Hundreds of animals – abandoned, family pets, beloved and unloved – have been poisoned in the north of Kosovo in the last few years. The pets of North Mitrovica – sterilized, vaccinated, and parasite-free, are almost all gone. New dogs took over their territory – not sterilized, unvaccinated. The persons who opted for inhumane methods of dog population control created an even bigger problem. Who is poisoning the dogs?
They say that a dog is man’s best friend. For years after the war, North Mitrovica was a dog-friendly town. Dozens of stray dogs could be spotted around this town on the Ibar – there were those who came there from nearby villages or were simply thrown out from the surrounding areas, even hauled from other towns. They would find their place in a part of the street, a building entrance, but also in the hearts of many Mitrovica residents. Instead of stray dogs, they soon became our shared pets that the whole neighborhood took care of, often even the entire town: children and their parents, vendors, waiters, pensioners…
Every nook and cranny in the town included a tame dog and his crew, guardians of the territory.
The Šapa volunteer association has been and still is taking particular care of these dogs. They introduced a multi-year regular program of vaccinations and sterilization, but they also take care of them in other ways, by removing parasites, feeding them, setting up doghouses, and fostering.
The cooperation soon extended to the „Mitro Vet“ veterinary clinic in South Mitrovica, and citizens also started giving voluntary contributions. In a time marked by the absence of inter-ethnic trust and cooperation, love for dogs united the two sides of the town, some of its residents at least.
However, the situation started changing six years ago, when in front of shocked citizens, after midnight, one early summer morning, the dead bodies of hard-luck animals appeared on the streets. In the months and years that followed, a switch was made from cold-blooded killing to poisoning.
The poisoners used pesticides and insecticides of the toxicity category I. The poison was splashed on public areas, mostly on playgrounds and parks, next to building entrances, at the same places where dogs lived in harmony and children played.
So far, no one has been held accountable for these crimes.
The first case of mass shooting of dogs in North Mitrovica took place in June 2017, when dozens of dogs were shot dead in several locations.
Animal lovers took to the streets to help the hapless animals and save those who had not succumbed to their injuries.
According to their testimonies at the time, they were terrified: „Killers live among us,“ a girl who provided aid to these dogs on that night told one of the authors of this article.
They say, even death gives birth to something new. While the wounded dogs were being rushed to the veterinary clinic, an idea was born – the „Šapa“ Animal Protection Association was founded, which was registered in December of the following year.
Volunteer firefighters who put out fires
The association is a group of citizens/volunteers that take care of abandoned dogs.
„The association has no formal members or employees, but functions as a platform for self-organization of citizens, dog lovers who want to help in the exchange of information,“ says one of the activists, Marijana Pantić – whom the citizens describe as the „soul and heart“ of the system.
However, this association does much more than what was their initial vision.
In six years, they managed to sterilize and vaccinate around 1000 dogs in the whole of northern Kosovo: about 700 in Mitrovica alone.
„That’s not actually our job. We are supposed to deal with education, awareness raising, policy-making, and legal protection – not to take in and house animals. This is the job of the local self-government. They are the ones in charge of this according to both laws (the laws of Serbia and Kosovo). The local self-government takes care of abandoned dogs on its territory,“ explains Pantić.
The owner of microchipped dogs on the streets is the town itself, which is the one responsible for them. Nevertheless, in the town, despite the two administrations, this problem was primarily taken care of by a group of volunteers for years, who never received wider support from the institutions themselves.
Apart from two smaller projects Šapa itself implemented, in addition to private donations and personal investment, they make do by finding out about projects of other organizations that deal with the care of stray dogs – in Kosovo or the region and reaching out to them to join in the implementation of some of the activities in North Mitrovica.
„From the start, we have been working without any support from donors and self-government. This exhausted people a lot because we are doing something that local self-healing should be doing. We have taken on the job of local self-government. We are firefighters who work voluntarily,“ our interlocutor points out.
Indeed, over the years, too many problems fell on their shoulders – the full care of stray dogs. Citizens turn to them daily as the competent and only address, either to solve their problems or to help out a dog. First of all, the association is small. In the best days, it had about 15 more active volunteers, with occasional support from citizens and donors. This additionally motivated the association – every sign of care and love that the citizens showed towards their joint pets.
But when the killing of dogs took off, the enthusiasm also decreased, and currently, the number of active volunteers is twice as low. The loss of any dog is particularly emotional and represents a blow to the work of volunteers of this association.
