municipalities and the Ministry of Agriculture, little changes until there is a reported case of a dog attack and then this is usually followed by a mass culling of dogs and a free for all on beating, poisoning, shooting and running over of street dogs. But killing strays does not stop the problem and only offers a temporary ‘solution’.

In a handful of the larger cities in Bulgaria, the problem is slowly starting to be tackled. Burgas Municipality has made efforts to address the problem and has periodical campaigns to neuter dogs for free in the settlements in and around the city and is more strict on animal registration than other places. In Sofia much has been achieved by the Non Governmental Organisation, Animal Rescue Sofia, who offer free neutering and after 5 years of neutering and re-homing campaigns, the population of stray dogs in the capital is now a third of what it was. There are similar initiatives in Ruse and there are a number of foreign organisations that visit Bulgaria every so often to carry our neutering campaigns. Whilst these are small steps in the right direction, much more needs to be done. But it shows that a steady castration program works.

Under communism there were regular culls of street dogs, but with the fall of communism and the amid dire economic times which followed the collapse of the regime, many people threw out their pets, not being able to afford their upkeep. After several years of breeding unchecked there were 20,000 or more dogs roaming Sofia alone.

It is crucial to change attitudes to dog ownership in Bulgaria. Animal owners need to learn about neutering and treating for parasites, as well as basic nutrition and vet care. Many in Bulgaria have the attitude that castration is cruel and takes away an animal’s choice to breed. Yet later dumping those babies to suffer a painful death from starvation or being beaten is seen as normal.

Living on the streets, Bulgaria’s stray dogs are exposed to the constant risk of starvation, illness, maiming through accidents or being purposely targeted for abuse, with many cases of animals being shot, run over, poisoned, burnt, all in the name of “fun”. Many more simply disappear into the infamous isolators of Bulgaria, where dogs are left in cages, often with no food or water, in extreme cold in the winter and intolerable heat in the summer.

There needs to be access to cheap or better, free, neutering of village owned dogs and cats as well as a control of the stray population. The lack of responsibility or money to take the necessary step to neuter contributes to the growing population of homeless animals. The un-sterilised village dog or cat breeds, the resulting litters are dumped (also un-sterilised), some of these survive and go on to have litters of their own… is a never ending problem.

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