A Humane and Systematic Approach to Solve Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Stray Dog Problem

Photo: Dogs Trust Foundation Gallery

The problems of stray dogs in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) should be resolved systematically and humanely following the Law on Animal Protection and Welfare. For that to happen, more resources are necessary because the funds available to address this problem are insufficient. A lack of resources continues to be a problem even though the situation has improved somewhat in recent times.

Government agencies and other organizations can address the problem of stray dogs throughout BiH by investing additional resources in improvements in the housing and caring of stray dogs. Also, educating the public and raising awareness of this problem is necessary. According to the data published by the Cantonal Public Utility Company (KJKP), 5,604 stray dogs have been killed in the Sarajevo Canton since 2017. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic creates barriers to the process of adopting dogs.

The Dogs Trust Foundation is a UK-based charity with a mission to assist local authorities and other organizations in establishing a humane, sustainable, and continuous framework for compliance with the state Law on Animal Protection and Welfare. The work of the Foundation also includes promoting the adoption of street dogs. However, this program is active only in the Sarajevo Canton and its surroundings due to limited funds.

Sanja Bianculli from the Dogs Trust Foundation said they offer expert assessments on which dog is best for a family’s lifestyle, i.e., which owner is best for the dog’s needs and character; this is a priority for them as a dog welfare organization. “Through our fostering program, a dog is fully examined and cleaned. We also start training the dog and get it used to being a pet,” explained Bianculli, emphasizing that anyone who wants to adopt a dog should apply to do so through the Dogs Trust page in the section “Application Form.” 

Asked what local authorities have done about stray dogs, Bianculli said: “As far as local authorities are concerned, they are the only ones who are required, but also the only ones who have the resources to ensure that the Law on Animal Protection and Welfare in BiH is consistently implemented. There is now more motivation for these authorities to search for and initiate solutions proactively, instead of the more common practice in the past where the action was taken only after it had escalated to the point where citizens’ lawsuits and claims for compensation had begun to arrive.”

She explained that “…there are two kinds of people – those who are aware of the problem only when directly confronted with it, i.e., when an incident occurs with a dog; and those who understand the problem and believe that legal, humane and systematic solutions are the only way to prevent a recurrence of the problem.”

Punishment of violations of Law Needed

The Dogs Trust Foundation has been working for years on educating and raising citizens’ awareness, and some results have been achieved. However, Bianculli emphasizes the need for local authorities to ensure that legal oversight measures are strengthened as applied to owners, breeders, hunters, shelters, boarding houses, and others who keep dogs. Any violation of the Law must have consequences.

Citizens, local groups, and associations, according to Bianculli, have mechanisms in place to demand transparency and consistency from the authorities in enforcing the Law and protecting both innocent dogs and human health and safety. She states that state law is humane and provides an excellent framework for establishing a sympathetic and efficient system. This is the only way to ensure that dogs do not have to be homeless and are not in danger of inhumane treatment and death. As she points out, now “the reaction of the responsible institutions is much faster in these cases, and it happens much more often now that the process is more transparent.”

The “Woof Wood” workshop

The “Woof Wood” workshop, owned by Belma Ustović and Edin Osmanović in Sarajevo, is also active in helping abandoned dogs and cats.

Photo: Woof Wood Organization Gallery

“In our small Woof Wood factory, work began a year ago. We wanted to offer our dear pets interesting and practical play items, feeders, cribs, and a range of products that we are currently working on and that you will see in the future. Made of natural materials and colors, harmless to animals and us, and yet playful and cheerful. The original and unchanged goal of our business is to finance the costs of rescued dogs and cats from the street,” said Ustović, one of the founders of this increasingly popular brand.

She reveals that they were limited to providing help only to a few stray dogs and cats; before starting the business, they were forced to delay the housing of an animal or delay providing veterinary treatment if it was injured or sick until funds could be raised.

“Now we have much more money to cover the basic costs, and we hope that when we develop the business, we will be able to help more animals. The profits of the business are used for feeding animals, veterinary expenses, food for street dogs, cats, and hedgehogs …” said Ustović.

When asked if they cooperate with local associations for abandoned animals, she answered: “We do cooperate. We all have the same goal, sheltering and adopting animals, and we help each other as much as we can. Many of them are associations from EU cities, which help us find homes for dogs and cats. The local associations are Ruka za Šapu, Glas životinja, Happy Puppy Sarajevo…” continues Ustović.

Disagreements with customs

The pandemic of the COVID-19 virus significantly worsened the situation for abandoned animals because, among other things, adoption was difficult for adopters from other countries due to the new travel and quarantine bans. This led to overcrowding in boarding houses and a lack of assistance from foreign donors.

Photo: Woof Wood Organization Gallery

Ustović explains that there are no passports and certificates for animals, which are necessary before the trip. She also emphasizes that there are misunderstandings with the border police of neighboring countries, which is why sometimes the animals get all returned. However, these problems are an inspiration rather than a deterrent. “The items we make are usually first imagined and discussed. Sometimes the internet inspires us, sometimes our imagination. Only when the “draft” is designed in detail, we start making it. It happens that more than one of the items develop from one idea, which is why our range is expanding. We hope that the market will make space for us,” she added.

Woof Wood products can be found on their Facebook and Instagram pages, as well as their partners Zoo Centar in Pet Shop Ria.

Harisa is a trained Balkan Diskurs correspondent from Mostar. She is currently a master's student in International Relations and Diplomacy at the Faculty of Political Sciences, University of Sarajevo. Since high school, she has been involved in with various non-governmental organizations, and has fallen in love with activism. She is a member of the PRONI Center for Youth Development.

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