Georgia Is About To Get Tough On Animal Cruelty

With Lomisoba this week (June 19), and the Pet Welfare Law under discussion, the issue of animal cruelty is at the epicenter of the Georgian public’s attention, along with the Pride parade and who said what on that. What these two have in common is that ad-hoc sporadic communication from the authorities, as to how they plan to proceed and deal with the respective issues, doesn’t get the message across. The article below aims to provide exhaustive information on the former topic.

In fact, the animal cruelty discussion came into the spotlight even before the draft of the Pet Welfare Law, and accompanying changes in the Criminal Code (CCG) and Administrative Code of Georgia (ACG), was up for a committee review. The arrival of a Russian circus with animal “performers” triggered protests both in front of the Tbilisi circus building, and inside it, during the performance. Many of those holding posters against the use of animals in the circus (especially traveling ones) came from a generation that grew up cheering on lions and elephants, monkeys and bears doing neat tricks. I know I belong to that generation, and I see no shame in that. Back then, we didn’t know what kind of cruelty and neglect were hiding behind these dolled-up performances. Personally, I just found out days ago that arthritis in elephants – regardless of age! – occurs only in captivity, that is, in zoo and circus environs (thank you, Wild Earth and your SafariLive streams). Also, at the time of our circus-going years, there was no other way of seeing many exotic animals up close and personal, if not for those captive settings. By contrast, today, in the age of internet and livestreams, free travel and Cirque du Soleil, going to a place that presents animals that were beaten and tortured into submission is nothing short of barbaric. It may be hard to reconcile our childhood’s happy memories of going to the circus on weekends with the images of whimpering tigers and bloodied elephants, without feeling as if we are betraying our carefree years. Now that we know better, we should take the stand as dictated by our conscience, not distant memories or ignorance!

There’s a similar approach to Lomisoba mentioned in the opening sentence. For decades interrupted by the communist rule, people made the pilgrimage to a small but significant Chapel of St George in Lomisa. The chapel, one of many bearing that name and built over a thousand years ago on a site of a pagan place of worship, had a special importance as a religious destination of the mountainous regions of Mtiuleti and Khevi. Having no feudal overlords, the tribesmen pledged allegiance directly to the king in that chapel – before God – especially when called to the battlefield, as was often the case. Others came to bear the heavy metal chain kept in the Chapel as a way of atoning for their sins. No doubt, there was animal sacrifice, too – the ritual harkening back to the pagan roots, a sheep or two when the warriors returned victorious, for the purpose of having a feast. It was nowhere near the mass slaughter of lambs seen in the post-communist era, ostensibly, for religious purposes, the proper bloodbath that can be seen in many photos making the rounds in social media for several years now. The good news is that eyewitnesses, including guides going to Lomisa Chapel every June 19, report significantly less bloodshed over the last couple of years. Still, there’s a number of “pilgrims” who cling to the warped idea of lamb slaughter as something pleasing to God - the massacre of Agnus Dei, representing the sacrificial innocence in Christianity, of all things.

Against this backdrop, it’s no wonder that some publications had the draft of the “Pet Welfare Law” under the “weird and funny” category – gosh, there will be fines for backyard breeders, how crazy is that! Or, zoophilia is violating the rights of the animals, hilarious! Municipalities establishing the breeding age for animals, bua-ha-ha!

And yet, the draft of the Law is a reality, an achievement in a country where pet advocates routinely hear “you’d better take care of humans, not animals” as a rebuttal, and where Gandhi’s quote correlating the greatness of the nation and the way its animals are treated is frowned upon. Activists, animal lovers and professionals in the field deserve a big pat on the back for bringing this item to the legislators and putting it firmly on the agenda. Sure, certain requirements to get the regulations in line with the rest of the progressive world came with the EU Association Agreement, but the origin of this law is unmistakably a grassroots effort. What’s important is that politicians have endorsed the draft, and legislators, regardless of political affiliation, have added the respective measures to the Criminal Code of Georgia and Administrative Code of Georgia in order to toughen up the punishment for cruel treatment of animals, from largely decorative fines to serving prison time.

Sure, there are some weaknesses that many animal organizations and activists have brought up in discussions; for example, the language of the law almost universally limits “pets” to cats and dogs. The requirement to walk your pet cannot be applied to that goldfish you have in a tank, or the parrot happily squeaking its way on your shoulder as you’re reading this article. Still, there are a lot of positives: registration of pets and their owners, so that the latter take responsibility for the puppies and kittens tossed out once they outgrow their “cuteness” stage. Putting a stop to backyard breeding that is ruining the proper breed selection, especially for the working breeds and those native to Georgia. The much-needed creation of municipal shelters in regions with strict oversight and proper record-keeping is a welcome addition to the current infrastructure.

