Issue 1, 2015. February-March

   

TAMING TBILISI'S TROUBLING HOMELESS CAT AND DOG PROBLEM

This is just one of the many delightful rescued dogs and puppies at the Dog Organization Georgia shelter, waiting to find their forever homes.
All D.O.G. shelter dogs are checked by a vet, fully vaccinated and spayed or neutered to prevent more unwanted puppies. Please find us on Facebook - Dog Organization Georgia, or email fionacoxshall@yahoo.com to find out more about adopting a dog.

Tbilisi City Hall is working with local NGOs and international partners to tame the city's rampant population of homeless dogs and cats. A census of strays is planned, as is better legislation to ensure pet owners are neutering and spaying their animals.


Heather Yundt

This is just one of the many delightful rescued dogs and puppies at the Dog Organization Georgia shelter, waiting to find their forever homes. All D.O.G. shelter dogs are checked by a vet, fully vaccinated and spayed or neutered to prevent more unwanted puppies. Please find us on Facebook - Dog Organization Georgia, or email fionacoxshall@yahoo.com to find out more about adopting a dog.

Walk down any street in Tbilisi and one may notice a dog or cat soaking up sun on a street corner or raiding the community garbage bin. No one knows just how many animals roam Tbilisi's streets - something City Hall's new Animal Monitoring Agency plans to change this year in an effort to improve the lives of all residents, human and animal alike.

Assessing the Numbers

Tbilisi City Hall established the Animal Monitoring Agency on January 1, 2015, shifting the responsibility of street animal management and the Tbilisi Municipal Shelter away from the Department of Emergency Services. Now Temur Pkhaladze, the Agency's head, says plans are being developed to conduct a census of street animals this spring, though details, such as when and how this will be done, are still being worked out with the help of local and international animal welfare organizations.

Once the city better understands the stray population, both Pkhaladze and animal welfare experts agree that the city will be in a better position to manage it.

Before 2012, Tbilisi dealt with its stray dogs and cats by trapping and killing them. Not only was this practice condemned as inhumane, it was also ineffective.

"What they really achieved was that people were against them because they didn't like that dogs were killed in the street," says Mariam Chkhikvishvili, head veterinarian at the Agricultural University's Veterinary Clinic and chairperson of Homeless Pets Help Organization. "Everyone saw how they were catching dogs, how they were killing dogs. Even kids were there."

"There was no result," says Tinatin Chavchanidze, Chairperson of Animal Rights Committee Georgia. Though many were killed, those that were not continued to reproduce, she says.

Trap, Neuter, Return

Since August 2012, Tbilisi has switched to an approach internationally recognized as a humane form of population control: TNR — trap, neuter, return. The idea is to capture street animals, neuter and vaccinate them, and then return them to the streets where they were found. These "community dogs" are often cared for by the residents of their neighborhood.

Only dogs and cats that are aggressive or ill are put down — 1,707 last year. However Ursula Goetz, the chief veterinarian of Mayhew International, a London-based animal welfare charity, says at least 75 percent of the population must be neutered in order for this strategy to be effective.

According to the city's records, about 550 animals were neutered or spayed at its shelter in 2014, though the shelter housed more than 4,000 animals throughout the year. In addition to the municipal shelter, two private shelters also care for stray animals. The Agricultural University's Chkhikvishvili puts aside one day per week to spay and neuter street animals, sometimes performing up to nine surgeries in a day.

While the TNR approach has improved the situation, Chkhikvishvili says more surgeries need to be done to manage Tbilisi's street animal population.

One aspect of the problem, she says, is pet owners not neutering their pets. "Many dogs in the streets come from houses, previously owned dogs," she says. These abandoned animals then reproduce in the streets.

A Change in Mentality

But this is changing. Chkhikvishvili, a veterinarian since 2002, says she is neutering more and more pets. The day I spoke to her, there were three pet cats in the clinic waiting to be spayed. Now, she says, even owners of purebred dogs and cats are getting them neutered.

Chavchanidze of Animal Rights Committee Georgia agrees. "Five years ago when I began to speak about it, veterinarians did not know about this (new) simple method, or they thought that they would lose their job if pets did not reproduce all the time. But now when we go to speak at events, the situation is better."

Mayhew International has played a key role in this. The organization has trained about 100 vets and veterinary students in Georgia over the past two years. Last May, the organization visited Tbilisi for a second time to provide intensive training at the Agricultural University and Tbilisi's Municipal Shelter. Caroline Yates, Mayhew International's CEO, says that before Mayhew International's training in 2013, there was little to no neutering happening at the Municipal Shelter — potentially contributing to more street animals when dogs and cats were released or adopted.


Taking Cues from the UK

Legislation is the Animal Monitoring Agency's planned next step. Representatives traveled to London in December to learn from the UK's example. The agency has now drafted a responsible pet ownership law, which Pkhaladze says he expects to pass very soon.
The legislation would require pet owners to register and vaccinate their animals, with fines — of a presently undetermined amount — for those who do not. Tbilisi residents who want to breed their pets would require licenses. Pkhaladze says registration will cost less for owners who neuter their pets, and the city will pay for neutering if an animal's owner cannot afford the cost.

The new legislation coincides with the Ministry of Agriculture's plans to create a nationwide strategy for rabies control, which will include a stray dog rabies vaccination campaign. According to Mikheil Sokhadze, Georgia's representative at the World Organization of Animal Health, 250,000 pets were vaccinated against rabies last year across Georgia. He expects a similar number this year. Rabies continues to be a problem in Georgia, with four deaths due to the disease last year, though none were in Tbilisi. With the exception of a few tweaks, Chavchanidze says she is satisfied with the draft legislation. Still, she says the city needs more educational programs. Her organization has run programs in schools in the past but is currently looking for more funding.

"Education is very important. We talk about how to avoid dog bites, what the reason is for doing this sterilization," she says. "And the main one is responsible ownership, because people can't imagine what responsibility they have after they have a pet in their house."

Mayhew International's Yates stresses that any solution must be comprehensive involving education, public health, legislation and veterinary provisions.

"It is as much a people and awareness issue as it is an 'animal' issue," she says.

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