by Ani Ivanova

Dos and don'ts for pet owners in Bulgaria

Judging by the number of stray dogs and cats, you may think Bulgarians have a problem with street animals. You will be right. As a rule Bulgarians tend to take good care of everything inside their own home and be negligent of whatever lies just outside their front door. Stray animals, many of which are the result of un-neutered pets, are just one example.

Yet Bulgarians have a passion for pets and have taken to look after not just dogs, cats, fish and new guineas and parrots, but also monkeys, turtles, iguanas and king pythons. Hence the ubiquitous, at least in cities and larger towns, pet stores offering everything from food, litter, containers and bedding to toys, leashes and other accessories. Cat and dog food and cat litter are also sold at supermarket chains and most around-the-corner small shops.

If you own no pet but would like to get one here, there is a variety of options. Breeders offering pedigree dogs and fewer selling pedigree cats operate around the country. Pets are also sold in pet shops and there, as well as in the local park, you will regularly see notes of pet owners selling or giving free kitties and puppies. Many pet owners take a pet from among the many homeless animals, rescuing it from starvation and illness. Not sure how to get one? Call one of the several animal shelters and charities or contact the Bulgarian Society for Animal Protection and Preservation.

Once you take your pet home, you will have to get the relevant vaccinations, flea control, advice and pet passport from a vet office or clinic. These are private and are operated by qualified vets. Many of them offer services outside regular working hours including nights and weekends. To check out the nearest to you, surf the Internet or ask a fellow dog/cat owner. Not all vet clinics treat exotic animals so check in advance.

Vet offices and clinics will provide vet drugs, vitamins, vaccines and food supplements. Vet clinics often provide a full range of pet care from tick and flea treatment to lab tests as well as surgery. Some vaccinations will depend on the area where you live so your local vet will be able to advise you. Details of all vaccinations must be entered on a pet passport or veterinary certificate. Should your pet need a more serious treatment, find a clinic with hospitalisation facilities. In this case ask in advance if you are expected to provide pet food and bedding. If you want to help out a starving or sick homeless animal, you can also take it to the vet.

Owning a dog but not sure how to train it? Then take it to dog school. Dog training centres will usually take dogs from all breeds and professionals train them at a field facility. Tracker and gun dogs get specialised coaching in specialised centres. In Sofia enthusiasts organise free training sessions – for instance a golden retriever owner passes his knowledge of this dog's behaviour on weekend mornings in the Loven Park. An Internet search will identify the few dog handling professionals operating in Bulgaria.

Pet grooming is not necessarily a service offered at vet clinics so you must look for a pet grooming shop. If you can't see one near you, ask at a pet store, kennel or dog handler's for advice. As for walking dogs, when out of your home, the dog should be on a leash and muzzled, a requirement that few Bulgarian dog owners adhere to. This and other regulations – whether or not dogs are admitted on public transportation vehicles – vary from region to region so you should check your local council's decision on the matter.

In Sofia, however, two conflicting decisions are in force. According to one, dogs can travel provided they are muzzled and on a short leash. Another instruction says the only dogs allowed to board a bus/tram are police and guide dogs. Often the tram driver or an inspector will ask you to punch a ticket for your dog.

Note that dog owners are charged an annual fee. Check out your local council's regulation on the matter. For the time being dogs and cats are not required to wear identification tags and no system of licensing exists. Owners of reptiles and monkeys and the like must register their exotic pets.

Those who like to travel around the country with their pets would find it strange to know that few hotels accept animals. Notable exceptions of the rule include a big and central hotel in Burgas and some animal-friendly guest-houses usually run by pet owners. One solution to the issue is to go camping.

To travel abroad with your pet in your car, have it vaccinated against rabies and microchipped, and bring along its passport and vet certificate. The certificate, around 6 leva for a dog, is issued by your local veterinary medicine service. It features information about the pet's latest rabies vaccination, the plate number of the car that will carry the dog, the microchip number and the destination country.

To transport your pet by air check out your airlines' policy. Some take pets as cargo, others allow you to carry pets with them in a container and charge you for it.

If planning to travel without your pet and are unwilling to ask neighbours or friends to look after it, you don't have to worry. Kennels and catteries have recently mushroomed. Many of them are operated by UK nationals – this is why they are predominantly located in the areas of Varna, Dobrich, Veliko Tarnovo and Yambol – and offer safe boarding for shortor long-term, transport, training, health care and all the necessary paperwork. They are also quite handy should you need help taking your pet back home.



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