Shanghai International Studies University (SISU) – July 10, 2015

Prague Raises Awareness of Animal Protection

By Hajnal Huang

PRAGUE — A badly injured dog was taken to Petřiny, a Veterinary clinic in Prague, by a middle-aged man. While waiting for the little dog’s treatment to finish, the 4 year-old daughter of the man was crying alone on the clinic’s bench from the beginning to the end of the treatment.

“Czech people love animals very much and most people buy dogs and cats as their own pets,” said Janta Kočičí, one of the veterinarians in the veterinary clinic. “Once their pets get injured, they come to us immediately and there are rarely stray animals in the Czech Republic (CR).”

“Compared to other countries where you see some stray dogs wandering on the streets, such as in China, India, Italy, Romania, Ukraine and so on, you don’t get to see that many in CR,” said Azyl Libeň who is from útulku pro opuštěná zvířata, a volunteer-based, private-run dog rescue with no subsidies from the city or government. “Just some pigeons instead.”

Except the fact that pets are taken good care of by Czech people, another vital reason for why there are few stray animals is the good network of shelters. “There are more than 200 dog and cat shelters in CR,” said Pavla Dornicova, who is from Nadace na ochranu zvířat, a non-profit, non-governmental organization with the statutes of a foundation. “The shelters and some organizations have contributed a lot to animal protection.

For example, útulku rescue provide shelter to homeless and unwanted dogs who are looked after by disadvantaged people, who receive shelter and moderate remuneration in return since they all have regular full-time jobs elsewhere. They usually accept about 30 dogs per year, most of which find their permanent homes. They also focus on educating the public on responsible dog ownership, including the importance of spaying and neutering. And they have several partner schools whose classes regularly visit the shelter to listen to educational lectures.

There are many types of movements Nadace has started. They have organized public and educational activities; for example, they gave lectures about animals on World Animal Day and also offer some educational brochures and other materials. Besides that, there are some educational projects such as Dog in a City and charitable projects WAD – “let´s fill up bowls in shelters.” Every year, they divide about 40 tons of dog and cat dry food from Pedigree® and Whiskas® amongst shelters in CR and distribute money from a public collection (donor management system) to animal shelters and rescue centers.

What these organizations do makes sense. There were some changes in legislation thanks to their social influence. For example, during the 6 years of Project WAD organized by Nadace, “let’s fill up bowls in shelters” distributed about 240 tons of dry food among shelters.

Besides these organizations and shelters, laws have played an important role in animal protection. The Animal Protection Act No. 246/1992 Coll is a law against animal abuse in the CR. This act has gone through many changes since 1992.

“Because of a law which says that all stray animals should be kept and looked after by municipality, a big part of dogs are microchipped and registered in d-base so it is easy to find the owner,” said Pavla.

“But until 2003 the animal was considered an ordinary thing,” said Mira Jahoda, who is a freelancer and an animal lover from CR. “The laws which forbids and punishes animal abuse in Czech Republic thus perceive animals as well as furniture, cars and other physical objects. The owner of the animal had only one task—to make the animal run away to neighboring parcels.”

The new Civil Code, published since 2003, is treating living organisms accordingly. Since January 2004, the Czech Republic with the new legislation shifts the level of Western Europe.

“This animal law would not have been just enough not to sign a petition with thousands of signatures,” said Mira.

“In practice, the enforcement and punishment is not that great but still sort of ok for most cases,” said Azyl. “It’s a responsibility stated by the law that any stray dog should be taken care of (placed in a shelter) by the city where the dog was found. It’s not always this idealistic. Often when you call the police, who should come and catch it try, the police try to persuade you to leave the dog there, but generally, it works quite well. City shelters, however, would stand no chance in managing the ever-growing population of abandoned or lost dogs. Fortunately, we have quite a lot of private organizations of our kind, which help considerably in mitigating the situation.”

