During the last months we have been conducting large castration programs for cats and dogs in the most southern part of Puglia together with vets from Switzerland and Italy. We want to decrease the suffering of animals in Puglia at least a little bit. We have chosen to work in the province of Puglia because the problems are worse here than in other places and because according to the law it is possible here to release castrated strays back into the streets.
Many people have difficulties understanding how we, as animal rights organizations, can turn against animal shelters and demand their closing. This is understandable when the term ‘animal shelter’ evokes certain positive images; but the usual images do not match with what ‘animal shelter’ means in southern Italy.
It is no accident that these operations are not open to the public. There are no opening times and outsiders are kept strictly off of the premises. Puglia has over one hundred of these structures which are often former slaughterhouses or industrial complexes. They are used now to pen up various numbers of 50, 200, 500, or 1200 dogs. Fifty to seventy percent of them are ill to some degree. They have swollen paws, scabies, cancer or leishmaniasis. 50,000 to 60,000 dogs are awaiting their death in these pens and about the same number is roaming the streets, beaches and garbage dumps. This is the dog hell of Puglia.
We assure you that despite all the hardship and risks to it, a street dog’s life is incomparably better, more suitable and more natural than years of lingering illnesses and prolonged death inside the ‘canile’.
During the Nineties, backed by law, the Italian government started to subsidize animal shelters as private enterprises, handing out one to four euro’s per day per dog. The so-called animal shelters became a serious business: For keeping 50,000 to 60,000 dogs incarcerated; camp owners, mayors, government-appointed veterinarians and other corrupt insiders rake in more than 200,000 euros every day.
This means that millions of euros are at stake. Corruption and fraud are common. The industry is booming.
Dog shelters started to appear like mushrooms after a rain all over Puglia. In these pens, the dogs proliferate at a high rate and every winter thousands of them are being put back out into the streets. This way, the ‘strays’ continue to be omnipresent and serve to justify the ‘shelters’.
Usually, there is no way for a dog to get out of the canile alive except for pregnant females or females in heat. Adoptions are very rare and not desired. Crowded painfully close up on each other, two to seven dogs are kept in a very small, stinking and neglected box of concrete, or in a cage, which is all they get to see and which they never get to leave. If they are lucky, a workman appears once a day, spraying away the dirt and leaving dry dog food of the cheapest kind. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year; barks, awful smells, entrapment, moisture – heat in the summer – cold in the winter.
Depending on their past and their character, the dogs respond to these ‘conditions’ by turning crazy or becoming depressive or aggressive. They hear no kind word. They never enjoy walks, trees, grass, playing and socializing. Because they are good for one to five euros a day, they are even kept from dying. You can’t call this kind of a fate a life.