“They cannot imagine that animals have rights too”

Love since childhood

Raul Mammadov lives in Baku and has 12 dogs. Some live with him at home, and some stay at his workplace, a privately-owned company where Raul works as a security guard. But Raul does not only care for his own animals, he always treats or feeds a stray cat or dog and searches for new owners and temporary shelters.

Raul has loved animals and been compassionate towards them since he was a child. “Dogs used to approach me on my way to school. I petted them, I liked them. I started to feed them and to take care of their injuries.”

Adults did not understand his love for animals. “I was ridiculed and not allowed to feed them, I was told that if I did, the dogs would never go away again.”

At one point, Raul started to notice that his furry friends were disappearing. He found out that the city administration tried to clear the streets of stray dogs, catching them and killing them.

The agency dealing with stray animals under the Baku mayor’s office argues that they only sterilize animals and vaccinate them for rabies, and that dogs are no longer being euthanised in the city.

However, on social media, Baku residents increasingly tell of animal killings.

“Each year the mayor’s office has at least five or six dogs killed after declaring them rabid,” Raul says.

In 2017, a number of activists including Raul got seven officials who had ordered for dogs to be killed dismissed and fined. This would have been impossible without a respective law passed in 2011.

What the law says

Azerbaijan signed the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals in 2003 and ratified it in 2007.

In 2011, the country passed a law on rules for keeping pets. It includes liability for cruel treatment of animals and banned the culling of stray dogs and dog fighting, both which had happened regularly. The same law allows to euthanise animals in case they are rabid, attack human, or are no longer able to live.

In 2013, Azerbaijan increased the fines for violating the rules of proper treatment of animals tenfold, from 20 manats (10 euros) to 200 manats (100 euros).

The first shelters for stray animals opened in 2016. The most prominent one, “Candor School”, belongs to popular singer Elnur Huseynov. Another well-known one is the Animal Care Centre (IACC), which houses a clinic, quarantine unites as well as a pet hotel. The foundation for the centre was laid by Leyla Aliyeva, daughter of President Ilham Aliyev and vice-president of the Heydar Aliyev charity foundation.

The state does not listen to animal rights activists

Raul, however, says that neither the existing shelters nor the passed law change the bitter fate of Baku’s stray dogs.

To successfully decrease cruelty against animals, the state needs to listen to animal rights activists. Raul dreams of a special program for pupils in schools:

“Compassion for animals should be cultivated in people from an early age. If that does not happen at home, then the schools must help. There is a need for work in schools, for dedicated programs and textbooks.”

Mansura Rasulzade, Raul’s colleague in animal rights protection, echoes this view. It has not yet been possible to reach an agreement with the state: “We would be happy to give educational talks in schools or parks. However, when we turn to the Ministry of Education, the Baku mayor’s office, or the Ministry of Culture, they launch a long bureaucratic process that never results in anything.”

Are young people more compassionate?

Raul does not believe there is an explanation for the widespread hostility towards animals in Baku. “A dog is lying on the street, asleep. Someone approaches it and kicks it, or hits it with a stick, or hurls a rock at it. They chase it away for no good reason.”

Individual explanations, for example that a dog is vaccinated and not behaving aggressively, rarely have an effect. “But we do manage to convince some people. Some even become animal rights activists themselves.”

The overwhelming majority of activists defending the rights of stray animals are young people. “I have met many activists among the young ones. I met one girl, for example, who takes care of 65 cats. I also met a young man who turned his home into a shelter and now takes care of 260 dogs. Unfortunately, the elder generation ignores the problems of animals and even criticizes animal rights activists. They just cannot imagine that animals have rights too.”

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