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Pets are being abandoned in Poland due to fears of COVID-19

Despite pleas from WHO and veterinary organisations, some pet owners are still seeking unnecessary euthanisations amid the pandemic 

Loyal, devoted, and affectionate, dogs are supposed to be man’s best friend.

But in Poland, fears that dogs can contract the new coronavirus (COVID-19) — and therefore spread the virus to their owners — has caused many dogs to be abandoned.      

Going against WHO’s recommendations

Poland’s National Chamber of Veterinary Medicine has issued a statement reminding people that according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), domestic dogs and cats pose no threat to humans in relation to COVID-19.

The regulatory body for Polish vets also emphasises that it is illegal to put down a dog without a medical reason. But with anxieties about the virus running high, this advice has been widely ignored.    

“Considering the limited information available, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is low,” says Marta Barzyk, a veterinarian from Bydgoszcz, Poland.

“And yet, the last month in our clinic was crazy, it almost did not feel real. People came to us with young, healthy dogs and insisted on putting them down because they were afraid of getting infected.”

Marta Barzk

Barzyk emphasises that veterinarians will not euthanise an animal without a valid need, for both ethical and legal reasons.

As Poland’s veterinary body points out, there is no such thing as euthanasia on request.

Under Polish law, a veterinarian can only euthanise a pet in three cases: it can be performed as a humane way to end an animal’s suffering if there is no hope of recovery; or, in other rarer cases, when the animal is so aggressive that it threatens the safety of others.

An animal can also be euthanised if it spreads diseases that are dangerous to humans and/or other animals — and, as the WHO points out, this is not the case with COVID-19.      

Despite pleas, euthanising continues

But this does not change much for Poles.

The sad truth is that even when vets say no to euthanisation, many people decide to abandon their dogs at shelters.

“It is hard to keep track of all the numbers, says Elzbieta Piotrowska, a volunteer at a Bydgoszcz dog shelter.

The shelter does not record why dogs are given up; however, Piotrowska notes that in April, the shelter had 156 dogs in their care, 35 of which came to them that month, and, she says, at least 10 were abandoned due to fears about COVID-19.      

“We would mostly get calls from elderly people asking if we can take their dogs as they are too scared to take care of them. But we are now at full capacity, we cannot take in any more dogs, and also adoptions are on hold because of the virus. The situation is hard enough on its own and it is just painful to see those dogs suffer for no good reason.”     

Elzbieta Piotrowska

Those numbers may not sound like a lot, but with 173 registered dog shelters in Poland the problem is real. So real, in fact, that even Donald Tusk, former Polish Prime Minister and President of the European Council intervened on his Instagram account, spreading awareness to his 186,000 followers. 

Despite this, Piotrowska worries that people will not listen. “There will always be a veterinarian who turns a blind eye, fails to notify the police, and will euthanise a healthy animal.”      

“The only thing that we can do is to educate,” she says.

In other parts of the world, pet adoption has spiked. Read more about how people are adopting dogs during lockdown here.

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