An animal rights activist holds her dog during a protest against the euthanasia of stray dogs in front of Romania's Constitutional Court in Bucharest September 25, 2013. Reuters /Bogdan Cristel

Dog lovers and animal-rights groups are putting heat on the Romanian government to roll back a new “population management” law they say will lead to the needless slaughter of thousands of stray dogs.

In September, the Romanian Parliament approved legislation aimed at culling the stray population in Bucharest, where some 60,000 dogs are said to be roaming the streets, often in packs. Dog bites are common in the capital city, and the growing stray problem is even deterring tourism, officials say. The new law allows administrators to euthanize stray dogs caught on the streets within 14 days if they are not adopted, but some citizens fed up with the problem aren’t waiting that long: They're taking matters, and the dogs' lives, into their own hands.

The law follows a high-profile story in which a 4-year-old boy named Ionut Anghel was mauled to death by a dog in August. The frantic media coverage surrounding that story sparked a wave of violence against stray dogs and cats, according to animal-welfare groups such as Four Paws Europe, which has reported numerous recent cases of people attacking and killing dogs in the streets. In one instance, a litter of puppies was wrapped in a blanket and set ablaze, according to the Associated Press.

An animal rights activist holds a sign during a protest against the euthanasia of stray dogs in front of Romania's Constitutional Court in Bucharest September 25, 2013. Reuters /Bogdan Cristel

The group Occupy for Animals, which launched a petition calling on the Romanian government to put a stop to the killing, said the new culling law is tantamount to a “free ticket” to slaughter stray animals, which it says are “being bludgeoned, shot and poisoned in villages and towns all over Romania.” The petition has been signed by more than 73,000 supporters.

“While crying out for revenge over the tragic death of little Ionut, they kill dogs and cats right in front of the children that they claim they are wanting to protect, not knowing that the uncontrolled exposure of children to uncontrolled animal abuse has serious ramifications on the psychological health of these children resulting in a serious psychological disturbance.”

On Facebook, many users in the area and elsewhere are changing their profiles to a red graphic with a white dog paw along with the “Red Card for Romania.”

The new law, which was upheld in late September by Romania’s Constitutional Court, has pitted animal-rights advocates against protesters who say the government has not done enough to curb the country’s stray-dog problem. The problem is thought to date back to the 1980s, when Nicolae Ceausescu, Romania’s last Communist leader, relocated much of Bucharest’s population to high-rise apartment blocks. Many families abandoned their dogs when they made the move. Today, Romania is one of the poorest nations in the E.U., and its government is said to be among the most corrupt in Europe.

Animal-rights groups say the stray dogs should be spayed and neutered, not disposed of in mass killings. In a statement, the World Society for the Protection of Animals called culling “both inhumane and ineffective,” saying the Romanian government should work with animal-rights organizations for a more “rational” approach.

“Our extensive experience of working on dog management programmes around the world shows clearly that this legislation is neither practical, humane or effective and will not provide a long-term solution to Romania’s long-standing issues with stray dogs,” the group said.

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