Romanian lawmakers voted Tuesday to make it legal to euthanize the thousands of stray dogs that roam the country's streets, angering animal rights activists who have lobbied for months to stop the measure.
Bucharest alone is home to an estimated 50,000 stray dogs, according to local media, and they are a part of city life, crossing the street, snoozing on sidewalks and even hopping on buses. But backers of the law say local governments must have the option to euthanize because the dogs are a public health hazard.
Though most are not aggressive, a Romanian woman died this year after she was mauled by a pack of dogs. In 2006, a Japanese tourist was killed by a stray.
Parliament voted by 168-111 to pass the law, which is expected to be signed by President Traian Basescu. The law will allow officials to round up homeless dogs from the street, hold them in shelters for 30 days and then have them killed.
Animal rights groups gathered in Parliament Tuesday, holding banners calling on lawmakers not to pass the legislation. They are calling for increased funding for sterilization
Corruption fighters claim the measure is a cynical ploy to enrich local authorities because substantial funding will be allocated for the task.
"It is a brutal law which will not resolve the problem of street dogs, but will line the pockets" of mayors from the ruling Democratic Liberal Party, animal rights activist Marcela Pisla told The Associated Press.
The homeless canine population flourished in the late 1980s after Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu razed old houses in residential districts and built high-rise apartments, causing owners to part with pets.
Nowadays, residents are often tolerant of the strays, with many wearing tags showing they have been sterilized.