In accordance with the recent approval of the Law on Pets, we interviewed M.Ariunzul, who has been working at Aztai Savar or Lucky Paws NGO for three years as a volunteer lawyer. Lucky Paws is a registered Mongolian NGO dedicated to companion animal welfare. M.Ariunzul graduated from the School of Law at National University of Mongolia in 2018 and has been working as a lawyer since then. She began working on the Bill on Pets when her coworkers started volunteering at Lucky Paws NGO. She worked on the Law on Pets from its submission until it was approved. She currently works as a Senior Lawyer at MDS & Khaanlex LLP and a board member of Lucky Paws.
The Law on Pets was approved recently. Why did we need this law? What made Lucky Paws initiate this Law?
The law is first of its kind. It means that this is the first law in Mongolia that regulates the relationship between pets and their owners. According to Law on Legislation, before drafting a law, there needs to be research on its necessities. Of our research, we found multiple necessities. First, it’s about public health, second, it’s for registering pets to lower the number of stray dogs and cats, and third, to protect pets from abuse. In addition, it’s to ensure proper breeding, and to regulate the relationship between a guardian and a pet. For instance, it’s a public health hazard. When a dog is shot, they are buried in the ground, causing soil pollution. As it is an animal’s body, there’s no way to cremate them. Even in WHO’s research, one in eight dogs have echinococcus. Echinococcus is highly dangerous to humans and pets, and more likely to transfer to humans. In addition, according to research, 67 percent of all dogs have helminthoid. So, this is a risk to human health. Moreover, there’s animal feces every 18 meters, which causes high air and environmental pollution. On the surface, people see this law as a way to protect animal rights, but when you see deeper, it is also a law that protects human health.
On the other hand, over 90 percent of dogs that bite people have owners. Recent statistics showed that almost 4,000 people go to the National Traumatology and Orthopedics Research Center for dog bite treatments annually, of which 37 percent are children under the age of 15. This means that owners are careless. The least they should do is to have a muzzle and a leash. All animals have their own instincts. A pet can be caring and kind towards its owners but might have a negative reaction to a stranger trying to pet them. So, by registering the pets, the owners will hold accountability and people will get less hurt.
There have also been videos online about how pets were abused and tortured. For example, about a year ago, there was a video going around of a cat being dismembered. So, the law regulates people to be loving towards animals and be kind. Furthermore, abuse and torture have a bad effect on the brain, especially on children. The regulation is to protect pets from abuse.
People sell animals on the street. That is what leads to stray cats and dogs. For example, people adopt beagles with their emotions. But they are highly active and energetic animals. When the owners cannot take care of them anymore, they leave them in the streets. So, a regulation was made to be adopted only from authorized breeders.
Lucky Paws NGO first began its operation in 2013 to lower the number of stray animals. Before they thought about drafting a law, they held a variety of activities to neuter animals onthe the street by establishing a shelter and vet. However, instead of the number of stray animals decreasing, it increased because people dropped off animals like they were dropping off their children. From 2012 until 2021, the number of stray animals never dropped but instead, it grew. Despite the government shooting stray animals, the number never dropped. As of 2021, the number of stray animals was 320,000 nationwide. This is a large amount. In addition, if they are not neutered, the animals will give birth to five or six puppies or kittens. Annually, about 100,000 stray animals are shot. If the 220,000 stray animals are not neutered, they could grow up to 3.5 million the next year. So, around 2016, Lucky Paws management realized that the numbers will not drop unless there’s a law. There has never been an official statistic on the number of pets in Mongolia. Thus, Lucky Paws collected money and had research conducted in 2018. In 2019, the official draft of the law began. Then, in September 2022, the bill was submitted.
Could you please talk about your role in drafting the Law? Why did you join Lucky Paws’ team?
Before doing the research, I worked more on the breeding part of the law. I searched about international breeding research. From it, I found out about backyard breeders. They are people either breeding dogs out of interest or to gain money or profit, without meeting the standards. In short, they are people who breed without any standards. Internationally, permits are given to breed pets. People think of it as challenging and hard to get permits, but it’s easy. By doing so, we’re supporting good breeders. I love pets, but I was not able to adopt one due to family situations. When I was seven, I lost a pet because of old age. This became a hard hit for me. So, I wanted to support Lucky Pets in any way possible. I found out I could help as a lawyer as well, which was great.
What was the process like from the initiation to actual approval of the law?
A law must be submitted by a member of parliament to a member of the government. Lucky Paws NGO was 100 percent responsible for the law. We prpposed to a member of parliament to represent the law and he agreed with it. Until then, our organization studied why we need the first of its kind law. A total of five types of research were conducted. For example, we have studied for two or three years what the costs will be if the law is approved, what are the needs, what is the international situation, what our current situation is, and what relationship was the law regulating. Before the submission of the law, a questionnaire was sent to all government organizations and citizens about whether there are any amendments to the law. After submission, there were multiple changes made after getting checked through the standing committee and the parliament. Finally, the law was checked and passed officially on December 18.
