Animal protection campaigners of the province of Erbil, in the autonomous Kurdistan region in Iraq, are protesting how the authorities have been collecting stray dogs to be placed in shelters. On 8th July 2023, officials began collecting stray dogs from the streets of the city and placing them in a new animal shelter, which covers 2500 square meters and can accommodate up to 12,500 dogs. However, activists consider that how they are conducting the operation is inadequate.

Marzia Hassan, a local animal rights activist, said to Rudaw, “Nowhere in the world have dogs been collected in garbage trucks during the heat of the summer.”  Khabat Mohammed, another animal rights activist, said,  “We are not against the opening of shelters. We think they are good. But they [the dogs] can’t be placed in an empty space without a single tree.” 

Zhyar Jalal, the head of Erbil’s services and environmental protection directorate, said  “Our staff have no experience, and the dogs in our country cannot be easily caught, that is why they are being collected in that way.” 

According to the Sulaimani-based Kurdistan Green Party, there are over 300,000 stray dogs in the Kurdistan Region. Over the years, various cities have tried different tactics to address the problem of dogs biting people, but their efforts are often criticised by local animal rights organizations who know better how to deal with stray animals. These groups recommend dogs be captured, neutered, and released as the most humane way of controlling the population. 

In December 2022, the Parliament of the Kurdistan Region passed its first animal protection law that protects both wild and domesticated animals from abuse. The new law prohibited all animal fighting, killing wild animals, and the killing of stray animals by any means (unless they pose “specific risks” to people and or other animals). This is why the animal shelters were created.

Jordi Casamitjana
“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.