It may seem like a strange thing to celebrate – especially to animal lovers in the West – but in late July, Hassan Fadel, a young man from the central Iraqi city of Diwaniya, commemorated the killing of his 500th stray dog.
The thirty-something from the Furat neighbourhood started his killing spree in 2007 after his younger brother was attacked and bitten by one of the many packs of dogs roaming the streets here; his brother died as a result of those wounds.
The dog killer’s party, which featured a meter long dog-shaped cake he had commissioned from a local bakery, was well attended, with around 30 partygoers joining him. Most of them were Fadel’s friends and relatives and they said they were proud of Fadel’s work.
“He kills the dogs that try and attack us as we walk along the street,” one of them commented.
During the party guests could view pictures of the dogs that Fadel had dispatched and a number of posters from Fadel’s campaign. These featured slogans such as “Protect Your Children: Kill Stray Dogs” and “Death to Stray Dogs”. There were also information sheets on how to prevent rabies in humans and how to avoid being bitten by dogs.
And all of these issues are not a small problem in Fadel’s neighbourhood. Diwaniya’s Department of Health estimates that there are between 4,000 and 5,000 stray dogs in the city, most of which, they believe, are infected with rabies.
“The death of my brother started me hunting dogs,” Fadel explained to NIQASH. “It was only a few days after his death that I killed my first one in the yard next to my house. I beat the dog to death with rocks. On that day, I was just so upset and sad about the loss of my brother. And since then, killing dogs has become my mission and pastime.”
Since that time, the methods by which Fadel kills the strays has also changed. He has shot them with rifles, killed them with a trap he commissioned local blacksmiths to make for him and also poisoned them with drugs that friends, who work in veterinary medicine, gave him.
The control of stray dogs is supposed to be done by local authorities, who occasionally embark on campaigns together with local vets, to get rid of the dogs, usually also by hunting and killing them.
There is little danger of anyone’s pet or rural working dogs, of which there are also many, being killed during such a campaign. Only a small number of very wealthy local families own dogs as pets and service dogs, such as guard dogs, are usually also vaccinated and properly taken care of.
The head of the local Department of Health, Thamer Naji al-Hamidawi, said that the culling campaigns were usually run at night, used special ammunition and had resulted in the eradication of many stray dogs.
“However, the security situation in the city following recent bombings has not allowed these campaigns to continue,” al-Hamidawi says.
Al-Hamidawi hopes that the culling campaign will start again when the security situation improves. He also hopes that methods of killing the dogs can change. “It would be better to kill them in a more merciful way,” he agrees. “And actually poison is the best way and this was used in previous campaigns. However, at the moment the huge number of stray dogs means we can’t use this method [poison].”
“The danger of strays really lies in the diseases they carry,” Ali Hussein, a local biologist, told NIQASH. A lot of the stray dogs survived by scavenging on rubbish in the city and Hussein suggests that if the city’s waste and rubbish was properly disposed of in specially regulated landfills the problem with stray dogs might decrease.
However Fadel, the killer of 500 dogs, doesn’t trust officials to get deal with the city’s scourge of strays. He isn’t motivated by the idea of helping authorities get rid of dogs. Rather, he feels it is a personal mission of his. “I will not stop killing dogs until I get rid of all of them,” he states to NIQASH. “And until every person in this city feels secure and there’s no canine danger to the lives of our women and children.”