A deadly dog attack on a four-year-old boy in Bucharest has brought new attention to an old problem: Romania's hundreds of thousands of stray dogs. Government plans for mass euthanasia have animal welfare activists up in arms.
Little Ionut and his older brother Andrei just wanted to play. Their grandmother had taken the boys, four and six years old, respectively, to a park in Bucharest's Tei neighborhood. After a while, Ionut and Andrei walked out of the park -- they wanted to play on an abandoned lot nearby.
Their grandmother sat on a park bench as they played, and didn't see that her grandchildren had vanished. When she finally did notice, it was too late. Andrei ran to her. The dogs had only bitten him in the leg. "Grandma, the dogs have Ionut," he said.
Police later found the four-year-old boy in the bushes, half-eaten. Medical forensics experts later determined he had been bitten hundreds of times, and had bled to death from external injuries.
'Dogs Have Conquered Romania's Cities'
The deadly attack by feral dogs played out a week ago, and has drawn new public attention to a problem in Romania that has existed for years. Thousands of stray dogs have roamed the country's cities, and they are becoming increasingly dangerous.
In recent days, parents have protested angrily in Bucharest under the motto, "We're not dog food!" Ionut's death is the main story being covered by the Romanian media these days, and it is the subject of a lively debate on Internet forums. A recent poll shows that three-quarters of Bucharest residents support killing the feral dogs.
The outrage is hardly surprising. The authorities estimate there are several hundred thousand street dogs roaming through Romanian cities and communities, including around 65,000 in Bucharest. The Anti-Rabies Center at the Institute for Infectious Diseases has reported 10,000 people in the capital have been given immunizations after dog bites this year alone. Two-thousand of those patients were children. Last year, 16,000 residents of Bucharest reported being bitten by wild dogs -- 3,000 more than the year before. This recently prompted Romanian journalist Iulian Leca to write, "The street dogs have long since conquered Romania's cities. At night, especially, it is they and not the police who control the streets."
Parliament Passes Law to Allow Dog Cull
Authorities took action very swiftly after Ionut's death. After Romanian President Traian Basescu called on the government to quickly pass a bill that would permit the dogs to be euthanized, lawmakers approved the legislation Tuesday with a large majority. Under the new rules, stray dogs can be killed if authorities are unable to place them in animal shelters and if they are unable to find an owner within 14 days after a dog is captured.
The new law has unleashed protests by animal rights activists. A spokesperson for Four Paws, a Romanian group, described the new legislation as a "Stone Age law" and said the group planned to file a complaint with the European Commission in Brussels in order to prevent any kind of "mass decimation." Animal rights activists also want to file a complaint at Romania's highest court. It wouldn't be the first time, either. The Romanian parliament passed a similar law two years ago. After it was challenged, the Constitutional Court overturned it in January 2012 because of "procedural errors."