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At last some real hope for street dogs

By Fiona Coxshall
Thursday, March 10
Those who frequently visit Tbilisi’s Lisi Lake have probably noticed strange goings over the last several months. First there were the seemingly endless trucks arriving with lorry loads of rock, sand and gravel, then what appeared to be a concrete stage or platform was constructed. For weeks the platform lay bare leaving people wondering what was its purpose? Then suddenly, almost overnight small wooden buildings appeared, but with no sign of life for a number of weeks. Now however, if you approach these buildings on the south-eastern side of Lisi Lake you will be greeted by a cacophony of noise, or to be more precise, the barks and squeals of a few happy dogs and puppies excited to welcome visitors.

It is estimated that around 25 000 stray animals wander the streets of Tbilisi, the majority doing no harm as they search for food, however some find themselves hungrily competing for a mere morsel of bread or a bone. Everyday these animals, mostly dogs, fight for survival – dodging traffic and avoiding injury. More importantly for the general public are the health issues: cats and dogs that have not been immunised can carry disease and without sterilisation programmes the street dog population gets out of control – dogs gather in packs that can potentially become dangerous. Obviously, as in any urban area, some sort of population control is required so the municipality contracts the canine catchers to round up and cull stray dogs; however it is widely believed that in Tbilisi this is not conducted in a civilised and humane way.

Most people are indifferent to the strays; a few are kind – feeding dogs scraps of food and even making small cardboard shelters behind old soviet apartment buildings. But unfortunately as far as these stray mixed breed homeless animals are concerned, that is as far as it goes – there is no sense of love or responsibility, you rarely see someone stroking or playing with a street dog; if a child throws stones at an animal, no-one tries to stop the culprit; if a dog is sick or injured, no-one takes it to a vet, it is simply left to recover or die. However, for some lucky animals there is now help at hand, thanks to the kind hearted and determined animal lover, Dutch businessman Ivo Bakhuijzen, who arrived in Georgia 3 years ago to set up Dutch Design Garden. Ivo was saddened to see so many stray dogs wandering the city’s streets, parks and wastelands and shocked to witness (on more than one occasion) an animal lying in extreme distress having been hit by a car – something that would be absolutely unthinkable in the West. Consequently he made up his mind to build a modern animal shelter in Tbilisi for strays and set to work to raise the necessary funds.

After nearly 3 years Ivo raised GEL 70 000 to build the first part of the shelter; he started in his home country, the Netherlands, but with the help of the foreign community here, he has also raised a significant amount in Georgia in particular through the Tbilisi Gala Burns Suppers held in 2010 and 2011. Raising funds however was not the only task; it also took this amount of time for Ivo to overcome many obstacles – some bureaucratic and some practical to finally get his shelter up and running. But with dogged determination he did it and last week the Dog Organisation Georgia (DOG) Shelter opened its doors and welcomed its first guests. I say guests because it is hoped that for most of the dogs and puppies their stay will be a temporary one as the organisation tries to rehome these loving animals. However this is a difficult task in a country where it is not fashionable for the middle classes and above to have a pedigreeless pooch. Clearly attitudes towards mixed breed dogs need to be changed – a comprehensive education programme is needed to show not only how loving, fun and loyal these animals can be but also the rewards of owning and caring for one.

And it is not only attitudes towards ‘mutts’ that need to change. In Georgia there is an inherent adversity to neutering animals – in the case of male animals it is viewed as the barbaric taking away manhood and for females it is removing the right to motherhood. Yet sterilisation is the key to controlling the stray animal population and you don’t just have to look to the West to see it working. Recently in neighbouring Turkey, stray dogs have started to be removed from the streets, sterilised, immunised and tagged to show they are safe before being released back into public areas. There are reports of how well this programme is working – restaurants and shops feed them and people are no longer afraid of the dogs. Of course the sterilisation means that eventually the street dog population will diminish to virtually nothing, eradicating the need for mass culling.

The shelter is just one part of the DOG project. Dog Organisation Georgia not only plans to treat and vaccinate the stray animals in its care but also to neuter them to prevent more unwanted animals. However the long term solution for controlling the stray animal population lies in changing the attitude of the Georgian public – adults and children alike must appreciate the necessity to sterilise animals (including their own pets who they often allow to wander the streets) and this will only be achieved through PR campaigns and educating the public, which DOG has on its comprehensive agenda.

So while a few dogs and puppies are currently enjoying their new (hopefully temporary) home there is still much that needs to be done at the shelter. GEL 70,000 has been spent and a further GEL 53,000 is needed for electricity, water and drainage in addition to the costs of taking care of the dogs. The DOG shelter is almost totally reliant on donations – monetary or otherwise – for example in addition to gifts of dog food or bowls, the shelter would also be happy to receive any unwanted pet beds/baskets, old blankets, old towels or dog toys. If you wish to donate; or are perhaps willing to help by volunteering some time to walk a dog or play with a puppy; or would simply like to find out more information then please visit the Dog Organisation Georgia website or email Ivo at And of course Ivo would also be extremely pleased to hear from you if you would like to offer a dog or a puppy a new home.