In China there has historically been little protection for animals. According to The Telegraph, for as late as 2006 there were no laws regarding animal protections at all. What is worse, in some places, the police officers are allowed to shoot stray dogs on sight. Many of the worst offenses are done against animals for monetary gain.

In 2006, one of the reasons why China started to pass minimal animal cruelty laws was because a woman crushed a kitten to death with her stiletto heels. Many gruesome images were captured and shared across the Internet. This year in March, Tengri, one of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) members, also advocated for the law of “Anti-Cruelty to Animals Act.”

In general, the current situation of animals in Czech Republic is quite good, but there are still some problems. For example, the fur farming in the Czech Republic is getting serious. There are many organizations like Animal Defenders in the Czech Republic (OBRAZ), a new non-profit organization, founded to promote active and effective animal protection and organize some campaigns against fur farms and carp selling on the streets before Christmas. In August, they are planning an event called “One Week in Cage” in front of the ministry of agriculture to support the campaign against fur farms. There is an animal protection law called Act 246/1992. Besides, they do regular street screenings for raising general awareness of animal protection issues. Another problem is about feral cats in towns and especially in villages. You may not see that in cities like Prague; however, this is visible in some towns and villages. Therefore neutering program was started– feral cats are captured, neutered and returned back to their original location. It is very useful. But many municipalities are not willing to spend money for this program.

“Our vision is a society that does not perceive animals as a source of human benefit, but as living beings with their own interests, which should be respected on ethical grounds,” said Marek Voršilka from OBRAZ. “We are aware that it is a vision very distant from the current situation. That is why we intend to focus our workaday activities on individual steps which can improve our society’s attitude towards animals, getting closer to our long-term vision gradually.”

There are also challenges for rescues; for example útulku gets about 5-10 calls each week from owners who want to give up their dogs for the most ridiculous reasons (i.e. moving, child born, break-up of partners, no time, dog is shedding hair, etc.). Other owners do not call and simply toss the dog out on the street. There are many irresponsible owners and the situation is sometimes challenging. The main reason for the injury or abandonment of animals, Pavla comments, is probably indifference, ignorance, evil intention or lack of means and sometimes mental illness.

What challenges Nadace have faced is that for a long time they helped solve many cases of animal abuse and assisted in contacting official authorities who are able to punish or penalize cruelty committed towards animals. “Regularly we contact our government with comments about new legislation related to animals,” said Pavla. “Some of our comments were accepted, some were not. Our work is very varied and our organization has met many challenges during the 20 years of its existence.”

In the past, útulku had practically no money, so they invested a lot of their own money. “Gradually, we managed to attract donors (individual, small or even a few large businesses), and we struck up cooperation with several endowment funds who finance our spaying and neutering, help us with dog food and supplements, cover large vet expenses like major surgeries, etc,” said Azyl. “Also, we do virtual adoptions, participate in several fundraising events per year and publish several articles in the magazines or have short TV spots made about shelter, which often attracts donors.”

Similar to the experience from útulku, Nadace gets money from their public charity collection mostly by a donor management system (DMS). Sometimes The Foundation for the Protection of Animals also comes into one’s inheritance. It also participates in many charitable projects such as Stars Give Back (TOMS shoes and ELLE magazine), online charitable events that run in a cooperation with e-shops like LevneElektro.cz, Zoohit.cz etc.

For the future, Azyl said that they would just stay where they are and do what they do regardless of all the frustration and emotional toll it’s taking upon them.

As for animal protection, Azyl said that there are discussions starting in the Parliament to make animal protection laws stricter with mandatory chipping, anti-puppy mill measures and harsher punishments for animal abusers.

“We hope that our Czech legislation will be better and better, due to strict European animal protection legislation,” said Pavla. “It would be really nice to have something like ‘animal police’ here – with good professional staff. It would be a better chance to prove and to punish animal cruelty.”

“We try to change public meaning all the time, so we also hope that the number of animal abuse incidents will decrease due to better public verdict about animals and their life,” Pavla added.