A new way to help street animals in Yerevan, Armenia
Gayane Barsegyan, an Armenian-American who frequently visits Armenia (including our Partner Organization in Armenia, Save Animals-Armenia) and has helped animal welfare advocates there (including Nune Mehrabyan, SA-A Founder & Director), wrote this piece for the AKI Blog about building safe, warm places for street animals, while building on an Armenian tradition of caring for community dogs and cats.
Armenia’s stray animal situation has steadily improved over the last few years, but much work still remains to stabilize the situation further and improve the daily lives of the strays. In the 86 square miles that make up the capital city of Yerevan, comparable to the size of Seattle, estimates claim as many as seven thousand stray dogs and three or four times that amount of stray cats. In years past, the principal method of population control for strays was simply killing them.
The dominant attitude towards street animals in Armenia was extremely negative; many people viewed stray dogs and cats as pests and vectors for disease. Sometimes strays have been targeted with physical abuse or poisoned by frustrated community members trying to drive them away from their homes and neighborhoods.
While there are many animal lovers in Armenia as well, this attitude of fear towards these animals has inhibited and sometimes even sabotaged efforts to help the strays. However, the times are changing.
In the past few years, the municipal government of Yerevan, along with that of other Armenian cities, decided to transition from killing street animals to working with animal welfare organizations to develop compassionate, long-lasting solutions instead. Significant efforts to spay and neuter a growing percentage of strays have helped to manage the high populations.
In addition, a few determined animal lovers in Armenia have used their limited resources to open shelters providing basic animal welfare services - these shelters house anywhere from a few dogs to over one hundred.
While shelters in Armenia are doing wonderful work, they still do not have the means or the capacity to help the majority of stray animals. In order to save as many animals as possible, more individuals in Armenia need to become involved on a micro level. This is where the international community can support the many animal lovers in Armenia who simply need the tools and resources to help!
A few of us are supporting these animal lovers to provide safe and dependable shelter for strays, while gradually shifting the cultural attitude towards street animals in Armenia. One of these local animal lovers is Lala.
The picture above is Lala’s creation. She used materials she had handy to build the shelter above for street dogs living around this yard located across from a factory (also see the picture below). The dogs living there were spayed or neutered and they are fed by volunteers.
Lala has a list of about 30 yards where street dogs stay, where people are already feeding them, and where they are tolerated. In the winter in Yerevan, it can get miserably cold and wet and these dogs need a safe, warm place (Below picture, one of the dogs from the yard above-he now has a warm, safe place so he can get out of the cold and wet).
One of the issues is that people who don't like dogs might destroy the dog houses, which is what happened with Lala's makeshift dog house above. That’s why we are now looking at placing houses in the yards where we have volunteers to keep eyes on them.
Other measures we are putting in place to help ensure the dog houses are secure are more and better community education, making sure people from the local community are involved in building and caring for the dogs, and we are considering placing dog houses at yards within radius of a grocery store's 24 hour camera (many apartment complexes in Armenia have grocery stores on their property).
Education and greater awareness is really key. As you can see in the pictures below, the dogs living in the house above are very friendly. Once people become aware that the dogs are not a danger, especially to their children, the community will be more likely to accept and watch over them.
This idea to provide shelters does not come out of the blue. Armenia had a tradition of caring for community dogs, but that tradition had been disappearing. This project builds on and strengthens the tradition. Most importantly, we want to make sure that doggies and cats will have our support, food, and medical help in case of any emergencies.
Meanwhile, before I return to Armenia, I did some research. Although wood is not very cheap in Armenia, it's the best material to use to make sure the dogs will be warm and cozy in winter. The approximate price for a two room house would range from US$80 to $100. This picture below is an example of the ideal type of dog house. With metal on the sides, even longer than in this picture, about 50 cm, it can be installed into the ground for security. We are also thinking about how and where to make safe spaces for cats.
With help from our international community of animal lovers, we hope to help create a sustainable and self-sufficient system to care for strays in Armenia and this project, to build and place houses for community dogs, is a key piece of the system.
I'll be working on this project during my stay in Armenia in August/September and will let you know how this project is progressing.