Best intentions lead to crowded shelter in Bosnia

IFAW has partnered with the UNDP in Bosnia to help communities humanely manage their roaming dog populations.  The program began in a somewhat surprising way after the UNDP Community Safety Forums in each community found that instead of local safety concerns being about weapons or violence, dogs were popping up as a priority issue. As a result, IFAW was brought in to advise communities on how to manage their dog issues.

As is often the case, communities implement a simple plan that they hope will solve what they perceive to be their dog ‘problem’. Unfortunately, it’s never that simple.  Dog problems are often rooted in human behaviours so really, if you want to solve the dog stuff, you have to understand, and change, the people stuff.  And that is the part that is often overlooked. 

In this case, Prijedor, a growing community in northern Bosnia, decided their solution was a shelter.  This is not uncommon and building shelters to house street dogs has been done in other cities including Moscow.  The shelter idea is expected to work like this… when you take dogs off the street and put them in a shelter, the roaming dog numbers will decrease.  But they don’t and Prejidor has found this out. Now what you are left with are dogs on the street and dogs in a shelter, usually an overcrowded one.  When we visited the shelter, there were 78 dogs and 15 puppies in a space that would best suit half that many at the very most. 

When we drove up to the shelter and got out of the car, the dogs crushed against the fence to get closer to us, begging for the human touch that dogs crave.  There was barking from inside the enclosure but there was also barking in the distance from a group of dogs hiding in the trees on the steep hill across the garbage dump.  We walked up to the fence line and the dogs shifted, tails wagging, eyes pleading, bodies pushing against each other to reach us.  I stuck my finger through the fence and rubbed the noses of the skinny, shivering dogs I could reach.  Along the side of the shelter, were other fenced enclosures with bigger, shepherd type dogs and one young puppy trying to wedge his way in, maybe to see his mother.  At the back corner were three dogs who stayed lying against each other and who didn’t try to get to us for attention.  Another dog was standing facing into the other corner and when he turned to us, we could see that his eyes were white and seemed sightless. 

Shelters like this are not uncommon.  For a shelter to work, dogs can’t just keep going in. Dogs need to be adopted to create space for new ones coming in.  There need to be standards and protocols so that dogs have enough food and shelter, the areas are clean and disease free, etc.  IFAW met with the decision makers in the community and they know the shelter is not the answer they hoped it would be and they want our help to make it better.  And that’s not all. IFAW is looking forward to working with the community to get at the root causes of their dog issues so that long term solutions are developed, and not just band aids. 


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Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Jan Hannah, Campaign Manager, Northern Dogs Project
Campaign Manager, Northern Dogs Project
Kate Nattrass Atema, Program Director, Community Animal Welfare
Program Director, Community Animal Welfare
Shannon Walajtys
Manager, Animal Rescue-Disasters