30 Mar STORIES THAT INSPIRED US – “Advocacy in the service of our friends”
Link Plus is a CSO from Belgrade, engaged in public advocacy for the adoption of strategies and policies related to the animal welfare. Natasa Vukmirovic, a representative of the association, told us what are the problems that they face in the fight for fair treatment of animals, but also how to overcome these challenges.
The question we have often encountered, at a time when we have not operated as a registered association, is why standing up for the improvement of animal health and welfare in a country where so many people are faced with jeopardizing fundamental rights and increasing poverty. Precisely this question indicates that there is a need for information and education, and for the establishment of organizations like this. A large part of our activity is dedicated to creating policies in the field of veterinary medicine, agriculture and environmental protection, as well as education about the welfare and protection of animals.
Welfare and animal health protection are fully subordinated to humans. Our idea is to give animals the right food and drink, as much as possible comfortable accommodation, protection from unnecessary suffering and pain and the opportunity to provide them with basic health care. Animal welfare means that animals receive little so man can receive a lot. Safe and high quality food and other quality products from animals can be provided only if animals receive adequate care. When we talk about animals in general, the goal is to protect public health, especially from infectious diseases transmitted from animals to humans (zoonoses), as well as diseases that are obtained when consumed food is not safe.
The animals in our country, in most cases, are not provided with basic care. Animals used for food industry are often abused rather than treated with respect. We received testimonies about beatings and other forms of torment of the cows, horses and pigs.
We often encounter the problem of keeping wild animals in homes, although this is prohibited. We had the opportunity to see the sedated wolves used in the entertainment industry as well as the bodies of protected species of snakes in trash, where they ended when they stopped being interesting toys to their owners.
Zoos in our country speak for themselves – animal welfare is unknown concept to them . They are not even registered because they do not fulfill the basic legal requirements. Such zoos will not be able to adapt to conditions that were set by the EU regulations. Therefore, we strongly advocated to the Belgrade zoo not to introduce penguinarium and penguins, when other animals do not have enough space for themselves. This campaign alerted the public and sparked protests. Unfortunately we were not able to prevent the creation of an unhealthy environment, but we certainly raised the word publicly about the consequences of this irresponsible behavior.
Wild animals on the loose are often poisoned with prohibited plant protection products (pesticides) that are easily purchased on the internet in our country. Although required by law, agricultural machines do not have special devices for alerting the game, and so many animals (fawns) perish at the time of harvest. Illegal hunting is a particular problem, especially when thousands of protected birds are killed to make pates of their small tongues.
Due to the irresponsible behavior towards animals mankind has immeasurable losses. Public health is at risk if people do not care about the welfare and health of animals. Humans have the right to a healthy environment and a safe food and to be protected from zoonoses.
While it is clear to everyone how dangerous the illegal treatment of animals is, how much damage to the environment poisoning of animals and illegal hunting can cause, we want to emphasize that many of our appeals and appeals from other organizations, in most cases, provoke rage of state authorities, instead of doing their job. An increasing number of citizens demands the changes in terms of respect of the law, to introduce effective control and to punish all those who threaten animals and nature, but still the inspection, police, customs, public prosecutors and courts do not consider that the implementation of regulations in these areas should be a priority.
In Serbia, we are recognized as an organization that publicly speaks about the illegal treatment of animals and that is why we often have people who have found a crime in their local community turn to us. Usually there is a problem with the zoo hygiene services. When we collect information and evidence, we submit charges against the authorities. Throughout Serbia, abandoned dogs and cats are caught in illegal way and held in facilities that do not meet the requirements to be shelters. The manner in which the animals are held in these “shelters” often leads to their death. In cases where there is a mass killing of abandoned pets, animal welfare falls into the background. Therefore, we are simultaneously talking about the protection of animals, because the activists are working for the protection of animals from abuse and killings, whenever possible. We do not want for dogs and cats in public shelters to die of infectious diseases or to suffer because they are located in crowded shelters.We do not want for someone to kill them in a cruel way only because there is still no will to solve the problem of abandoned pets in a sustainable way.
The most painful of our experiences are not related to intimidation and lynching to which we are often exposed, but the weakness when we fail to help to solve a problem and when we receive notification that our application was rejected. One of the most horrific cases that we have encountered is illegal experimentation on dogs of the Serbian Army. We have been informed that the dogs are already in the laboratories of the Military Medical Academy and we had to react quickly. Since the veterinary inspection ignored our application, we published what was happening in the media and mobilized people through social networks, inviting them to donate money to buy the dogs and provide them a new home. The pressure was enough for the then defense minister to publicly speak, but not to save the dogs. From the Ministry of Defence we have been given the answer that the dogs were transferred to Niš, in particular to the troop dealing with the training of dogs, but we have not been allowed to visit the dogs, nor did we got any proof that they are alive.
In Serbia, people are only recently becoming aware of the dangers of ignoring the abuse of animals. In other developed countries, there are serious research and studies on the connection between violence against animals and violence against humans. We recorded cases where the criminal charges with serious evidences were dropped against the men who carried out the mass killing of stray dogs in an unlawful manner, and that then these individuals progressed in their career, and get social recognition.
Improving the welfare and protection of animals is far from being a central issue dealt with by the civil society. The good news is that the veterinary inspection will soon have to control the animal welfare in agricultural holdings that will receive EU funds allocated for agriculture and rural development (IPARD), which will make the welfare of production animals become a topic relevant to the decision makers, the media and the general public.
Area of animal health and welfare is full of challenges and sometimes it seems that changes are too slow, but we are proud to name a number of concrete goals achieved. We were one of the organizations that changed the face of Belgrade by advocating for adopting new regulations that have made it possible, since 2011, for owners to bring their pets to restaurants and other facilities, to be able to enter the public transport vehicles with them, to get their parks for running and playing. In cooperation with the Belgrade Marathon this year the third Walk of responsible dog will be organized , when we will walk with the dogs and promote responsible and humane treatment of animals. Currently, we are preparing the second edition of the Handbook for responsible dog owners, and together with experts and other organizations we are cooperating to create a new advocacy campaign concerning the amendments to the Law on Animal Welfare and Veterinary Act that will contribute to better legal protection of animals in Serbia.
This story is a part of the aspirations of the TACSO Serbia and TACSO by Civic Initiatives to promote good practices of civil society organizations in Serbia and motivate other organizations that invest on daily basis their energy and efforts in creating a better society for all citizens of Serbia.