‘A COMMON CRIME'

  Jan 25, 2021 1:09 pm Ibrar Younas 7612
GÜLDEREN ÖZTANSU asks animal welfare experts what should be done to improve the lives of cats and dogs.

‘A COMMON CRIME'

WE OFTEN hear about the threats animals face both externally and at the hands of their owners. Poisonings, road accidents, falling into dangerous pits, intentional abuse and torture, negligence and poor living conditions are just some of them. 

In 2019, a municipality worker, “AÇ”, who is also a farmer in Geçitkale, shot dead two dogs with his hunting rifle because they were “disturbing his [farm] animals”. 

The same man had been convicted for killing a stray dog in 2016 with two shots while under the influence of alcohol. He received six months in prison and a three-year ban from using and carrying firearms. What makes this criminal case noteworthy is the senior judge’s statement that the man had committed a “common” crime. 

What is being done in North Cyprus to eliminate structural factors that cause violations of animal rights on a large scale? 

The first animal welfare law concerning street animals and pets was introduced in North Cyprus in 2003. This law, with its “filling” decrees passed at later dates, is significant for the status of animals in North Cyprus. 

According to this law pets registered to an owner cannot be left unattended outside their home, implying that, at least for adopted animals, a large source of risk posed by being unattended outside was eliminated. 

Former head of the Animal Protection and Survival Association, Belda Mahsucu, says that the biggest problem regarding animal welfare is “abandoning pets already acquired”. 

She says that stiffer punishments are needed to act as a deterrent against abandoning and harming animals.

“You must know it that if you harm an animal, there will be consequences,” she says.

Ms Mahsucu adds that it is very rare for people to be penalised for mistreating animals. 

Janna Kıral, Silent Ones Animal Survival and Ownership Association (SOASOA) head argues that the “2013 Animal Welfare Act, which we are trying to update with a Bill that’s stuck in Parliament, is not bad . . .but it is just not implemented”.

Ms Kıral’s own dogs, which she says she “loved like my own children”, were poisoned. The police, who reportedly do not operate in accordance with the 2013 Welfare Act, did not help serve justice for her dogs as she lacked “evidence”. 

“They did not look into the complaints after they asked me if I had a witness or a camera recording of the incident,” Ms Kıral adds.

A recent incident illustrated the gap between law and implementation when police “did not pay attention” after being called by the SOASOA about a ran-over cat in front of a bank in Lefkoşa. 

“After we insisted and got camera recordings from the bank, they [the police] then found the man and his insurance company paid for the cost of medical treatment for the cat, that could not be saved,” Ms Kıral states. 

However “the police did not operate according to the Animal Welfare Act, which goes to show that the present law is not taken into consideration”.  

Ms Kıral says that the culprit in this case was eventually found due to an individual police officer’s initiative – “it also depends on the officer” – indicating a lack of clear procedure.

“Things would have been different if it had been a dog,” she adds.

Ms Kıral believes that there is “differential treatment for dogs and cats” and that the “2013 Welfare Act is focused on dogs”. 

Referring to stray animals, she says: “Municipalities don’t care about cats, cats are abandoned.” According to Ms Kıral, cats are not sterilised as systematically as dogs are, which makes it harder to care for their population and they are placed in shelters less frequently than dogs. 

Their fate depends on “only a handful of people, and non-governmental organisations are trying to dig a well with a needle”. 

Cyprus Turkish Veterinary Medical Association president Burak Toksoy says there is also a discrepancy in registration and chipping since these procedures do not apply to cats “as there is no law on cats and cats are often not pets within homes because they are free animals”.

Ülkü Cürcioğlu, vice president of the Golden Paws Association, says that “inspections and sanctions are not carried out enough to ensure that rules are followed”. 

Ms Cürcioğlu says that chips can only be read at a veterinary clinic with the animal present. “Owners cannot track or find out where lost pets are. This means that chips only work one way and only half of their potential is used. 

“But when dogs are abandoned and their owners are found through the chip, the necessary action is not taken and people get away with their mistake.”  

The 2013 Welfare Act is also important because, under the authority of its decree passed by Gönyeli Municipality, the council “catches any stray dog and keeps them in private and/or legal shelters that it deems appropriate”. 

