THE FUTURE IS looking bright for Scotland, especially when you compare our situation to those in the EU member states of Southern and Eastern Europe. Of course, I am not talking in terms of politics - where Scotland's future seems to be as uncertain as those EU nations teetering on the edge of economic collapse. What I am referring to is an issue that often goes unnoticed in the UK, but which is reaching pandemic proportions in other European states; stray dogs.
With many Southern and Eastern European states struggling to cope with economic collapse and stringent austerity measures, tens of thousands of dogs have been abandoned and are running wild across Europe. This has coincided with a surge in animal cruelty cases as strays are being deliberately run over and poisoned. In some areas, armed vigilantes have even begun hunting the animals.
Problems are most pronounced in Bulgaria, Romania and of course, Greece. With a systemic lack of welfare, stray animals pose a significant threat to public health through disease transmission. They also have negative impacts on wildlife, they can damage property and livestock, they are a nuisance and there is a range of animal welfare issues associated with their existence.
Huge armies of strays are now roaming the streets of Athens, Bucharest and Sofia. Other states, including Italy and Spain, have also had to answer tough questions after a spate of attacks by packs of strays. There are around 450,000 strays in Italy and the Italians faced considerable backlash a few years ago, when a 10-year-old boy in Sicily was killed after being pulled from his bicycle by a pack of strays. Earlier this year in Bulgaria, an elderly man was brutally mauled by wild dogs and ended up dying from his injuries. His death triggered considerable public outrage and many Bulgarians called for immediate action to deal with the 10,000 strays in Sofia alone. Similar occurrences in Romania prompted the Romanian Parliament to create legislation allowing authorities to kill thousands of strays, but the ruling was eventually overturned by the Constitutional Court.
Even during more prosperous times, Greece had a severe problem with stray animals. But since the economy spiralled out of control, the stray population has exploded and the dogs have been subjected to wanton cruelty and abuse; it is a real Greek tragedy.
The average life expectancy of a stray dog in Greece is less than two years and most rely on tourists for scraps of food. As more Greek families struggle to survive against a backdrop of savage austerity measures, many have abandoned their pets. The female dogs are constantly breeding and one single female can engender over 1200 pups in only 32 months as each litter reaches maturity and breeds themselves. All of these dogs have simply been forgotten; they are collateral damage in an unfolding disaster.
Greece and other European states with stray populations should look to Scotland as an example of how to control problematic animals. Although it was widely reported that between 2010 and 2011 the number of stray dogs put to sleep by local authorities in Scotland had risen 130 per cent, the number of homeless dogs in Scotland fell 23 per cent from 5,889 in 2011 to 4,524 in 2012. This is even a much greater improvement than the UK average, which has seen a 6 per cent drop to 118,932 in the past year. The decline is largely due to micro-chipping of pets and neutering campaigns, but a real focus on education has also been an important step in raising awareness of the problem.
Still, around twelve stray dogs are picked up each day in Scotland and the Government does not keep official figures on dogs or any other stray animal. In fact, Poland is the only European nation that collects country-wide data on strays. Of course, countries like Romania, Bulgaria and Greece have tried to promote neutering programmes and micro-chipping, but initiatives have failed for a variety of reasons. A lack of political will and differing attitudes to animal welfare are challenging, but there is one overarching problem; money (or a lack thereof!)
Many animal welfare organisations, based in both Greece and the UK have tried to help by promoting the adoption of vulnerable strays. Although adopting a rescued animal is completely legal, there is no EU legislation which covers cross-border adoption. Therefore, Scots who have tried to adopt an animal from another country have faced a series of barriers.
The EU's 'Pet Passport' scheme only covers pet animals that are not intended to be sold or transferred to another owner. Other legislation covers traders who require a nationally issued health certificate to transfer animals but to obtain a certificate the Member State requires the consignor and the consignee to have commercial status and a commercial tax reference number.
Although the European Commission have stated that cross-border adoption is possible, EU citizens wishing to adopt a rescued animal from a different country must still wade through red tape and many simply give up, exhausted by jumping through hoops and with their brains scrambled by EU legal jargon. Unfortunately for Europe's strays, Europe's policymakers are focused on balancing economies that are teetering on the edge of collapse and voiceless animals are the last thing on anyone's mind.