„Our work is disregarded by these murders. It’s not grooming the dog; it’s taking care of residents. Those dogs are harmless to citizens because they are socialized, vaccinated, and parasite-free. They are used to people. We want them to become part of the community. And every time you kill such a dog, you ruin our efforts and work, and endanger the safety of citizens,“ stresses Marijana.
A large number of dogs were also shot dead in March 2019 and in July 2021.
After the media, in addition to Šapa itself, brought the problem of killing animals to the public, the perpetrators switched to killing by poisoning.
For many years these animals were killed with furadan, an extremely dangerous and illegal carbofuran, a highly toxic poison for humans. In the meantime, the poison „Methomyl“ was also used.
In this way, more than 700 animals have been killed so far, at least since Šapa started keeping records.
At the beginning of March of this year, a new mass poisoning of dogs was recorded, which lasted until June. It was the biggest case of animal killing in Mitrovica, mostly microchipped dogs.
In just a few months, more than 100 dogs and other animals died in this town on the Ibar, according to the Animal Protection Association „Šapa“.
A new poison was found on the streets – colorless, which produced somewhat different symptoms – Methomyl. What has not changed is the fact that dogs were killed with it, and the environment, people, and children were endangered.
In the middle of summer, animal poisonings became less frequent. However, after the months-long break, the poisonings continued as usual at the end of October. The last recorded case was on December 10.
According to Šapa’s data, around 250 animals have been poisoned since the beginning of the year, of which a fifth were saved due to the quick reaction of the Association’s members. More than 200 dogs were killed, including 32 family pets.
At the time of writing, the mass poisoning of animals has ‘stopped’, but not individual cases.
Mass poisonings always happen in the period when the number of abandoned dogs on the streets of North Mitrovica is on the rise. Dog lovers now fear that another poisoning attempt could happen again soon, after the breeding season.
Institutions did not use so-called “humane” methods of controlling the dog population, while certain individuals opted for inhumane ones.
The humane method prescribed by law is sterilization. Šapa has been using this method for years.
Dog sterilization programs were carried out precisely so that dogs would not breed and uncontrollably bring up stray dog numbers in the town.
The process started in 2018 and 2019 when the Kosovo Veterinary Agency organized free sterilization of dogs throughout Kosovo. At that time, more than 200 dogs were sterilized in the territory of the Mitrovica municipality.
In the period 2021-2022, the Municipality of North Mitrovica approved two sterilization projects for the „Šapa“ Association. During this period, 54 abandoned animals were sterilized.
The Association itself also collected donations from citizens to sterilize all stray dogs in North Mitrovica.
„Mitrovica is a small community, but considering the number of inhabitants, there are a lot of dog lovers. It has a preserved urban culture to some extent, despite the number of newcomers and that urban culture ordains that you care about garbage and vulnerable beings, public good. Citizens help with symbolic contributions, but they do help. That still covers about 10 to 15% of our costs,“ Pantić said.
Another activist working with the association, Jelena Ilić, recalls the time when they did not have to publish calls for help for volunteer donations through the Šapa page, which they actively manage on Facebook and Instagram.
„We have residents who set aside money for sterilization every month, at least for one dog, or friends, or just good people who call and say they can donate that month and help two or three dogs. Some did it multiple times. We ourselves also participate in this. We must have helped about 1,000 dogs in the North in the past few years,“ said Ilić, confirming our data.
This process continued in 2023. The association established cooperation with the Swiss foundation StrayCoCo, which granted them as many as 100 free sterilizations.
The StrayCoCo Foundation, due to mass poisonings, at one point decided to suspend the sterilization program. However, after poisonings became less frequent and new dogs took over the streets, the foundation agreed to continue supporting the dog sterilization program in North Mitrovica.
The program is currently being implemented, and so far, out of a total of 100 planned, between 60 and 70 dogs have been sterilized.
Cooperation between South and North Mitrovica
All sterilizations of dogs, as well as the rescue of poisoned ones, are carried out in South Mitrovica because there is no veterinarian in the north who can do these procedures.
Association „Šapa“ has been successfully cooperating for years with the young veterinarian Labinot Osmani, who specializes in the care of puppies and dogs.
This young veterinarian, who studied at several universities abroad, is the owner of the „Mitro Vet“ clinic in South Mitrovica.
Free sterilization for family dogs
Osmani also implements a sterilization program for family dogs from North Mitrovica whose owners would like to sterilize their pets but are unable to afford it.
