- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 December 19 , 2003 

Hunting for a Solution: Attacks by "man's best friend" increase as street dogs spread in Yerevan

The Yerevan municipal budget for 2003 included a 20 million dram (about $35,000) allotment for exterminating street dogs.

The methodology is simple. A three-member hunting squad goes into the streets at night, shoots the dogs, and cuts off the tails as proof of having done their jobs.

As the year ends, only about one-third of the money has been paid out. Meanwhile the Yerevan Emergency Hospital has reported 59 dog bites (most requiring stitches), as opposed to 23 last year. And that's just in one district of the city.

"Those who applied to us were people only from our district, but the situation is the same in other big hospitals of Yerevan," says surgeon Marels Muradyan.

The number of mongrels appears to be growing faster than the city's ability to control it or to protect residents from the danger of yards full of dogs.

Half joking, half serious, Muradyan says it's time to warn people to have a rock or a stick when walking about at night.

With no alternative means presently available, the gruesome means of eliminating "man's best friend", while barbaric and unsophisticated, is also proving to be inefficient in the capital.

For the past several years, the contract for dog killing has gone to a company called Dami-Arg. The extermination company is essentially three hunters who work from about midnight till about 5 a.m. tracking dogs and shooting them. They make their hunts based on complaints called in from anywhere in the city.

Unlike other passersby, when the Dami-Arg hunters appear in the neighborhood dogs become terrified.

"Seems like they can already smell us and in many cases when we enter the district, they disappear at once," says hunter Ashot Ghazaryan.

According to Ghazaryan there have been years when the three of them together have shot 9,000 dogs. He's been working at Dami-Arg for four years, but has been a professional hunter since he was young. He does not consider killing dogs a hunting but confesses that it's rather hard to find those preys.

"I myself love dogs," he says. "There was a time when I had nine dogs. But street dogs have a hunter's instinct and are very shrewd, besides the more there are the more aggressive they become, as a pack instinct takes over."

The work of Dami-Arg hunters is on contract basis. For each killed dog the company gets 2,400 drams (about $4), 170 drams (30 cents) of which goes to the hunter. As a proof, the hunter shows the dog tails and the corpse is thrown into Nubarashen's dump. The average prey for each hunter is about 200 dogs per month.

So far, the municipality has paid out seven million drams (about $12,500) out of the alloted sum.

"This work is based on enthusiasm," says Ghazaryan. "It's already been several months that we haven't received salary, but we are fulfilling our responsibility."

It is not unusual for sleeping citizens to be awakened by the yelp of a wounded dog or gunfire. And being a dog exterminator is not a profession that endears itself to the citizenry. The hunters assure that they are only killing mad, sick or big dogs.

"My conscience is clear, since I know I'm doing good for people," says 49-year old Ghazaryan. "Who wants a mad dog to bite his child?"

But Eduard Yavruyan, head of the Armenian Union for Animal Protection, says the city's $35,000 could have bought a more civilized and effective solution to the problem.

"They're creating incubators in civilized countries, gathering the street animals and disinfecting them," he says. "That requires two or three employees. Disinfection is not an expensive thing and dogs can be fed with leftovers."

In the mid-90s, then mayor of Yerevan Vano Siradeghyan met animal-rights activist, actress Brigitte Bardot and as a result an organization called "Protect Wandering Animals" was established.

"For that purpose former cattle sheds in Ararat region were given, and we were called as specialists to express our opinion, but that's as far as it got," says Yavruyan.

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