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  • Kim

Bosnia then and now: observations from a friend

We asked a friend of AKI's and an active animal advocate and animal welfare volunteer to tell us about changes she's seen for cats and dogs from when she 1st lived in Bosnia in 2006 to 2009 to now, when she is again living there. These are her personal observations.

From what I have observed, the homeless dog population in Sarajevo is much lower than it was when I lived here before (2006-2009), but there are still stray cats everywhere. I've been told that there were massive "culling" campaigns to remove dogs from the streets around 2012 (the thought of which horrifies me). After that, mass spay/neuter campaigns for Saravejo's street dogs successfully sterilized up to 80% of the population, however, they ceased in 2019 due to lack of support of the authorities.

More generally, I think the attitude about dogs as pets has changed a lot. I see many more Bosnians walking dogs than ever before, and there are now at least a dozen pet stores in Sarajevo -- when I lived here before, I had to order nearly all my dog food and supplies from the U.S. Many of the Bosnians I know now have pet dogs. However, most prefer small, purebred dogs, especially the breeds that don't shed. I wish that wasn't the case, but I suspect it will take time for locals to view street dogs as potential pets.

With respect to shelters, the "canton" of Sarajevo runs a shelter in a rural area (a 45-minute drive outside of Sarajevo), and they are now building a new one to replace the old, dilapidated one. I know the director of veterinary services for Sarajevo canton, a female veterinarian who used to work for Dogs Trust. She is sincere about wanting to modernize the shelter and ensure that it is not just a warehouse for dogs. The shelter has a re-homing program and tries to find homes in Bosnia, but for now, many of the "adoptable" dogs are transported to Germany. Not all of the dogs are adopted, of course, but I have not been able to get an idea of the percentage that are euthanized.

There are still a number of ad-hoc private shelters, usually started by a group of dog-lovers who quickly get inundated with abandoned dogs. There are two "illegal" shelters on the outskirts of Sarajevo that are in this category. Long before I came back here, some dog-lovers at our embassy got involved in trying to help those two shelters. After I came back, a few of us started to formalize the group, and we call ourselves "Paw Pals." Some group members volunteer at the shelters occasionally, but we mainly focus on raising money to help the two shelters pay for vet care and other expenses. The two shelters are not in good condition, and one in particular has become a warehouse for dogs who will not likely ever be adopted -- they are generally large, somewhat feral, etc. I am concerned about what will happen to these shelters.

My husband travels a lot for his job, and he says he always sees stray dogs wherever he goes. In fact, he rescued a puppy from the middle of the road during one of his recent trips -- he said she would have been hit by a car and killed within minutes if he had not stopped to pick her up. We managed to find a foster home for her with an American couple, and I am hoping that they will keep her.

So overall, it sounds like there have been some positive changes, but not enough. As usual, a shortage of money for mass spay/neuter and for shelter operations hinders quicker and more progress. Also, it seems that Bosnia is following a common path to pet ownership: 1st there's an attraction to cute, small, purebred dogs (usually with larger breeds, typically German shepherds, dobermans, rottweilers and similar considered only guard dogs) before [hopefully] coming to understand that ALL dogs are wonderful and need and deserve good homes --and cats too. And although we don't know this, it's probably safe to assume that humane education in schools isn't widespread and likely is underfunded--although it goes hand-in-hand with rescue and s/n to create a more humane society.


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