The project is financed by the organization StrayCoCo, which Osmani says is the most active in Kosovo, both in terms of sterilization of dogs and other activities aimed at raising awareness and providing better protection of animals.
„Together we implemented projects in Srbica, Djakovica, Vucitrn… We hope that soon, we will cooperate with the municipality of North Mitrovica and start working on a sustainable solution,“ Osmani told KoSSev.
This veterinarian has a message for all pet owners – that they should trust the experts and science and sterilize their pets.
„That way, you protect their health, make their life easier, you don’t have unwanted offspring, no abandonment, no abandoned dogs on the streets… So, be responsible for your pet and society,“ says this veterinarian.
Dog owners who are interested in sterilization (castration), can contact this veterinarian by phone number +383 49 818 202 or via the Facebook page „Mitro Vet“
In the previous three to four years, as part of Šapa’s projects, as well as projects of other organizations in which this association participated, Osmani castrated and sterilized a total of 500 dogs.
„Unfortunately, most of these dogs that were supposed to continue living in the community and be cared for were poisoned or killed in other ways,“ Osmani told KoSSev.
He also points to the problem of abandoned territory being taken over by new dogs that have not been spayed or vaccinated.
„In this way, all of our efforts are nullified. We invested time, money, and energy into these dogs to gradually solve the problem, but there are individuals who do not understand this and have ruined it all. In any case, we will continue because it is the only viable way. Everything else is a mistake and will have no effect,“ adds Osmani.
When it comes to the care of dogs in the north, sterilization is not the only procedure that this young veterinarian carries out.
In 2023 alone, he conducted more than 100 emergency interventions over poisoned dogs brought to his clinic by Šapa activists and pet owners.
„We managed to save all those who were brought in time, but we were not able to save many because the poison reacts very quickly. These are truly horrific experiences for both the animals and the people trying to save them. It is a struggle for life where every minute counts. We must react very quickly and use all our expertise and available medicines to save the life of the poisoned dog,“ says Osmani.
Frequently, Osmani is the first and only person that Šapa activists and volunteers turn to for help, even in the middle of the night. He never says no to treating poisoned animals, and he often provides shelter for them in his clinic.
„The animals are in agony and suffer greatly from the effects of the poison. Even when we manage to save them, it takes a long time for them to recover from the consequences. It is very stressful and emotionally/physically draining, especially for non-professional animal activists. We receive calls at any time of the day, and most often in the middle of the night, so in many cases, I had to open the clinic after midnight to help poisoned dogs,“ he testified for KoSSev.
Commenting on the type of poisons used, Osmani states that they are strong pesticides and insecticides that are toxic to humans, livestock, pets, and wild animals.
„So, these poisons are deadly for all living things and very harmful to the environment,“ he says.
He explains that the results depend on the amount used, but also that he believes that people who use poison to kill animals are not experts, because they use huge amounts.
„The symptoms we have observed in poisoned dogs are extreme,“ adds this veterinarian.
What about reported cases of poisoning?
Who is poisoning the dogs is another key issue, next to the sadness and pain experienced by the citizens and their pets.
For years, the “Šapa” Association has been reporting every case of dog killing to the Kosovo Police. However, to this day, these cases remain unsolved, despite the complete change in the structure and composition of this security institution.
„All cases have been reported to the police, but we do not have any feedback from them – how far the investigation has come, whether and what has been done, whether the prosecution has taken over the cases. We have the impression that the institutions are not dealing with and are not interested in dealing with that problem. We no longer know who to turn to,“ the Association said.
The KP opened three cases this year, and is shifting the responsibility to the prosecution.
The Kosovo Police, which has been showcasing the results of its work for months, also confirmed for KoSSev that the cases remain unsolved.
They said that „they have finished their part of the work“, and that now everything depends on the prosecution and the court.
This year, the police opened only three cases of dog poisoning in North Mitrovica, which were registered in March, April, and May.
They classify this crime as „Contamination of food products intended for humans or animals“. In the beginning, they conducted the proceedings against unknown persons because they did not identify any suspects.
However, that changed in May of this year, that is, after the series of mass poisonings.
Late in the evening on May 25, a KoSSev portal journalist found four dogs without signs of life on the Mitrovica promenade, police officers, and gathered citizens, who testified for KoSSev that they saw two people giving poisoned hot dogs to the dogs.
