‘Stray dogs and Englishmen’ – The Importation of Romanian street dogs, what are the risks?

Amendments to the PETS passport scheme has made the importation of dogs from Europe easier than ever before.  Changes were made after the Department for Environment, Food and Rural affairs (defra) considered the risk of Rabies introduction to the UK to be very low.  After microchipping and rabies vaccination dogs can enter the UK just three weeks later.  Under the current rules they require only tapeworm treatment prior to travel.  The treatment prevents the parasite Echinococcus granulosa, a tapeworm not endemic to the uk that is transmissible to humans.

In recent years, there has been an influx of foreign street dogs to the UK.  In particular Romanian street dogs.

The issue surrounding Romanian street dogs is a complex one.  In 1974 the communist regime, led by Nicolae Ceausecu began the process of ‘systematisation’.  After taking inspiration from his visit to North Korea in 1971 rural areas as well as cities were developed and modernised in an effort to create urban industrial centres. People were moved into new appartment blocks, sometimes with only a days notice and consequently their dogs were abandoned.  Street dog numbers increased steadily over the coming years until tragedy struck and packs of dogs started to kill people.  Most notably, the dogs were blamed for the death of a young boy, Ionut Anghel in Bucharest in September 2013.  A few days later it was confirmed that dogs belonging to a private security company were responsible, however the wheels were already set in motion and the Stray Dogs Euthanasia Law was passed, leading to the mass culling of street dogs.   In 2015, Bucharest City Hall stated that over 51,200 stray dogs were captured between October 2013 and January 2015, with more than half being euthanized, about 23,000 being adopted, and 2,000 still residing in shelters.

The plight of these dogs has received much publicity in the english tabloid press, specifically reports of horrific abuse and torture as well as poor living conditions within shelters.

Numerous charities now import these dogs for rehoming in the UK.  I have witnessed the dedication of the volunteers first hand, their commitment to providing a better life for the dogs they care for is admirable. Some of the dogs have sustained horrific injuries, probably as a result of road traffic accidents or abuse, but somehow had the resilience to survive.  The dogs are vaccinated and neutered before making their way to UK holding centres.  Once within the UK the dogs may require more specialist treatment for their injuries in order to lead a life without pain.  All rescue dogs require a degree of understanding and patience but many of these dogs make charming pets.  Exotic, attractive  dogs with gentle temperaments and a winning story of triumph over adversity.

A recent communication in the vet record however, warned vets of a number of cases of tongue worm, Linguatula serrata in stray dogs imported to the UK from Romania. Although not yet believed to be endemic in the UK, there have been a few reports in foxes and a deer.
The tongue shaped worm actually lives in the nasal passages of of dogs, causing sneezing, nasal discharge and occasionally nose bleeds. Dogs fed on raw meat are at risk because the intermediate host include sheep, goats, cattle and horses. Eggs can be expelled from the nose and can then spread to other hosts. Worms are large measuring between 20 mm and 130 mm in length.  Rarely humans can be infected, with reports of parasite migration to the eye.

The parasite is killed by macrocyclic lactones for example milbemycin oxime, however treatment with this specific anti-parasitic is not a pre-requisite for entry into the UK under the PETS passport scheme, high- lighting the potential risk of introduction of disease into the UK.

Despite culling and rehoming, street dogs still remain a problem in Romania.  Research into the population dynamics of stray dogs and wildlife has largely been driven by efforts to control infectious disease such as Rabies in dogs and Tuberculosis in badgers.  Culling of badgers in order to control TB in cattle began in 1975, while initially deemed a success, by 1996 TB amongst cattle was as prevalent as when the culling began.  Researchers believe that the program may have failed as a result of migration of new badgers into cull zone territories after animals had been removed.  Rabies is a deadly disease, research into disease control has focused on targeting rabies at the source, namely street dogs who are the prime cause of rabies amongst humans.  It is widely believed that in the longterm culling dogs is not an effective method of population control, with new dogs replacing those that have been removed.  A breeding female can then give rise to many more descendants within a few years.  Studies on rabies control in India have shown however that the capture, vaccination, neutering and return of dogs to their territory can reduce dog populations by nearly 30%.

Humans provide a ready source of food for Romanian street dogs, therefore as each one is removed others will take their place and the cycle of misery will continue.

Another reason why removal of Romanian street dogs has been reported to be an ineffective method of population control is widespread corruption.  Street dog capture and extermination is a lucrative business.  Sustaining the dog population lines the pockets of those who have taken advantage of the situation.

Whilst I do not believe any dog in need should be turned away, we need to acknowledge that Britain’s exit from the EU now makes it far more difficult for us to influence European animal welfare bills.  Ironically, as we close our doors on Europe, we will no doubt continue to open our doors to street dogs and the potential diseases they harbour with no credible means of securing a better future for the countless others left behind.

C.A. Donnelly, R. Woodroffe, D.R. Cox, F.J. Bourne, C.L. Cheeseman, R.S. Clifton-Hadley, G. Wei, G. Gettinby, P. Gilks, H. Jenkins, W.T. Johnston, A.M. Le Fevre, J.P. McInerney, W.I. Morrison
Positive and negative effects of widespread badger culling on tuberculosis in cattle
Nature, 439 (2006), pp. 843–846

J.F. Reece, S.K. Chawla Control of rabies in Jaipur, India, by the sterilization and vaccination of neighbourhood dogs Vet. Rec., 159 (2006), pp. 379–383

Management strategies for addressing wildlife disease transmission: the case for fertility control
D.L. Nolte, W.M. Arjo, D.H Stalman (Eds.), Proc. 12th Wildl. Dam. Manag. Conf. (2007), pp. 265–271

TUYTTENS, F.A.M. AND D.W. MACDONALD. 1998. Sterilization as an alternative to control of wildlife diseases: bovine tuberculosis in European badgers as a case study. Biodiversity and Conservation 7:705-723.

SMITH, G.C. AND D. WILKINSON. 2003. Modeling control of rabies outbreaks in red fox populations to evaluate culling, vaccination, and vaccination combined with fertility control. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 39:278-86.

How Holland became free of Stray dogs BY DOGRESEARCH Isabelle Sternheim MARCH 2012 AMSTERDAM • THE NETHERLANDS

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