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Out walking with his pet Dachshund, Y photographer Jerzy Wierzbicki witnessed two stray dogs being shot by police. Was it necessary? Experts say there’s another way.
Walking through the wadi in the afternoon sunshine, the only sounds were birds melodically calling out to each other and the faint rumble of traffic in the distance.
Suddenly a loud crack cuts through the air, followed by two more, breaking the peace. There is silence and then the sound of pitiful whimpering. The cracks were three bullets and the targets were two stray dogs sheltering in the shade of a tree. Both were killed and the marksmen were two officers from the Royal Oman Police.
Y photographer, Jerzy Wierzbicki, witnessed this scene last month as he took his own dog for a walk not far from his home in Al Hail North, Muscat, an area where local children occasionally play.
One dog died straight away but the other clearly suffered for a few minutes before dying in front of Jerzy as he tried to comfort it. In a video taken by him, along with photographs, the dog glances pitifully up at the camera.
“It was a horrible experience,” says Jerzy. “How can they shoot dogs without any particular reason? How can they use ammunition in an inhabited area where many people are doing their everyday activities? What would happen if my pet was walking freely there? Would he also be killed?”
Sadly, this is not an isolated case. Stray or wadi dogs are shot as a matter of routine by the police in Oman if the need arises – and there have been reports of puppies being killed as well.
Animal groups and experts agree there is a need to restrict the stray dog population in Oman – no one wants to see large packs of animals roaming around residential areas – but believe a more humane method such as a large scale neutering programme is the answer.
“In the long term, shooting is not the way forward,” says Dr Elke Heitz, head veterinarian at Al Qurum Veterinary Clinic.
“Killing is the quickest way, the most visible thing to show you are doing something. There are two things wrong with that. How they kill them and the indiscriminate killing. They shoot any dog that comes along.”
Jerzy had been on an assignment for Y and went home for a quick lunch and short walk with his dog, Trop, a coarse-haired Dachshund. His home, close to the Markaz Al Bahja Mall, is a quiet residential area occupied by Omani and expat families. It’s not a place to witness such horrors.
“Just next to my place is small wadi where I walk my dog every day,” says Jerzy. After the unusual bout of heavy rain in many places in Muscat, the area was dotted with puddles and small lakes of rainwater, which the wadi dogs were using to drink from and cool down.
“They were not a problem for me and my pet . The wadi dogs always avoid contact with people,” says Jerzy. “Sometimes when we visited the wadi, a few of the local dogs were frightened by us and barked but I never felt they were dangerous. As an experienced dog owner, I know.”
On this particularly afternoon on May 22, at around 4 or 5pm, Jerzy was walking with Trop on the leash and saw two wadi dogs, one black and one beige. Both moved from the safety of the shade to keep their distance.
“I immediately turned back and chose a different way for a walk so as not to scare them,” remembers Jerzy. “After several seconds I heard a three shots from what sounded like a small calibre weapon and I went with my mobile and camera switched on.
“I was running through the wadi and I heard a dog’s whine. I saw a police 4×4. One dog was killed immediately but the second dog was whining and she died when I put my hand on her head. I saw a small bullet hole in her neck and blood.
“I shouted a question to the policemen asking why they had shot the dogs. The police seemed confused because I think they didn’t expect anyone would witness the situation.”
Jerzy raced back to his home and grabbed his camera to take pictures. The beige dog was killed close to the road and the black one around 50 to 60 metres away. He returned a few days later and both bodies were still there, beginning to rot in the hot sun. The carcasses were later removed.
“I was very angry to see what happened, and I wondered if there was a different approach that could have been taken,” he says.
“I feel semi responsible. If had chosen a different way to walk, they would still be alive.”
Dr Heitz, a member of the UK’s Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, said the surgery often had to deal with the aftermath of botched shootings.
“The problem is that the police don’t use the right bullets. The bullets are too small – though it has improved, they used to use air pellets.
“We used to get the dogs and the pellets were too small to kill them and they would die of their wounds, suffering, which is unnecessary.
“If they shoot them and actually go and check that they are dead, it isn’t as bad. But if they shoot them and use the wrong bullets or miss and just hit a hind leg or something, they will die of their wounds, which is not nice.”
Her answer is a simple catch, neuter and release scheme, run by the authorities, which would dramatically reduce the dog population without the need to resort to culling or killing any healthy animal.
“Neutering reduces the size of the pack, calms them down and gives them a chance to live a natural life.
“Shooting is a never ending story. People think something is done, until the next pack comes along.
“Countries where neutering schemes have been introduced always say a lot of people who used to go out and shoot animals are relieved they don’t have to do it any more because it’s a burden for people to do that.”
While there are concerns about disease, the clinic has not seen a case of rabies for more than eight years, according to Dr Heitz.
Oman Animal Adopting & Fostering, a voluntary group based in Muscat, works to rehome stray or unwanted dogs and cats.
“I had two wadi dogs shot right by my villa a few years back and left at the back gate. It was appalling,” says Helen Ingram, a member of the group. One dog was shot in the head and survived with horrific injuries, left with a gaping wound, for some time. In January this year, three puppies were found on a Muscat beach after their mother had been killed. And in March last year, tiny puppies were left to die after they and their mother had been shot in the head. A rescuer managed to save one and found another dying.
“This poor dog was dying in front of our eyes. This dog had been shot and then dragged itself to die in the shade,” said the woman.
“We took to the dog to the vets to the do the kindest thing to stop the suffering. At least it didn’t die a slow, painful death alone. Why do this? People need education.”
Responsibility for controlling stray animals falls to the municipality and police for that district. No one from Muscat Municipality could be reached to talk to Y.
ROP’s Lieutenant Mohammed al Hashami told us: “Stray dogs that enter homes or properties pose a danger to civilians, particularly children.
“If the police receive complaints we will monitor the dogs and situation before taking action.”
It is believed talks are under way to look at an alternative method to shooting, but it’s a slow process.
“Meanwhile, the shooting is the only thing they are doing,” says Dr Heitz. “The discussion has started but they have to convince people to spend money on it.”
Until they do reach a decision, healthy animals will keep dying unnecessarily when it costs between RO40-RO70 to neuter a dog.