In the meantime, a video from surveillance cameras was shared on social networks, with allegations that it recorded the people who threw the poison.
The Kosovo police, upon seeing the video, opened an investigation.
„Citizens are cooperating with the police, they reported to us that they saw two people carrying a bag, something suspicious, and they threw it on the ground, where the dead dogs were found,“ the KP said at the time.
Kosovo police then identified one of the two men from the video.
The person in question has a police record, i.e. he has been charged with several other crimes, but this is the first time that he was charged with dog poisoning, according to the KP.
However, during interrogation, the man denied the accusations, while at the same time, he refused to reveal the name of the other person he was with that night.
Although this marked the first time KP had an official suspect after years of animal poisonings, they say that „conclusive evidence“ remained elusive.
„That material was not found on him, he was only seen passing by, but he did not admit to anything,“ added the KP.
However, the case against this man was forwarded to the prosecutor’s office in August. He is being charged with all three cases, that were part of the mass poisonings in March, April, and May.
This individual is specifically charged with the criminal offense of „contamination of food products intended for humans or animals“ as per Article 265 of the Criminal Code of Kosovo.
This article stipulates a prison sentence of up to three years, if someone uses a substance that contaminates food products and causes the death of a large number of animals.
„In the cases, there is a statement from that man, it also contains pictures from the scene of the incident, as well as a video from a surveillance camera,“ said the KP.
As part of this documentation, there is also an analysis of the sample that confirms the poisoning.
The police state that the analysis was done in Serbia and mailed there by an organization for the protection of animals. However, the question is whether the prosecution will accept this document due to the mutual non-recognition of the two systems.
„The Prosecutor’s Office did not issue an order for the collection of these analyses, i.e. expert testimony in another country. There is no institute in Kosovo that could do that, but in any case, the prosecution has this analysis, and they will decide whether they will use it for the investigation. We did not want to disregard this analysis,“ the police told KoSSev.
“Šapa” Association announced that it performed a toxicological-chemical analysis of the sample on May 3 at the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Niš, and that they sent the sample on April 27. They stated that the presence of the insecticide methomyl was confirmed, which is a very dangerous poison.
The KP emphasized that the rest of the work related to the resolution of these cases rests on the prosecution and the court.
„The police have neither the right nor can they interfere in the work of the prosecution. We only get involved if the prosecution requests additional information. We didn’t get anything from them,“ the Kosovo police stated.
When asked about the cases of dog poisoning that were reported in previous years, the Kosovo Police told KoSSev that the procedure was the same at the time as well.
„The case is opened, completed, forwarded to the prosecutor’s office, and that’s where our part of the job ends.”
By the time this text was published, we did not manage to find out what the Basic Prosecutor’s Office in Mitrovica did in relation to these cases.
Our inquiries into the cases that were reported this year, as well as in previous years, including the last one, remained unanswered. The Prosecutor’s Office confirmed for KoSSev in March that an investigation had been launched in connection with the poisonings.
The KoSSev portal reached out to the office of the mayor of North Mitrovica in the Kosovo system, as well as the Provisional Authority of the Municipality of Kosovska Mitrovica – in the Serbian system, with a request for information on solutions for the problem of abandoned dogs, as well as animal poisoning.
Although from different systems, neither answered our questions.
We asked them if and what they had done specifically regarding the issue; and if they have a plan to solve the problem of poisoning and many abandoned dogs; with whom they cooperate.
The President of the Provisional Authority, Ivan Zaporožac, picked up our call, only to say that „he can’t talk right now.“
We asked him whether we could send him a message, and although he replied affirmatively, our message remained unanswered.
Also, we sent an email to the Provisional Authority headed by Zaporožac, but there was no response.
The adviser to the mayor of North Mitrovica, Visar Syla, who previously gave us statements regarding other issues, did not respond to KoSSev’s inquiry either.
We don’t need propaganda material but work on the ground
While there was no official answer, officials of the municipality of North Mitrovica said unofficially for KoSSev that this local self-government does not have a special inspector, that is, a directorate that would deal with the problem of abandoned and poisoned animals.
They believe that the municipality has not done much to solve these problems, stating that one of the activities that has been undertaken is the installation of public lighting, that is, the lighting of certain public areas.
On the other hand, they said that the Food and Veterinary Agency, which has a regional office in South Mitrovica, is responsible for these issues.