In theory, this law protects all dogs, whether adopted or stray, as it takes them off the streets. This leaves for consideration in situ problems animals face at their homes or shelters. The same decree sets regulations for home life as follows: the municipality “inspects the place where the dog is kept between sunrise and sunset”; a registered licence is cancelled if “torture by means of starvation, inadequate housing conditions, maltreatment and so on” takes place; and “a single dog will not be allowed to live in an area of less than eight square metres and two dogs less than 12 square metres”. 

The following regulations set out the legal way to contain a dog: “A reinforced concrete floor and/or a sandbox of one third of the area where it is located; a water supply will be connected to the cesspool; the ceiling will be arranged in such a way that it can be protected from the sun and air circulation can be provided easily; an owner convicted of a crime against animal cruelty and ‘other animal laws’, as well as an owner who has ‘abandoned their dog, lost their dog or who did not report their dog’s death’ will face three-year ban from owning a pet dog again; and the municipality will apply a fixed fine of 50TL for each rule [violated].”

Although this decree was passed to supplement the 2013 Act and has not been changed significantly by other municipalities who adopted it, the decree fails to mention how frequent inspections should occur, what should be inspected or the minimum standards expected. 

It is unclear in the section of the decree on maltreatment if permanent tethering or chaining or excessive illicit breeding for commercial benefit is allowed. 

Is 50TL a large enough deterrent to accommodate dogs appropriately and treat them according to the law?

Another question is should potential owners be vetted and their living space inspected before a licence is given? This type of screening would help detect people like AÇ so animals will not be handed to those who are repeat abusers. 

Ms Cürcioğlu says that her organisation makes regular complaints to municipalities about small cages. 

Ms Kıral also informs the police and the municipality after receiving complaints that owned dogs are not fed properly, “such as with salad or beans”, and because they are put in cramped places. “We don’t have any powers so all we can do is inform other authorities,” she points out.

Ms Mahsucu does not believe that the “eight square metre rule” is followed, especially for hunting dogs. 

“Hunting dogs only leave their cages from week to week when it’s time to hunt,” she explains. “Some people take care of their hounds. However some people keep them purely for hunting purposes. What happens to them when the hunting season is over? They are cooped up all the time. I am most sorry for hunting dogs.”

To become well-adjusted companion animals, dogs should interact regularly with people and other animals and should receive regular exercise, according to the UK’s People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta). This angle is completely missed by TRNC law.

The practice of fastening a dog to a stationary object and leaving them unattended can aggravate dogs. If there isn’t a good balance between socialisation and containment or if housing conditions are not designed with dogs’ needs in mind, this can lead to the dog becoming angry and territorial. If there is no other alternative to tethering, then an appropriate length leash should be used, with the dog’s size in mind. 

Social norms of pet-keeping have made tethering unpopular in other countries and even illegal in some parts of the world. However, residents of North Cyprus who comply to a local set of norms where petting animals inside the house is seen as “dirty” or “unhygienic” (especially by the older generations) end up having very few options other than to tether their dogs if they do not have a fenced garden. 

Ms Cürcioğlu touches on that perception in a comment about why animals are harmed in North Cyprus: “I believe the underlying problem here is a lack of empathy which needs to be addressed,” she says.

“It is important that families teach kids how to empathise and move away from the ‘do not touch it, it’s dirty’ mentality.” 

Ms Cürcioğlu adds that it is important that “minor” offences, such as placing a dog in a cramped cage, should be treated with greater concern, as well as poisonings, of which she said four were recorded recently.

Proper containment of pets is also important for public safety. While both dogs and cats can pose a risk to drivers, dogs are sometimes involved in biting incidents, especially when they are not socialised properly. A common sight that can be spotted in Cyprus is an individual on a walk who holds a rod in their hand to scare away dogs if needed. 

 

 

Should there be an animal control unit? 

BASED on interviews conducted, there is a serious need for more inspections and sanctions, which municipalities are failing to carry out with no dedicated staff. 