With the implementation progress of the law, what changes are you most excited to see?
For me, I’m excited about the pet registration and guardian requirements. Adopting a pet requires a lot of care and expense, so the guardian must be at least 18 years old. If a minor is going to buy an animal, the parents will be responsible for it. The pet registration system will be ready in six to 12 months. In other words, the law can be officially implemented after six months. Every animal with an owner will be chipped so it can be tracked which owners are responsible.
Secondly, only a licensed person can sell animals and not anyone. This is the biggest regulation.
Who will be responsible for monitoring the implementation of this law?
The biggest inspectors will be khoroo governors, the National Police Agency, the General Authority for Veterinary Services, and the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Light Industry. The Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Light Industry will approve the rules and regulations. The Department of Veterinary Hospital is responsible for the system, development, and registration. The khoroo governor will set requirements in their own khoroo. The police organization is responsible for finding stray animals and returning lost animals to their owners.
How will officials find illegal breeders?
It may be hard for the government to track down, but we know many people who breed irresponsibly and illegally. After they are found, the animals will be transferred to shelters. As for the illegal breeder, the law enforcement will fine them and set a requirement for them to receive their permit.
Billions of tugrugs is budgetedfor shooting stray animals. With the new law, will this money be spent on facilities like animal shelters? Is there any money budgeted for the activities of this law?
People misunderstood that the state is creating an animal shelter. No budget has been approved for the establishment of a state shelter. Before this law was approved, the capital had started the construction of a shelter. I don’t know much about this. But the maintenance costs for shelters are high. For example, animal feed and workers wages have high costs. According to the law, only non-governmental organizations can operate shelters. Currently, the budget for the law is only for the additional wages of the employees.
Now, there’s a five-year shooting regulation. Shooting cannot be banned directly because by registering, the numbers of stray animals will go down in two to three years. Then, the shooting will go down as well. We suggested to the capital city to neuter some and not shoot all and the capital city was in support of it.
Will the government support shelters or adopters in some ways? Who finances the shelters?
Currently, there are no such support. Non-government agencies are working privately. The organizations are non-profit, so they will work through people’s donations or trade without earning a profit. In addition, for example, Lucky Paws sell their merchandise to earn donations.
Attitude towards pets is relatively bad in Mongolia. Are we ready for this law? What is your opinion on this?
In Mongolia, it is not customary to keep pets inside homes. There are some dogs that are not kept inside homes such as Mongolian Mastiff. In Mongolia, there’s about 220,000-250,000 households with pets. Of them, 78 percent of them are in the ger district. In the law, it states that the pet can be kept outside, but the main thing is that the animal should have a warm and pleasant home to live in, and it can move freely, or to have a three-meter-long leash. For example, a Mongolian Mastiff can be kept outside because of its characteristics, but a poodle or a spaniel will die if it is kept outside. Therefore, if you keep it in the yard, you should insulate the house and regulate the temperature. Khoroo members will go and check them regularly.
We made the law appropriate and suitable for people to follow. The law has regulations for animal breeds and is based on their location. For example, there are supportive arrangements aimed at increasing the population of the Mongol Mastiff or Bankhar. The process of registering the Mongolian Bankhar as a native dog of Mongolia is underway, I heard.
Is Lucky Paws doing any activities aimed at changing people’s perspective towards pets?
There is such an activity. Modern children are very smart. When we were drafting the law, we received letters from many children. The letters were of thanks and of their own opinion, and there were many letters to members and authority figures. We’ve had animal-themed art and essay contests in the past. I once read a child’s essay and cried. That essay was about their dog, who was shot in front of him. It was written about how a child saw his dog being shot just as the dog got out of his home. Based on this, we spread information to people by organizing competitions among people.
We are also correcting some common misconceptions. For example, cats like milk. Based on this, we make a lot of content and we have created a content called “Let’s live comfortably in our yard”. It was a content that made it clear that families with pets in their yard can live happily as well.
We also made a short documentary about stray animal shooting in 2022. Our biggest activity is neutering. We saved over 3,000 animals in 2021. It’s not our money, but of those who donated to us and our organization. Also, our volunteers are great as they work with great initiative.
Will pet owners be punished if a guardian neglects their pet?
The guardian will be fined, and their pets will be moved to some shelter. Their fine will increase with multiple negligence.
Please tell me about the future of Lucky Paws?
Our future plan is to grow our neutering program. We plan to extend our program to provincial areas such as Darkhan-Uul, Orkhon, and Umnugobi provinces. Moreover, we are educating vets in provincial areas about neutering. Another thing we are collecting money for is an animal x-ray device. We are cooperating with an international organization and about 40 percent of the financing is complete.