Tunisian activists say authorities’ campaign to kill stray dogs ‘barbaric’
Graphic photos and videos showing dogs shot and killed by city workers in Tunisia have been circulating online since late November. Animal rights activists as well as people living in neighbourhoods where killings are taking place have taken to social media to protest against what they say is a “barbaric” campaign. Our Observers say that both the government and citizens share the blame for this massacre.
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WARNING: Some readers may find images in this article shocking
Several cities across Tunisia announced on November 27 that they would be carrying out a two-week campaign to kill stray dogs, stating that their aim was to reduce the number of stray animals in urban spaces and prevent the spread of rabies. Since the start of this brutal campaign, social media has been flooded with videos and images taken by horrified locals showing city workers in Tunis shooting and killing animals.
This Facebook post by Yasmine Azaiez Animal Rescue reads: “15 days of killing stray dogs in greater Tunis. Please keep your dogs inside and any others you can save. Thank you.”
City officials in Tunisia frequently carry out this kind of killing campaign, despite vehement protests from animal rights organisations. In 2107, the city of Tunis set up sterilisation centres for stray dogs. After being sterilised, the dogs were released back into the city with ear tags. However, during this most recent campaign, eyewitnesses have reported that city workers have been killing tagged dogs along with the others.
An animal rights activist sounds the alarm on Facebook. © France 24 screengrab
Horrified by the graphic images of dogs being slaughtered, concerned citizens launched an online campaign calling for animal cruelty to be criminalised. They said the killing campaigns were “barbaric”.
This social media user heard shots being fired the night of November 24. He found a dog who had been shot and tried to save it by bringing it to a veterinarian in Sousse, but it later died from a haemorrhage.
Faced with the wave of anger online, the mayor of Tunis announced that he was “hostile to this barbarous act” and that the city government wouldn’t take part in the national campaign to exterminate stray dogs. However, city residents proved through the images they captured that this announcement was not being respected on the ground.
This post by Christiane Schmelzer reads: “Last night at 11pm, in the Nour Jafaar housing projects, Raoued, all of our dogs were murdered. The mayor promised us that they were going to stop killing dogs. RIP.”
“The bodies are sometimes just left there; it’s a horrible sight”
Amal Hattab is a veterinarian who works at a shelter in Tunis called “Protection for stray animals”.
There are lots of veterinarians who work on a volunteer basis to sterilise the dogs in our shelter. Currently, we are making the rounds in Tunis neighbourhoods to pick up dogs who have been shot to bring them back to our centre to be treated. Most of these dogs aren’t aggressive at all. They actually need help. We work with trainers who take care of the dogs who are the most fragile and afraid.
City officials in Sousse banned the killing of any dogs who had been tagged. But numerous witnesses took photos and videos showing that city workers were still carrying out their deadly campaign late at night. In Tunis, no concrete measures to stop the killing were taken, despite numerous pleas made to the mayor.
This video, filmed in Sousse, was live-streamed the night of November 27. The man filming, who is horrified, says: “City workers just killed it … look, they used buckshot. The poor thing, they riddled it [with bullets]; they chased it down and killed it.”
“I don’t know what to do. He was shot,” says this social media user in Kasserine. © France 24 screengrab
“We urgently need to create more shelters in Tunis”
City workers are focusing their campaign on residential neighbourhoods. Lots of people complain that these stray dogs make too much noise and contact the city to ask that they be killed. Sometimes stray dogs can be dangerous, especially if they have rabies, but that is all the more reason to place them immediately in a shelter, far from humans and other dogs.
There are also a lot of dogs who don’t die immediately from their wounds and suffer greatly, without access to food or water.
Sometimes the bodies are just left in the street and they start to rot. It is a horrific and shocking sight for everyone.
The person who filmed this video on December 5 in Bou Salem says: “In a quarter of an hour, the students at Hédi Nouira Middle School will start their day with a distressing sight […] this dog was shot during the night.”
The shelters and centres need financial support from the city to pay for medicine and care. We have been focusing on spaying female dogs because we don’t have the means to sterilise all of them. The number of injured dogs that we are caring for is rising. Currently, there are about 100 dogs in the shelter. We urgently need to create more animal shelters in Tunis because the veterinarians can’t keep the animals long term.
In Tunis, veterinarians and activists have worked together to set up shelters and parks.
“This is a reflection of the general perception of animals in Tunis; people don’t respect animal life”
Amal Ben Mohamed, 46, is currently caring for about 50 animals in her home in the working class neighbourhood of Kabaria, where a large number of stray dogs have been slaughtered.
City workers aren’t supposed to be acting alone. They are supposed to work in tandem with a veterinarian and a representative from the Regional Commission for Agricultural Development, who can identify if the animal has rabies and, thus, if it is necessary to kill it.
“Look at the buckshot the city used here in Jendouba. [The dog] was carrying eight puppies.”
For me, this is a reflection of the general perception of animals in Tunis; people don’t respect animal life. If that weren’t the case, the government wouldn’t dare to slaughter animals in this way. There is no law to protect stray dogs. [Editor’s note: According to article 317 of the Tunisian penal code, a person can be sentenced to 15 days in prison and fined 4.80 dinars (equivalent to €1.46) for abusing a domestic animal, either their own or one belonging to someone else, but this doesn’t apply to stray animals.]
A lot of us have reached out to the city because we want to help them care for these dogs. We’ve made numerous calls for donations. Over the past few months, we’ve spent all our time caring for these animals. We want to create a service for caring for stray animals within city government to manage this issue in a more efficient and humane way.
The government needs to work to progressively change this mentality, starting with campaigns to raise awareness for young people so they get used to animals in public spaces and no longer fear them.
The city of Tunis reported that 145 dogs were spayed or neutered and vaccinated against rabies in 2020. They claimed that they kill dogs only in the most extreme cases. The France 24 Observers team contacted them but didn’t receive a response; we will publish it if they send it in.