By LOUISA ROHDE

Stray animals used to roam freely in Ulaanbaatar until the government decided to get rid of the problem. Between January and September of this year, approximately 65,000 stray cats and dogs have been killed by hired sharpshooter, tearing a hole of 829 million MNT into the country’s budget. Their attempts, however, have proven to be unsuccessful.

I sat down with T.Zoriglon, the director of Lucky Paws NGO, to discuss the issue of the stray animal situation in Mongolia’s capital. Lucky Paws is the only NGO in Mongolia that focuses on stray animal welfare in the country. It was founded by young animal-lovers in 2013, and was officially registered in April 2014.

According to T.Zoriglon, the sharpshooters hired by the government operate during the early morning hours with their main targets being dogs, as cats are too difficult to catch and shoot.

“The shooting companies do very bad things. Some of them catch the dogs, collect them alive, take them to another place and kill them one by one before their eyes. They are trying to catch them with a sort of lasso and accidently cut the dog’s neck. Some dogs escape with big wounds,” says T.Zoriglon.

“Little puppies are even beaten to death. They don’t want to spend a bullet on them,” he adds.

Apparently, a dog’s life is worth 12,500 MNT, which is approximately 5.5 USD. The price was raised this April from 7,500 MNT. In the same month under the former government, another regulation was implemented. From then on, it became open for anyone to make some extra money by taking dogs to the shooting companies hired by the government. Especially the poor and homeless have made use of this regulation, though T.Zoriglon states that even some teenagers saving up for computer games would exploit this opportunity.

When it comes to problem solution, the so-called culling campaigns are, however, nothing but a farce. They do not solve the problem; they merely contain it for a year as the stray animal population is set back to its starting point of the year before.

Stray dogs during the winter time
Stray dogs during the winter time

Even the numbers show that there has not been any improvement over the several last years. In fact, in 2012, 346.6 million MNT was spent on killing 77,037 stray animals, in 2013 it was 664.2 million MNT for 91,666 dogs and cats, in 2014 it was 898 million MNT for 87,200 abimals, and in 2015 it was 461.6 million MNT for a total of 61,544 stray ani-
mals.

To do the math, over the course of four years, around 383,000 animals were eliminated, costing the government about three billion MNT, while there are still thousands of animals out on the streets, procreating.

Dogs breed twice a year with a litter of usually five to seven puppies, which reach their sexual maturity within 12 months depending on their size. Suffice it to say, that the number of dogs, if left unchecked, will get out of hand very quickly. It is estimated that between 300,000 and 320,000 stray animals are currently roaming the dirt roads of the ger districts and the streets of down-town Ulaanbaatar. The greater part of these animals, however, ekes out a miserable existence in the ger district, and this is also where the problem originates.

“In the ger districts, people do not feel responsible for their dogs and let them go out and they breed, and after that, they give birth, but people don’t want too many puppies, so they throw them out at a market, where there are many people,” the director of Lucky Paws says.

It is basically a vicious cycle. People especially don’t want females because they are the ones giving birth to the puppies, so people rarely take them in. Ger district residents also usually use their dogs as guard dogs, which is why they prefer males as they believe them to be more aggressive. And since they do not feel responsible for the whereabouts of their dogs, their dogs run around impregnating the stray bitches.

It is obvious that Ulaanbaatar is in a desperate need of solution that is long-term, so that the money wasted for unnecessary killing and animal cruelty can be used for more beneficial projects like schools, clinics or infrastructure.

The much more efficient and humane solutions would simply be neutering and spaying. What goes without saying in most Western countries, however, is a widely foreign concept for a lot of Mongolians and is sometimes even met with resistance and incomprehension. But where does this hindering behaviour stem from?

Many Mongolians in the ger district do not regard their pets as family members, but rather more as useful objects to protect their properties or keep their kids entertained. Especially puppies are treated as toys children can have fun with. They will just discard it once it gets boring or too big, adding one more dog to the stray dog population.

The Lucky Paws director believes it to be a problem in education.

“We found lots of injured puppies kicked by kids. One time, a little puppy was full on painted green and the people tolerate that. Some kids painted the little puppy and another person watched it and brought the puppy to us. The person asked the kids why they were doing it and the kids said that it was funny,” he tells me.

This is why a lot of people are not willing to pay for spaying or neutering, especially in times when money is tight anyway. Spaying costs range depending on the dog’s weight, between 80,000 and 150,000 MNT. It would be easier and less expensive to neuter, but apparently, dog owners, especially men, absolutely want their male dogs to remain intact. Apart  from the financial reasons, there is also the manifested belief of some people that humans should not interfere with the animals’ reproductive rights, and deny them a family. According to them, spaying violates the law of nature. It is hard and frustrating to argue against this deep-rooted, idealistic conviction, and then again it is impossible to make people pay for something that they cannot afford.

Therefore, Lucky Paws tries to raise awareness. “For a little less than three years now, our main goal has been spaying. We use every chance to promote spaying on TV and radio, and in the newspapers. And then we tried to urge the government to introduce spaying five times until now,” T.Zoriglon says.

Under the former government, their pleas for regulating legislation fell on deaf ears. In contrast, the current government seems to be making steps in the right direction. According to the Lucky Paws director, they have recently started to gather information on the experience of other countries with stray animals and spaying in general.

The NGO does more than the mere promotion of spaying. At the beginning, Lucky Paws even provided payment for the spaying and neutering of other people’s dogs and cats. Unfortunately, however, the non-profit organization is largely relying on donations and could not cope financially with this arrangement over the long run. Therefore, Lucky Paws ventured to open their own veterinarian clinic in 2015, going by the name of AzVet, to ease the financial burden and be independent of vet practices. “Other vets are business. Our work is just for the dogs!” T.Zoriglon emphasizes.

Since the opening of the clinic, however, the government has been holding up their progress. Ten months have passed already, and the NGO is still struggling to attain a veterinarian license, which would permit them to perform surgeries. As of now, only minor treatments are allowed at the clinic. Maintenance costs such as rent for the clinic and staff salaries are still to be paid, pushing the NGO to its financial limits.

Once they have their license, Lucky Paws and their AzVet Clinic will, nevertheless, continue to offer free spaying for mixed ger district dogs, and considerably cheaper spaying for pure-bred dogs. On top of that, Lucky Paws will try to further their attempts for promoting neutering and spaying as a means of limiting and, hopefully one day, eradicating the stray animal population in Ulaanbaatar in a humanitarian way. After all, as Mahatma Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

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