Dogs and Development: An Unlikely Success Story
Elzemina Bojičić stomps through the mud in an abandoned army barracks outside Jajce, Bosnia-Herzegovina. She slowly approaches one of the dozens of dogs chained there, offering a treat to coax it out of its ramshackle doghouse. It comes willingly, and she’s able to remove the chain from around its neck and replace it with a fabric collar. Soon this dog, and nearly 70 others from this municipal shelter, will be on their way to Germany for adoption.
A few short years ago Bojičić, a Project Coordinator at the UNDP, would never have thought she would be dealing with dogs. “In 2009 we did a nationwide survey, asking people what are the threats in their local communities. And the results showed that they mentioned roaming dogs too many times,” she says from her office in Sarajevo. “We expected problems such as mine fields, domestic violence, juvenile violence, trafficking. Those kinds of things. But people kept repeating that the serious problem for their personal security was roaming dogs, attacking people, attacking livestock, spreading disease. They didn’t feel safe with the roaming dogs in their communities.”
Now the UNDP B-H is two years into a partnership with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) to help communities in Bosnia-Herzegovina resolve their roaming dogs problem. The Humane Communities Process reinforces the UNDP’s values of empowering communities to resolve problems locally, sustainably, and in line with B-H Law on Protection and Animal Welfare. Community stakeholders came together to develop a shared understanding of their issues with dogs, create a management plan to address those issues, and to implement their plan. While the process is facilitated by UNDP and IFAW representatives, the hard work is done entirely by community members, and the resulting plan relies on the community’s own resources.
Bojičić found herself trudging through the November mud because the town of Jajce decided to close their shelter. For years they had felt stuck between knowing the shelter was inhumane and absorbed the already limited municipal budget, and not having any alternatives. Sheltering 30-40 dogs from the streets of Jajce didn’t solve the town’s problem with roaming dogs. New dogs came, occupying the territory, and again the Municipality had a new financial burden: to take care of new dogs on the streets on the top of those already sheltered. However, their new Humane Community Development (HCD) plan helped them to address the problem at the sources rather than symptoms/consequences. Community representatives discovered that three in four dogs on the streets are there by human influence (neglect or abandonment, lack of sterilisation), where all interventions in the past targeted the dogs themselves. The current plan does still include a dog registry and sterilisation and vaccination for owned and roaming dogs. However, it also envisages promotion of local adoption, education for kids through Community Policing work in local schools, education for dog owners, establishment of adequate services to take care of currently roaming dogs and training of dog catchers in the humane handling of animals, education of veterinarians and provision of equipment for vet clinics. All of this will help the community to better use the scarce resources they have by working together on resolving their dog problems in a sustainable manner.
Samir Damović, Jajce’s municipal veterinarian, is already seeing results. “Before this initiative, I would never have had someone bringing me their dog for sterilisation,” he said. “It just wasn’t on people’s minds. But last week I actually had a family come in asking to adopt a dog, and they made it clear to me that they wanted him to be neutered so he wouldn’t run off looking for females. It’s an extraordinary change.”
“The community of Jajce has been so enthusiastic about the process and the support they have received in developing their own plan to address this issue that they have begun even before receiving any financing or material support,” says Kate Atema, Director of the Companion Animal Program at IFAW. “This type of community initiative, resourcefulness and commitment exemplify how the HCD process works, and demonstrates how this project is building stronger communities for people and for dogs.”
And the UNDP-IFAW partnership is beginning to have positive effects beyond dog issues. According to Amela Cosović Medić, Sector Leader for Justice and Security at the UNDP in Bosnia-Herzegovina, addressing dogs as a security issue also means enhancing reconciliation and peace building. “After all, the roaming dog population does not recognize the borders between communities,” she says. “The local communities from different entities are talking to each other, sharing the good lessons, addressing the same issues and problems, and seeking together the best possible solution both for people and for dogs.”
Since 2013, UNDP B-H and IFAW have been working with seven municipalities in B-H on Humane Community Development: Jajce, Lopare, Sanski Most, Ključ, Gradačac, Mrkonjić Grad and Trebinje. Through these efforts, more than 200,000 people now have the opportunity to have a safer community and ensure better lives for their own dogs and dogs in their community. Since this project’s inception in those communities, the number of locally adopted dogs increased, the number of reported cases of dogs attacking people or other animals decreased, hundreds roaming and owned dogs were sterilised, thousands of children were educated on adequate care and dogs’ body language, four vet clinics were fully equipped for sterilisation in line with IFAW protocol, six dog catchers were trained in human handling of dogs, and IFAW educational material is now available for any school in B-H in local languages. With successful results in those municipalities, the joint work of UNDP and IFAW is expected to continue in other municipalities.