(June 11 2009)
By Ljilja Cvekic
A new animal protection law passed by Serbia this month marks a legal milestone by recognizing animals as emotional beings capable of both physical and psychological anguish, coding into law their right to be protected by their owners and the state.
Serbia was the second-last country in Europe to adopt such a law, now leaving Albania as the only state without animal protection legislation.
“The law endorses a notion of animal’s needs – physical, psychological and social ones and for the first time in our history considers an animal an emotional being,” Elvir Burazerovic, the head of Serbia’s biggest animal protection society Orca told Serbia Today on Thursday.
“Animals can feel pain, suffering, stress, fear and panic,” says the Law on Wellbeing of Animals, adopted by the Serb parliament last week, forbidding the abuse, desertion and killing of animals, their participation in betting fights and misuse in the film industry or circus performances.
It is no longer deemed enough to provide an animal with food, basic freedom of movement and care, it now also has the right to play and socialize. Under “psychological abuse of an animal” the law understands not only causing fear and suffering, but also “causing a feeling of boredom and insecurity and preventing an animal to make a social links with animals of the same species”.
Serbs will also have to give up clipping their dogs’ tails and ears, and could have their pets taken away if they are found to be mistreated. A national Ethics Council will focus on animals used in experiments and medical research, while animal testing for cosmetics and the breeding of animals purely for the sale of their skin and fur is banned outright.
Nodding to Serbia’s tens of thousands of stray dogs, the law could be used to force local authorities to build shelters and introduce population control measures. According to the only registration ever conducted, some 4,500 strays roam the streets of Belgrade alone. Only five towns have rudimentary shelters.
Measures for reducing their number were already scant in Yugoslav times, but the severe economic crisis of the 90’s added to the problem. Unable to afford food for them, dog owners abandoned their pets en masse, and the state, mired in wars and economic collapse, ignored the problem. Local communities dealt with it haphazardly, sometimes just hunting down and killing the dogs.
“This law will finally create a mechanism to solve the problem of abandoned animals in a human and efficient way,” Burazerovic said. “It insists on prevention and clearly forbids desertion of an animal.”
“However restrictive the law might look like to some people, especially those earning their living by working with animals, they should understand that this opens a door to the European Union market for our food products, making them more competitive.”
Serbia first introduced an act of abuse and cruelty against animals in its criminal code in 2007. Since then there have been a handful of convictions and in one case the court even passed down a prison sentence for the brutal killing of a dog.