efe-epaBy Misha Vignanski Tbilisi

During the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Georgian civil war, the stray dogs that rambled the streets of Tbilisi suffered exclusion and discrimination and were seen as a danger.

Those days are so far gone now these animals have become not only a normal part of the urban landscape but beloved inhabitants of the Georgian capital.

In 2019, due to the filming of ‘Fast and Furious 9’, Tbilisi authorities moved all the stray dogs to a municipal shelter in Varketili, on the outskirts of the city.

As soon as the shooting finished, the animals were put back on the streets.

When the action director of the movie Spiro Razatos knew about that forced move, he, along with other members of the film crew, visited the shelter to bring food and toys to the dogs.

The event was covered by the local press.

Today street dogs seem to at home on the streets of Tbilisi, especially in Rustaveli Avenue, the main artery of the city, and in Ingorokva square, near the Government headquarters, where they can be seen basking in the sun on clear days.

"I try not to forget to bring some food from home," Tamara Dvaladze, administrative officer for the Cabinet of Ministers, told EFE.

Over a dozen dogs found a new home near the entrance of the Politechnicheski Institut subway station, where neighbors have set up several kennels.

"Look, they are very good," Irma, one of the neighbors who regularly visit these animals, said.

"These are Rex, Mailo, Lucy, Miso. They are all sterilized and they are very loving.”

Tour guide Irina Baramidze lives with two dogs adopted from the municipal shelter.

"I do not imagine my life without my dogs," Baramidze told EFE.

"They certainly create some problems in my apartment, but I feel such happiness when they wake me up in the morning," she added.

In the late 90s, Tbilisi people were concerned about stray dogs since some attacks on pedestrians had been reported.

As a result, many of them would avoid any contact with these animals.

Stray dogs are now well-fed, sterilized and carry a non-aggressive animal identification system.

Veterinarians of the Animal Monitoring Agency of Tbilisi (AMA) guarantee they live in good conditions.

"We regulate the stray dog population with globally approved humanitarian methods,"

"After these procedures, they stop being aggressive," AMA spokeswoman Nata Uzunashvili told EFE.

The agency started operating five years ago when over 40,000 dogs were living in the streets of Tbilisi.

It is expected that in May a new census will shed light in the exact number of stray dogs.

"It is clear that society's attitude towards animals has changed for the better,“ Uzunashvili said.

“Animal abuse cases are now increasingly rare and when they take place society responds with extreme rejection."

Uzunashvili is convinced that education is one of the most important aspects of the work at AMA.

"We try to instill a love for pets since childhood.

"The agency develops educational programs in schools, we show films about animal protection, we talk about how beneficial it is for children to grow alongside a pet," she added.

In the municipal shelter dogs are sterilized and receive the necessary veterinary care.

“The social attitude towards stray dogs is getting better and better. We take care of them, feed them and give them a place to live," AMA director Vajtang Lomdzharia told EFE.

“The practice of killing dogs was inhuman, now those dogs are no longer aggressive with people.”

According to Lomdzharia, veterinarians working for AMA are very experienced.

"They have practiced between 3,000 and 5,000 operations each," he said.

"Every day we perform 15 to 40 surgical procedures. For this year we have planned more than 6,000."

The agency also counts on seven emergency response teams that operate 24 hours a day.

In the last year alone, these professionals carried out more than 400 rescue operations.

The shelter, with about 150 specialists and a budget of over one million euros, is sponsored by the Tbilisi city council, which has also enabled spaces for dog walking and training.

Kakha Kaladze, the city mayor and former player of AC Milan football club is a true dog lover.

He lives in a house on the outskirts of the city with six dogs.

One of them, called Tiffany, was adopted from the shelter.

Kaladze has been seen with Tiffany in several official meetings at the town hall.

"We like it very much when Tiffany comes.

“The mayor tries to give an example of love and concern for dogs," city council spokeswoman Manana Tokmadzhivshvili told EFE.

AMA takes advantage of social networks to raise awareness of the importance of adopting dogs.

"Last year we gave away 700 dogs who now live happily with their new owners," spokeswoman Uzunashvili said.

“People also bring us missing pets. In 2019 we returned 170 missing dogs to their owners," she added. EFE-EPA