And yet, as I was reading the draft, the wording of Article 4.4(a) made me feel as if I was unable to grasp an important point, and needed to consult a professional. We sat down to discuss the origins of the law with Mariam Chkhikvishvili, the lead veterinary surgeon of the Agricultural University Veterinary Clinic, the President of the GEOSAVA, the Georgian chapter of the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA). As I verify that I got her credentials right, Mariam is quick to point out that she’s speaking not just as a veterinarian with a sizable input to the draft’s wording, but also as a founder and Chair of the Homeless Pets Help Organization (HPHO) – the organization that has been working with stray animals since 2008, and has initiated multi-faceted stray population management projects both in Tbilisi and the semi-rural areas.

How did this Pet Welfare Law come about? Who initiated it?

For years, there’s been a lot of talk about the dire situation in Georgia with regards to the treatment of animals, especially cats and dogs. Then, about four years ago, Tinatin Chavchanidze, the Chair of the Animal Rights Committee, proposed a draft of the legislation meant to cover these issues. The text was published as a Parliamentary initiative and, as is usually the case, various groups started discussing it, focusing on flaws and shortcomings.

Still, it was a big step forward, to get the ball rolling, wouldn’t you agree?

Absolutely, somebody had to make the first step. She (Mrs. Chavchanidze) did it, taking it from Facebook back-and-forth arguments to the legislative initiative. And despite the initial criticism, all the stakeholders eventually realised that the constructive approach was the only way to get the things right.

There are lots of animal rights groups and individual activists in Georgia, and they often disagree on many things, from pet care to breeding to stray population management.

True, and still, the 13 main stakeholders got together, not just those representing some well-established organizations, but also individuals who have been actively fostering animals, taking care of the animal community for years. So, the current draft is a result of our collective work, with the support of the Parliamentary Committee on Environmental Protection – they will be presenting the Law to the rest of the legislators.

(Note: since our discussion, the draft has been approved in the first hearing, though the proposed effective date has moved from January 1st to May 1st, 2020)

Are you happy with the draft, in its current format? I’ve read your social media posts, you’ve raised several points there…

I’m happy that the draft is moving through the process of becoming a piece of legislature; this is the first time for a law like this, and there will be some adjustments made later, hopefully. Practice always shows what might not work as originally intended: for example, I’ve been vocal about two distinctly different types of shelters being lumped together. These are municipal ones and what is defined family-style, essentially, the home-based temporary shelters. The parts about providing proper veterinary care, observing hygienic norms and record-keeping are fine, but what about the volieres? Outside of the quarantine period, there is no need for keeping cats and dogs caged. Also, the family-style shelters would have to obtain permissions from neighbors and owners of adjacent properties – that might pose quite a problem.

Do you think neighbors, en masse, will be against home-based shelters?

It really depends on the individual relationships the current family-style shelter operators have built within the communities. Most people aren’t thrilled about having a number of cats and dogs staying next door, but I understand the need to respect the neighbors’ opinions, to create a situation that’s comfortable for them, too. It’s a very delicate balance: educating people about animals and raising awareness of the positive aspects is the way to tip the scales of public opinion in that direction.

At this point, I felt I could ask about that paragraph in Article 4.4 that puzzled me. The draft reads: “The following is not directed against the welfare and protection of a pet: (a) the program of catching, sterilization, castration, anti-rabies vaccination and return of the pet.”

Why did the legislators feel that the Law should even explain that vaccination is not harmful to the pet?

It may be obvious to you, but there is still a large part of the population that doesn’t see the benefits of the TVNR (tag-vaccinate-neuter-release) program that HPHO and other similar organization have been running for years, for stray population management purposes. Many of those who advocate for allowing their own or community cats and dogs to procreate, see no problem in abandoning or killing the litter, which is prohibited under the current law. What we need is an increased focus on educational aspects of the program, raising awareness using different channels to reach various age groups, to convince them that as owners or caregivers, people are responsible for the well-being of the pets and community animals alike.

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As this article goes to print, the draft of the “Pet Welfare Law” is under review, having made its way out of the Committee and will be presented to the Parliament for floor discussion. Please send your thoughts and comments via social media (GEORGIA TODAY has presence on Facebook and Twitter or email We will be following this topic closely, and keep reporting any new developments.

By Kyra Devdariani

20 June 2019 18:33