Read, Write, Run, Roam

Old dogs, new tricks: Serbia’s efforts to reduce stray animals

Belgrade Animal Week wouldn’t be complete without a discussion about the stray dogs and cats that literally run Belgrade. A U.S. article states that there are 15,000 stray dogs in Belgrade, and 50,000 in Serbia. A BBC article contends that there are 100,000 stray dogs in Belgrade alone. Whatever the number is, it’s high. I’ve never seen so many strays in another European city.

There seem to be several reasons why the stray population is so high here: other legal priorities in a post-war society, a dearth of pre-existing animal welfare laws, shoddy shelters, and a lack of spay and neuter programs. A lot of fingers are pointed in the stray animal blame game; but everyone, including private citizens, has a role.

Most of the strays in downtown Belgrade are aloof and peaceful dogs. They’re a lot like my favorite stray shown below. I secretly call him Mr. Whiskers. He’s well-fed, friendly, and likes to watch the crowds while lying in the middle of Knez Mihailova.

Unfortunately, some strays aren’t so friendly. They roam in packs and have a reputation for attacking cars, bicycles, and, occasionally, people. In one suburban area, two dogs have been known to lunge at children. But it’s not clear what to do when dogs become a danger to Beogradjani.

These dogs were fine-just crossing the street

Animal control is almost non-existent here. Some people resort to getting rid of strays on their own, with cruel results. And placing friendly strays in a shelter can be a worse fate than leaving them on the streets. Shelters are underfunded, overcrowded, and often have inadequate food supplies and health care. Belgrade only has shelter facilities for 500 hundred animals; that’s one-tenth of its stray population.

Conflicting laws are partly to blame. Serbian Animal Welfare law mandates that shelters provide standard conditions, and Serbian criminal law prevents euthanasia unless an animal has a terminal illness. The result?  Overcrowded cages, limited supplies, and terrible stories of non-medically euthanized animals. I prefer Mr. Whiskers on Knez Mihailova, thank you very much.

Serbia may have a difficult history of dealing with strays, but it’s not all bad news. The country passed an animal welfare law in 2009. This year, Belgrade assigned eight police officers to a new animal welfare division to combat cruelty. And several organizations, from Bridgette Bardot’s foundation to volunteer medical students in the United States, have offered spay and neutering services to limit the number of stray dogs and cats. It remains to be seen if this will be an effective strategy. Serbians love their dogs, but they’re not too keen on making them sterile. I think it’s a machismo issue-but dealing with lots of unwanted puppies isn’t too macho in RHOB’s opinion.

In any event, this animal lover is not alone in Belgrade. I know many people who adopt strays or try to find homes for them. Until laws are clarified, shelter funding increases, and spay and neuter programs are the norm, strays will be a common sight in Belgrade.  But don’t tell that to Mr. Whiskers-he thinks he’s the only stray worth looking at.


3 responses

  1. BD

    Does belgrade have an animal organization comparable to ASPCA? Is there a reputable place to send donations?

    April 16, 2011 at 1:52 am

  2. SPCA does have international chapters, but not in Serbia. There are other organizations like Serbian Animal Voice and Docs for Dogs International, but I can’t vouch for how money is spent and so I can’t endorse donations. It makes the situation all the more frustrating. I tried to find US-based vet schools that were planning a trip, but I only found an older article about U of Iowa vet students who came here for a spay and neuter program. People who want to help here usually donate food or time instead of money.

    April 16, 2011 at 7:10 am

  3. My father lives in Belgrade and when i visit I am so sickened and saddened by the homeless dog situation. I just returned from a visit in Istanbul and there are homeless animals, but nothing like what i’ve seen in Belgrade. I would love to talk to you more about this – and hear about your thoughts on how to improve the situation. Education and resources are needed. Let me know if you’re open to discussing more. My email is

    October 20, 2011 at 12:27 am

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