In the small town of Ključ, in the northwestern part of Bosnia-Herzegovina. I’m sitting in the back corner of the café, amongst several of my colleagues from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the United Nations Development Programme.
We’re watching a roomful of people from the local community, chatting excitedly amongst themselves and jumping up now and again to place a sticky note on a big poster in the front of the room.
The words on the poster are unrecognizable to me, save for the big drawing of a dog right in the center of the paper. The group is conducting an exercise that asks them to brainstorm all of the problems that their community faces related to dogs.
Elzemina Bojicic, UNDP’s Project Coordinator for HCD in Bosnia-Herzegovina, calls the room to order, focusing everyone’s attention on a woman with her hand raised into the air, a pink sticky note held high.
“What’s she saying?” I ask Aida, one of the translators accompanying us on this trip, where we are beginning the Humane Community Development process in two new communities in Bosnia: Klujč and Mrkonijč Grad.
“She said that dogs are entering the minefields,” Aida tells me.
Ključ is a very rural municipality, spanning miles of beautiful rolling hills and forest, dotted with small villages. Like in most places throughout Bosnia, the locals know where it’s safe to go hiking, and where there are dangers of land mines.
These minefields are just one of many reminders of the civil war that ravaged the country twenty years ago. While many have been cleared, vast areas of the countryside are still deadly.
But roaming dogs don’t know that.
In 2013 the UNDP Bosnia and Herzegovina discovered that roaming dogs rank among the top safety threats to people throughout the country. As animal experts with a brand new process for helping communities manage and solve problems related to dogs, IFAW was asked to join the UNDP in Bosnia.
So far we have taken four communities through the Humane Community Development (HCD) process across Bosnia.
Ključ and Mrkonjic Grad will make six, and in late spring, there will be a seventh. The process is catching on like wildfire.
HCD helps communities to define — and come to consensus around — what problems they face with respect to dogs, then to develop solutions, and implement a multifaceted, sustainable, and humane plan to resolve their dog issues.
Common problems that communities identify tend to include abandonment, poor guardianship of owned dogs, dog bites, dogs suffering in bad shelters, and lack of education about dogs’ needs.
Through the first step in the HCD process – or Workshop 1 as we call it – communities across the board come to realize that the problems they face are truly a result of people, and not the dogs themselves.
Many of the strategies that communities have utilized in the past to try to address these problems have been aimed at dogs (i.e. culling dogs or conducting mass sterilization), instead of aiming at the true source of the problem: people.
Through the HCD process, IFAW provides guidance for the community to choose strategies that focus on people, by changing human behavior toward dogs. Examples of these strategies include adoption programs, or education and outreach programs, that ultimately result in improvements for animals in the community.
By seeking a partnership with IFAW in order to address roaming dog problems across a nation, the United Nations Development Programme declared that dog problems are inherently a people problem. In fact, they’ve declared that dogs are a development problem. And throughout the years, we have seen the truth in this.
And while HCD may not lead directly to demining the fields around Ključ, it could lead to increased stewardship over dogs so that they don’t go running off in the direction of minefields. It could lead to the empowerment of a community to work together to solve other issues, in addition to that of roaming dogs.
The beauty of HCD is that the choices are for the community to make, based on what will work best for them, and their dogs. And for Ključ, they have a path to follow and are ready to start making these choices and put together their plan.
I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Learn more about our Humane Community Development Programme
Article source: IFAW