Stray dogs in the streets of Georgia
Georgia leads the world in the number of people vaccinated against rabies, according to Georgian National Center for Disease Control.The study also reported that the number of people bitten by dogs in Tbilisi has dramatically increased in recent years. In 2006 in Georgia there were 47,120 people bitten by dogs, compared with 39,799 in 2005. Last year, 37,000 people in Georgia received free vaccination against rabies, a virus that transfers through the bite of an infected dog and can be fatal. Since 2003, the State United Social Insurance Foundation of Georgia is covering a vaccination program all over Georgia that costs 1 million lari a year (approximately $588,000). But there are no official statistics on how many stray dogs Tbilisi has, and there is no public kennel for them.The question of how to deal with stray dogs and protect public health has been debated for years.Beginning this year, the City of Tbilisi is paying each local district a monthly sum of 1,700 to 2,000 lari (USD $1,000 to 1,200) for a street dog control program. The municipality placed the problem of the stray dogs on each of its sub-departments: local district governments and the Housing and Communal departments. They in turn, in order to remove the dogs from the districts, hire sanitary cleaning organizations, whose main priority is garbage collecting. The dogs are captured by iron pliers that instantly breaks the dogs backbone, according to some sources. Then the wounded dogs are taken to a special place in Gldani-Nadzeladevid district to be "isolated." "Killed is the exact word," said Shalva Huchashvili, the chief sanitary officer of Vake district, the service responsible for capturing dogs. Mary Lordkipanidze, a veterinarian and head of the First Vet Clinic, explains that killing means shooting, electrocuting the dogs or burning them in concentrated acid in a baker's pit, a pit in the ground (it's not open; it should be closed because it contains dangerous bacteries in it). The pit was invented for big cities to destroy animals' bodies and to provide a quick death to prevent the spread of disease. Lordkipanidze is one of the few who has received official permission to go to the area where the dogs are sent and observe the baker's pit. The government has been using such methods for approximately 15 years, because of a lack of resources to build a shelter for the outcast animals. "The smell is awful there and a horrible howling resounds through the place,"said Lordkipanidze. Koba Subeliani, head of Tbilisi City Municipal Improvements Service, who is in charge for the street dogs, declined to comment on the issue and didn't respond to phone calls. The organizations that aim to protect animals' rights in Georgia, such as the Animal Protection Charity Foundation "Argus" and Veterinarians Without Borders, consider the methods used to dispose of street dogs cruel and a violation of the animals' rights. They have proposed that the municipality build shelters for the outcast animals in different parts of the city, where the dogs would receive necessary care. Sterilization would be used to bring under control the stray dog population. These dogs also would be vaccinated against rabies and other viruses. "It would be an ideal solution to the problem, to build a public kennel for the dogs," said Huchashvili, the chief sanitary officer of Vake district. "In all the developed countries, there are no dogs in the streets; they all are at the appropriate places. Of course, it is not the easiest thing to do. It requires lots of money," he said. "I have a sheep dog myself and I spend about 150lari on her a month," Huchashvili said. "So can you imagine how much money they need to spend?" Meanwhile, there is a private kennel for dogs that has been operating since 1996 in Tbilisi, near the Orkhevi village. It was founded by Argus and was designed for 75 outcast animals. But this kennel suffered from continual attacks of vandals. After one small wooden house with 12 dogs inside was burned to the ground and other houses were destroyed in 2000, the staff had to evacuate the dogs to different parts of the city. There are 50 dogs on the property now, 36 adult dogs and 14 pappies. There have been other attempts to deal with the problem of stray dogs. After the Rose Revolution the city government started a project, "reventive center for animals." Property was allotted to build a shelter for 50 dogs near the existing private kennel in Orkhevi village. But that project was later frozen. The stray dog problem persists, but the high level of free vaccinations has attached the public health problem. There was only one reported fatality caused by rabies virus in Georgia in 2007, whereas there were 10 cases last year. But the State United Social Insurance Foundation of Georgia is planning to cut the financing for vaccinations against the rabies virus this year, according to Vakhtang Surguladze, Deputy Director of Foundation. The program would cover vaccinations only for children and needy people. the director hasn't told why they cut , he just said he didn't have much information since the plan for 2007 hadn't started yet to run. Lordkipanidze, the veterinarian, thinks Tbilisi city government should do something about the problem. "The city government should react quickly since it's not just a question of the animals, it is people lives depend on it," she said.