Saturday, November 12, 2011

The ICAWC and learnings I brought back

In October 2011 I attended the ICAWC (International Companion Animal Welfare Conference) in Riga, Latvia. Organized by Dogs Trust, the largest canine welfare charity in the UK, this conference has been a real eye opener, a great learning experience, and a terrific way to connect with other like-minded animal rescuers from around the world. I am extremely grateful to my Masters program in Applied Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare at the University of Edinburgh for helping me with the cost of attending this conference (my program helped each student in the course attend one conference- for me ICAWC was my definite choice).

I thought of sharing some of the learnings I brought back with me from the conference. According to Dogs Trust, based on scientific research, we now know that:
1. Dogs can help the development of children with learning and educational difficulties.
2. Children that grow up with dogs are healthier and spend more time in school.
3. Owning a dog helps reduce the risk of allergies in children, in particular asthma, wheezing and eczema.
4. Dog owners make fewer visits to their GP (doctor) and spend less time in hospital.
5. Dogs can reduce depression and improve mental well-being in humans.
6. Dog ownership aids the recovery of post coronary patients.
7. Owning a dog can help lower blood pressure in children and adults.
8. Dogs can help the elderly by combating feelings of loneliness and isolation.
9. Dog owning adults and children are more physically active and healthier than non-dog owners.
10. Dogs can provide great emotional support for humans during periods of stress and anxiety.

In fact, the evidence of dog benefits is so compelling that Dogs Trust and a hospital in the UK are teaming up, cardiac patients being encouraged to walk dogs from a nearby Dogs Trust shelter as part of the recovery process! A great way to exercise in the company of a dog.

I have also been able to attend a lecture by Dr. Jeffrey Young, a world-renown vet who has spayed and neutered over 160,000 animals around the world; a huge proponent of spaying and neutering as means to control the animal overpopulation problem. If we're lucky, maybe Dr Young will visit Romania one day...

Other speakers focused on the importance of international adoptions- from countries with stray animal overpopulation (such as Romania), to countries with no such problems, countries with incredibly high standards of animal welfare, where local shelters actually have few animals in their care. A great way to reduce the stray animal number in one country, sending the animals to great homes in countries with high animal welfare and few local dogs. By all means, a win-win situation.

Romanian Raluca Simion from GIA also took the stage, giving her insights about the Romanian charter and the importance of spaying and neutering as means to contain the Romanian dog overpopulation problem. An intelligent, persuasive speech that would have made any Romanian rescuer proud.

As part of the conference, I have also been able to see one local Latvian shelter, a shelter with high standards of animal welfare in my opinion. I can only wish that one day, Romanian shelters will also look and treat their dogs like this:

 Each dog is individually kenneled inside. Pictured is just half of the kennel, the other side being accessible through the small door in the wall. All dogs are extremely well socialized by very friendly and caring staff and volunteers.

Here, dogs are left outside part of the day in order to get their daily dose of exercise and canine companionship

For a population of 2.2 million people, Latvia has 25 shelters. Here are statistics for the way they manage the animal population:
In Latvia, the emphasis is on adoption. Very few animals get euthanized, and only when nothing can be done for them anymore.

Furthermore, I was very impressed to see in Riga a sort of culture for animals, the black cat being a prevalent symbol of the city:

I would also like to add that I have not seen not even one stray dog in Riga... Because Latvians are responsible people who believe in spaying and neutering, and don't abandon their animals in the streets. While Latvia too had to endure Communism, I have huge respect for the way this country handled the stray animal population, through humane and responsible methods. Because they are such a great people, they NEVER had a stray dog overpopulation problem. Despite Communism and hardships, their humane,educated and responsible attitude made all the difference.

I am aware that the stray animal overpopulation really is an international issue. As one speaker commented, 75% of world's dogs are free roaming animals... But some news give hope for this situation. At the conference, someone passed me a flier with amazing news: the possibility to end the stray dog overpopulation problem around the world with the use of pills that sterilize for life. More information here:

Now that I am back from the conference, I still need to put order in my thoughts and sort through everything I have learned. I am more aware of the problems animals face around the world, aware of overpopulation issues and cultural mentalities. But the words of a speaker keep on ringing in my ears: "you can heal your corner of the world". And my corner of the world is Ploiesti, the town where I was born, a place with substantial stray animal overpopulation problems, extremely reduced animal welfare standards, and no real laws against animal cruelty- that is, laws actually enforced and not solely on paper. It is here where I'm trying to make a positive difference, first and foremost.

1 comment:

  1. A very good article, one day Romania will learn to respect their animals.