Ms Kıral points out that Lefkoşa Turkish Municipality, however, is doing an “excellent job” and that they “never turn us down when we pass on a complaint, but that other places like Lapta, Güzelyurt and especially İskele do not register what we report and do nothing about animals under threat”. Ms Cürcioğlu similarly argues for a dedicated unit that will cover the shortcomings of organisations such as Golden Paws. “We don’t have any legal powers, we can’t issue sanctions and we also don’t have an animal ambulance,” she says. “We need support from the government.”

Explaining the need for animal ambulances, Ms Kıral says that “sometimes people should not call animal NGOs when they see an injured [animal] as time is important and if the animal is in a critical condition we can lose it due to time wasted”. Moreover, “there is no coordination between the relevant bodies; everyone follows a different set of procedures”.

Another reason for an animal control unit is highlighted by the view that some local authorities are not always capable of taking care of animals. 

Ms Cürcioğlu gives the example of Yeniboğaziçi Municipality that has attempted to collect unattended dogs from the streets. 

“I had two issues with that,” she says. “Yeniboğaziçi does not have a shelter at the moment. No village without a shelter can collect dogs without making an announcement to the public about where the dogs are going to be placed. 

“Also, the method of collection – luring dogs into metal traps with meat – is unacceptable and poses a risk of injury.”

In addition to an animal control unit, feeding points should be developed for cats and dogs, according to Cürcioğlu, who is “not a fan of closing dogs in shelters” and is against increasing their capacity.

“Lefkosa has capacity for 400 animals, Gazimağusa 400, there are two shelters in Girne with roughly the same capacity, Gönyeli and İskele have 250-300 places each. Increasing this amount would make it harder to manage the shelters. 

“If there are 20 to 25 dogs in one [enclosure] and nobody is supervising them . . . and one of them gets aggressive it can easily end up in chaos that would be hard to control. 

“We have to think like this: shelters end animals’ freedom. For instance, the Lefkoşa shelter is really good, [animals] are sterilised and vaccinated, but there is one thing they are lacking: love. “If these dogs were on the streets and five out of 100 people patted their heads, that would give them more love than what they receive at the shelter. It is hard to recognise each one of them equally in a crowded environment but they really need that.”

For those reasons Ms Cürcioğlu argues for “improved conditions outside as opposed to expanding shelters”. 

“Shelters still have an important function, however, when animals are found they should be sterilised and brought in until their treatments have been completed, after which they can be transferred to feeding points located where there is little traffic.”

Feeding points allow animals to keep their freedom but provide no protection from a range of dangers, Ms Cürcioğlu notes.

“A minimum of 30 road accidents per month are reported to Golden Paws and about eight of those [animals] end up losing their lives,” she says.

Some accidents are reported to other organisations and some are not recorded at all. People involved in such accidents often say that they “immediately leave the scene because they do not want to pay for the [animal’s] medical costs or that they do not have the money. 

“But we continuously announce that they just need to urgently transfer the animal to a veterinarian and NGOs find the money for the expenses anyway,” Ms Cürcioğlu explains.

“In addition, some insurance companies cover animal accidents so people should check with their insurers.” 

On the issue of poisonings, Ms Cürcioğlu says that “Lannate, a poison that is used regularly, has been banned here but people bring it to the island illegally and use it knowing that it causes the internal organs of animals to come apart”. 

According to her, poisonings have been occurring more frequently recently, while road incidents have fallen. 

“I cannot empathise with people who do this to animals, I think they must have mental health problems,” Ms Cürcioğlu says.

“There is nothing to empathise with here because this is murder, there is no difference between murdering a man with a pistol or killing dogs with poison. 

“I can’t believe that people watch the dogs – who get excited because they think they have found food – eat the poison.” 

Golden Paws organises school visits because they believe that education is a solution against a mentality that harms animals.  

Ms Kıral says that poison is “sold like salt and sugar” and that it is “really hard to bring justice to animals that die [from being poisoned]”.

Ms Kıral believes that it will take another 20 years for improvements to be made in the way animals are treated in the TRNC. 

“Our people do not have a culture and environment of loving animals,” she says. “That can only change through education, there is no hope of parents teaching their offspring these values. 

“Be sensitive, please don’t look the other way if you see a sick or injured animal. Do not look the other way and wait for someone else to [help], you are that someone.”



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