Municipal officials also told KoSSev that they spoke to representatives of this agency to get involved in solving the problem of dog poisoning. However, they add, this agency only offered them leaflets and propaganda material that would be distributed to people with the aim of raising awareness.
„We don’t need that, we need you to go out into the field and do analyses,“ one of the municipal officials told us unofficially.
At the same time, he appeals to citizens to report all cases of dog poisoning to the municipality and to share with them any information about the perpetrators.
„Someone must be punished, once he is punished, then he would not do this anymore,“ said this official.
In connection with the issue of stray dogs and dog poisoning, the KoSSev portal contacted the Food and Veterinary Agency, asking what they did, whether they went out into the field, and whether they had an elaborate plan and cooperation with other institutions.
However, this query also remained unanswered.
3,000 euros allocated for Šapa, but not paid out.
Councilor of the North Mitrovica Municipal Assembly, Skender Sadiku, said in a statement for KoSSev that he has no knowledge of whether the mayor, that is, the executive municipal authority, has taken any action regarding the problem of dog poisoning.
On the other hand, he reminds that the legislative authority, that is, the local assembly, approved financial aid for the „Šapa“ Association earlier this year, precisely due to the costs and activities they undertook with the aim of rescuing poisoned animals.
The councilors approved the 3,000 euros this summer and then forwarded the decision to the Kosovo Ministry of Administration and Local Self-Government.
These funds, however, have not yet been paid, which is the responsibility of the executive authority.
Commenting on the assembly’s decision on financial aid, the “Šapa” Association confirmed that the money has not yet been paid, due to bureaucratic procedures, but they still state that, according to their knowledge, it should be done in January next year.
Sadiku, who actively advocated for solving the problem of poisoning and abandoned dogs, even participated in one of Šapa’s protests, told KoSSev that he is working to provide financial support to this association in the future as well.
„I will advocate for help for them because they do a good job, but they do not get enough help,“ he told us.
Plans for a project to build a regional shelter
At the same time, Sadiku is urging for a regional dog shelter to be built.
„I took it on myself, as a volunteer, and the assembly also gave me an assignment. It is possible that we will establish informal committees in January. There is an idea within the government of Kosovo, a strategy has been developed to find a solution for the dogs… They are working on a shelter project in the North of Kosovo. I am in contact with the Šapa association,” Sadiku said.
He also revealed that there is an idea to establish a veterinary clinic in North Mitrovica, precisely because there is no veterinarian in the town.
„It is planned to assemble a mobile team of technicians to help people,“ Sadiku added.
While some institutions are making plans, others are silent, and some seem to have abandoned these cases altogether, the “Šapa” Association is implementing a new cycle of sterilization.
Once the dogs are sterilized and vaccinated, they are returned to their habitats across the town. This also protects the town from the arrival of new dogs that would otherwise occupy this territory.
However, the past year is the ‘best example’ of how there is no solution for the stray dogs’ issue on the horizon.
Four months of systematic poisoning of animals – March, April, May, and June, and a new series of poisonings since October, only intensified the problem and the new influx of animals.
The number of new dogs is on the rise on the streets of North Mitrovica, especially those that are not sterilized or vaccinated, which are teeming with parasites. They are looking for their pack, while people are now becoming increasingly afraid of the new animals in town.
Šapa members are tired. “At one point, almost all dogs in the town were sterilized, there were maybe 20 that weren’t. When we finally got to that point, all those dogs that were sterilized, vaccinated, and cleared of parasites were killed. Now there are only five or six who are still alive,“ Šapa volunteers told KoSSev.
Marijana Pantić and Jelena Ilić still believe in their association.
„It only takes a small push to encourage people! When there is a success story, everyone gets involved, and when it gets difficult, they give up. We all need a little success,“ they say.
It remains to be seen whether the institutions will do something concrete or whether the unknown persons who prefer to opt for the tried and tested inhumane method – poisoning dogs, will be one step ahead.
Gari, Zorka, Beli, Grej, Lajavica, Žućko, Lajavicin sin, Šar đevojka, Skakavica, Mandić, Crni, Jelenka, Žućo, Mama, Crnac, Mladen, Zlata, Bleki, Mali, Crnka, Malena, Tedi, Deda Novica, Maša, Veseli, Dona, Dukata, Ćera, Crnkica… these are just some of the beloved animals who believed those who killed them.
They say that whoever kills a man’s best friend, could kill a man as well.
By Ivan Mitić and Tatjana Lazarević
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