One day on the street I saw an elderly woman hit her dog, a labrador, simply because it happened to be standing in the way of another passerby. I was shocked, and asked her what she was doing. “I hit my dog to educate it,” she told me. It is, she said, her way of teaching her pet what’s right and what’s wrong.
How can someone so nonchalantly justify hurting another being?
Unfortunately, it is not unusual to witness all types of animal abuse when going about your day. Recently I was walking down the streets of Tirana and I stopped to pet a stray dog huddled in a corner. I noticed that as I approached it began to tremble with fear. It looked traumatized and starving, the reality for most stray dogs across Albania.
In Albania and Kosovo there is a lack of compassion for animals, who suffer abuse at the hands of institutions and individuals who seem to have become numb to the violence.
Acts of cruelty to animals aren’t just about individual actions, but are instead tied to the broader culture that the cruelty occurs in. A culture of tolerance towards animal abuse is supported by particular bureaucratic decision-making, legal justification, institutional actions and a whole host of other daily realities.
People brought up in a sphere where animal abuse is normalized will perpetuate horrid practices without perhaps stopping and considering the moral weight of their actions. As a result, ordinary people can commit terrible acts.
One of the most jarring recent examples of animal cruelty occurred in 2017, when a video of three children in a small town in Albania torturing and beating to death a dog went viral. Activists at the time were adamant that better legislation was necessary to protect animals. Unfortunately, this was not an isolated event.
There appears to be regular systematic killings of dogs in Albania. Animal rights’ activists reported that in 2019 the municipality of Tirana killed around 1,000 stray dogs. Then in April 2021 the mayor of Tirana ordered a new mass sterilization campaign which appears to have been a pretext for another mass killing of stray dogs. Under the pretense that they would be spayed and neutered, evidence suggests that strays were in fact killed with injections of hydrochloric acid.
The International Organization for the Protection of Animals (OIPA) documented how municipal workers took dogs from the street and transported them to the public veterinary hospital where the dogs were euthanized. Their bodies were then discarded in a garbage dump. A member of the European Parliament called the action a mass slaughter. In November 2020, shortly before this campaign, the government made sure to exclude stray dogs, cats and other street animals from protection under the new animal rights law.
Stray dogs in Kosovo don’t appear to have it any better. In 2011, the municipality of Prishtina had a group of hunters kill around 190 street dogs. Meanwhile in 2017, it was reported that the Municipality of Podujeva had signed a contract with a company for “intervention on stray dogs in emergent cases,” a euphemism for killing 600 dogs. According to municipal representatives, this action was completely legitimate and legal. The horrific ordeal was documented through pictures that showed bloodied streets.
These aren’t the only times there have been systematic killings of dogs, but they demonstrate the awful state of affairs.
But at times there are glimmers of hope, even if they remain just glimmers. In January 2022 the municipality of Prishtina held a roundtable discussion to discuss the condition of stray dogs with actors from local and central government along with civil society. But despite the stated commitment to start addressing the issue, it seems clear that the necessary measures have not been implemented.
This is such a grave concern because the past steps taken by municipalities show such low regard for the wellbeing of these living, feeling creatures. We are talking about a moral question here, a question of right and wrong. Is it right to shoot stray dogs? Is it okay to inject dogs with hydrochloric acid, a highly corrosive poison that severely damages tissue on contact? Is it acceptable to torture dogs in this way?
We live in a violent world and Albanians, whether in Albania or Kosovo, have in recent history been subject to extreme violence. Due to this violent reality I often think we might be desensitized. Thus, we view animals as objects, as disposable things. Then we see the cycle of violence continue in how we treat our animals.
Oppressed by the systems that control our lives, we vent our frustration on vulnerable beings in a vicious powerplay. I often wonder whether people have pets only so they have another being that actually listens to them. It brings them comfort that somehow they have some sort of control over the life of another.
These questions about frustration, violence and control are not idle. Research suggests that there is a link between domestic violence and animal cruelty. People who hurt animals are more likely to harm other humans and exhibit other forms of violence.
Quite like domestic violence, violence against animals is often considered a private and personal matter. But just as society has increasingly been speaking out about domestic violence, demanding an end to the barbaric practice, it is time to speak out against animal cruelty as well. Animals deserve to be treated humanely and with empathy as co-inhabitants of our world.
Feature image: Arrita Katona / K2.0.