Manifesto | Saving the lives of Europe’s stray dogs

Katja Leppänen // Kyproskoirat ry
Homeless dogs at the Aradippou Dog Shelter, Larnaca, Cyprus

In the spring of 2012 a couple of like-minded women and I registered an association called Kyproskoirat ry (Finnish for Cyprus dogs). Through campaigning and conversation with potential adopting families, we find permanent homes in Finland for Cypriot shelter dogs. We also make donations, including funds, food, medicines and other kinds of necessities to shelters and municipality pounds we support in Cyprus.

Our association is small in scale, and we work entirely on a voluntary basis. Nevertheless we are registered as an animal importer with both the Finnish authorities and in the European Union’s (EU) Trade Control and Expert System (TRACES), which is administered by the European Commission. This ensures that authorities can trace and monitor our canine imports.

There are many similar dog rescue associations across Europe and the world. For example, in Finland we have associations helping dogs in Bosnia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Greece, Romania, Russia, Spain and Thailand.

I have always loved animals, especially dogs, and when I was finally able to have one of my own, I decided I wanted to adopt, and give a home to the homeless. After a few disappointments, several emails, and two months of work, little Athena came into my life. Six years later she is still here, together with her big brother, who I later adopted from the same shelter in Cyprus.

Sirius Dog Sanctuary selling merchandise and spreading awareness at the Limassol Street Life Festival, in Cyprus, May 2016 © Sirius Dog Sanctuary
Sirius Dog Sanctuary raising awareness in Cyprus, May 2016 © Sirius Dog Sanctuary

But even though adopting does change the life of an individual dog, every rescuer – as we call ourselves – is well aware that the stray problem will never be solved by this method alone. We rescuers know this because we see the continuous arrival of new dogs, litters and pregnant females at the shelters and municipality pounds. An unneutered female becomes mature between the age of six and twelve months, and can usually reproduce twice a year, giving birth to between one and fifteen puppies. Many of these puppies will not survive on the streets, nor at the municipal pounds, nor even in the private shelters.

“The only effective solution to emptying the streets and shelters of homeless dogs is sterilisation, identification and registration.”

Some people ask why we cannot simply cull these dogs? Well, besides being unethical, this is a dysfunctional solution to the stray problem in the long term. I’ll explain why: when one stray is killed, its territory is taken over by another dog who continues to reproduce. This is easily shown using the case of Romania, where during the past twenty years stray dogs have been destroyed en masse in multiple cruel ways. Since there are still as many, if not more stray dogs, in Romania – estimates are around two million – it is easy to conclude that killing is not a sustainable answer to the issue.

In fact, the only effective solution to emptying the streets and shelters of homeless dogs is sterilisation, identification (via microchip or earmark) and registration. In addition, we need to educate the public and impose laws which cast substantial punishments for abandonment and maltreatment of animals, something that the Netherlands has managed to do: an amazing example of a country with zero stray dogs.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recognises the so-called ‘Catch-Neuter-Release’ method to be the only sustainable and humane way to control the stray population. The method includes catching and sterilising dogs, vaccinating and providing medical treatment, then identifying and registering them before release back into their territory.

“To improve dog welfare in Europe and to resolve the issue of homeless dogs on this continent, the EU needs to draw up and impose common EU-wide regulations and laws.”

Animal lovers, dog rescue activists and associations across Europe have repeatedly approached the decision makers with letters and petitions to stop the continuous atrocities towards our canine companions. This has been noticed in the European Commission and the Parliament. The answers given to them by the Commissioners for Health and Consumer Policy, on behalf of the Commission, clearly reveal that the key problem in protecting dogs in Europe lies with the non-existing legislation governing the matter.

In the EU, animal welfare is run by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, together with the Ministry of Health and Consumers. However, companion animals (dogs and cats) are not governed by any common EU regulations, leaving the legislation concerning them to be imposed solely and individually by each Member State. This results in a great divergence in the legislation among the countries, with some Member States even failing to follow their own laws.

'Give a chance' Mobile Sterilization Clinic in use in Romania, July 2016 © Pro Animals Finland ry
‘Give a chance’ Mobile Sterilization Clinic, Romania, July 2016 © Pro Animals Finland ry

On a more positive note, the European Commission supports the work of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) on international guidelines for the control of stray dogs populations, as well as the OIE Regional Platform on Animal Welfare for Europe, assisting OIE countries in Eastern Europe to achieve compliance with the guidelines. However, once again each Member State decides the most appropriate way to comply with these guidelines in their national context. It is clear, that in order to improve dog welfare in Europe and to resolve the issue of homeless dogs on this continent, the EU needs to draw up and impose common EU-wide regulations and laws, and make sure that all Member States follow them.

Despite volunteers conducting very important work, it is unsustainable for the caring of homeless dogs to rest on the shoulders of private European citizens. EU funding would be largely needed and appreciated in, for example, animal welfare education and sterilisation projects. The EU should act as a positive example to its citizens and the rest of the world.

“Ways to help are in abundance, but help itself is in short supply.”

Most rescue associations and shelters are always happy to welcome new helping hands, and there are multiple other ways in which you can help. You can adopt or foster a dog who needs a permanent home, has special needs, or has been to a surgery and needs a clean space to heal. You can volunteer at your local shelter, donate, organise charity events, or participate in them. You can set up a fundraiser, collect donations from family and friends, and share posts spreading awareness.

If you have a camera and like photography, why not use your passion to take photos which make the dogs stand out on the shelter’s website, helping them catch a possible adopter’s eye. Or maybe you are a web designer and can create a great website for a shelter or an association. Perhaps you have skills to build doghouses or fix fences.

As a proud mother of two amazing ex-homeless dogs, I am ambitious towards preventing cruelty toward their kind. Ways to help are in abundance, but help itself is in short supply.


Raisa Nissilä is a founding member of the Finnish dog rescue association Kyproskoirat ry. She has an MSc in Geography and European Studies from the University of Helsinki, and is actively raising awareness. You can contact her by email: raisa.kyproskoirat[at]