Romania campaign to kill stray dogs after boy's death
Hundreds of Romanians have demonstrated in support of a plan to kill stray dogs in the capital after a four-year-old boy was mauled to death.
Bucharest Mayor Sorin Oprescu says a referendum will be held on 6 October asking residents if they agree with "euthanasia" for stray dogs.
Supporters of the measure held a rally in the city centre on Sunday.
A pack of dogs attacked the boy near a park a week ago. The city is reckoned to have about 65,000 stray dogs.
Campaigners in the animal rights group 4Pfoten (Four Paws) are urging the authorities to adopt mass sterilisation of dogs as the solution, instead of a cull.
The group's campaign director Gabriel Paun told the BBC that 4Pfoten was castrating stray dogs in Bucharest, but that a much bigger effort was needed nationally to have an impact on the dog population.
"In the last few years we've castrated 100,000 dogs in Romania altogether, 10,600 of them in Bucharest, But it's not enough, this is a voluntary private project - we need them to do the same thing at national level," he said.
"It's not a local problem, it's national - even if Bucharest is free of strays, the dogs don't have administrative borders - they will come back."
Animal welfare officials say about 1,100 people were bitten by stray dogs in Bucharest in the first four months of this year.
President Traian Basescu has called on the government to pass a law on euthanasia for strays, saying "humans are above dogs".
The news website Balkan Insight says that under current law, stray dogs have to be taken to existing dog shelters, where they should stay for 14 days, during which time they can be adopted.
But the problem is that many dogs are not adopted during that period and dog shelters are overcrowded.
The grandmother of the little boy who was mauled to death attended Sunday's demonstration. Aurica Anghel said: "I hope for a change for the better - I don't want to see dogs on the street anymore."
Another demonstrator said that in her neighbourhood packs of dogs roamed the streets after dark, adding: "I'm afraid to go out."
Mr Paun said 4Pfoten was now lobbying Romanian MPs in an effort to prevent the mass killing going ahead.
He said a draft law - under discussion for years - envisaged mass sterilisation, but 4Pfoten now fears it may be amended to legalise a cull of stray dogs.
"We've just got a letter saying we have to leave tomorrow morning, so they're stopping us doing it [castration]," he said, but added: "We won't leave, because we have a contract to catch dogs, castrate them and take them to the shelter for adoption."
He said the problem required a solution at source - the culture of pet ownership must be improved. Tough penalties were required for those who abandoned dogs, and the authorities must introduce microchipping of dogs so that the owners can be traced, as well as pet passports, he said.
He also complained that use of the term "euthanasia" was misleading, because the plan was to put healthy dogs to sleep, not just sick, aggressive or very old ones.
"We did our own poll, and if you change the word to 'killing', nobody wants that," he said.