Croatian Labour member Branko Vukšić stated that bringing the Croatian law into line with European directives on paper was not enough to guarantee that practices would not remain 'Balkan'. He defined the Croatian law on the Protection of Animals as the most contravened in Croatia ("najgaženijim u Hrvatskoj"). In a country where so many laws are respected more in the breach than the practice, that is damning. Sadly, Mr. Vukšić's statement was not political rhetoric but the exact truth.
Voluntary organizations for the protection of animals, such as the registered charity (udruga) Noina Arka (Noah's Ark) and the Zaklada za zaštitu životinja Split (The Split Animal Protection Foundation), rely heavily on public support, but the amount available is not comparable to other European countries. For domestic pets, there are plenty of regulations governing how people should keep them according to the law (Pravilno držanje životinja). But ensuring the welfare of the animals is woefully neglected. If an animal is mistreated, one has the right to call in the inspectors, who will come and examine the situation and take whatever action they think is appropriate according to current laws. For Hvar, the inspectors have to come from Split. Dogs can be removed from the owners or put down. The owners might be prosecuted. However, prosecutions have been few, and even fewer have resulted in conviction. In the Split Civil Court, for instance, the twenty cases of cruelty to animals lodged between January 2006 and 2013 were dismissed as unfounded. The organizations for animal protection in Split have been justifiably concerned, not to say outraged. It is hoped that as the law has been tightened since January 2013 to allow for one-year prison sentences for those found guilty of animal cruelty, prosecutions will be prepared more carefully and offenders will be judged more stringently.
A major problem is the lack of adequate animal shelters. There are far too few around Croatia, and most have difficulty providing conditions according to the law. For some time there were two shelters in Split which served a wide area, and which were the nearest available to Hvar. They were both closed down by Inspectors in 2011, despite the protests of animal-lovers. The animals in the shelters were transported to the refuge in Šibenik, which was now the closest to Hvar. Any animals which did not find homes within 60 days were put down. Dr. Zdenka Filipović is a veterinary surgeon in Split who ran one of the two Split centres which were closed. Following the closure, she continued to help find homes for unwanted animals, and set up the Split Animal Protection Foundation (Zaklada za zaštitu životinja Split) with the primary aim of opening another rescue centre based on a 'No-Kill' policy which would ensure that animals in the home were not put down after 60 days, but would be kept until they found a home or died naturally. This would be the first of its kind in Croatia. Building the home in Kaštel Sućurac just outside Split was started in 2013, but the opening was delayed when the Inspector refused to issue the necessary Usage Permit on the grounds that various aspects of the building did not conform to the legal norms.
At present, it seems that animal rescue centres in Croatia face a variety of problems:
- there are too few
- they are overloaded with the numbers of unwanted animals
- they often cannot provide satisfactory conditions for the rescued animals
- if they fail to comply with the legal standards and requirements, they are closed down
It is certainly right for the Inspectors to close down centres which do not maintain proper standards for conditions and care. But what this means for the animals involved is death in most cases. More support is needed for the existing rescue centres to provide everything needed according to the law. And we urgently need a national movement to set up adequate animal rescue centres throughout Croatia.
Unwanted animals on Hvar may be left to roam or killed. An owner on Hvar who wants to abandon an animal is obviously not going to spend time and money taking it to the mainland to the shelter in Šibenik. Puppies and kittens are often left close to camp sites or holiday homes during the summer season, or outside the schools at other times. Some of them find good homes and survive.
Sara was abandoned with several other siblings somewhere in the hills above Jelsa. They were probably a whole litter of unwanted puppies. They wandered around the countryside for days before most of them found homes. Sara, a sort-of German Shepherd - well, she almost looks the part - thrived and grew from being a small bundle of fur into a fine, happy animal. Several years on, she divides her time between Hvar and Sardinia.
Billy was abandoned in the village of Pitve in July 2009. He tried to make friends with some visitors, who fed him for a few days. However, being a young dog, probably less than a year old, he loved to play with shoes and other personal items, so they quickly grew tired of him. From his behaviour he had probably been in a family with young children. He may have been dumped because he grew to a big size and therefore became expensive to feed, or because he was destructive in the house, never having been properly trained. He was an exceptionally affectionate dog who obviously craved human love. He found a good home in Zavala, but his new owner could not control him when he was out and about. Fortunately, during the summer season some German tourists saw Billy and fell in love with him. He went off happily to a new home in Germany with a large garden and plenty of countryside to romp in.
Cats are abandoned even more frequently than dogs. Nana the kitten was found with her little brother and sister near the cemetery in Hvar Town by Marina and Rihard, animal lovers from Italy, in July 2012. They brought them to Pitve, having already discovered on a previous visit two years before that some of the villagers were animal lovers. The three quickly settled in to their new environment and decided that the safest place to stay when they were not being fed was inside a drystone wall.
That remained their home until they grew too big, when they discovered the other possible feeding stations and boltholes available to them. When they were old enough, Nana and her sister were sterilized. All three grew to adulthood, but sadly Nana's brother disappeared without trace and her sister was killed on the road by a careless driver going too fast through the village. Nana went missing during the summer, raising fears that she too had died, but she re-appeared after the holiday season, so she had obviously taken advantage of some kindhearted visitors to feed elsewhere, as cats do.
Individuals on Hvar who love animals do as much as is humanly possible to help the waifs and strays. There is obviously an urgent need to establish a system for caring for them and finding them homes. Hvar cannot solve this problem in isolation. An efficient animal welfare system must be established throughout Croatia. The movement needs to start at the top, with central government leading the way and encouraging support from local administrations.
© Vivian Grisogono 2013