Background to the Scandalous Canili Lager Dog Pounds

Italy has approximately 600,000 stray dogs, a quarter of which are in dog pounds, according to LAV, Italy’s anti-vivisection league. There are 1144 dog pounds and around 500 of those are known as canili lager, a term to strike fear into the heart of any poor dog unlucky enough to end up in one.

In 1991 Italy introduced a no-kill law for strays. They decided that every stray that was rounded up should be should be housed, vaccinated, fed and eventually re-homed. The public canili sanitari couldn’t cope and so funds were made available for private kennels to take on some of the burden. The owners of these private kennels – canili lager – would be paid per head. It seemed a good idea at the time.

 But what happened became a national disgrace. Unscrupulous people wanting to make as much money as they could crammed as many dogs as they could into inadequate kennels. It was against their interests to re-home them, because then they would lose their per capita income, so they kept their presence quiet. They were Italy’s invisible and forgotten dogs. Many have spent their entire miserable lives in filthy conditions, attacked or half starved never seeing a blade of grass or knowing what it was like to be taken for a walk or played with. The well-intentioned law effectively backfired spectacularly, leading to a nightmare existence for hundreds of thousands of dogs.

Recently, in a large part thanks to modern technology, things have taken a turn for the better. The rise of the Internet and the work of a network of volunteer animal lovers throughout Italy has meant there is now hope for the ‘invisible dogs’. People began tracking down canili lager, which were often hidden or well-guarded, insisting on visiting the dogs and taking photos on their mobile phones, which they then posted online. Slowly these internet appeals have led to some dogs finding new homes. And as more canili lager became exposed, the owners reluctantly had to agree to the volunteers visiting the inmates regularly, and taking them out, even for just 20 minutes exercise a month – not much but better than nothing.

Now the Ministry of Health have also vowed to tackle the problem. Below is an aritcle that has been forwarded to me in Italian by an animal organization, so I translated it and thought I would post it. I think they are a bit hard on the internet adoptions at the end, but everyone has a right to an opinion and I know from my own experience that taking on a rescue dog, while extremely rewarding, is not easy.

The Ministry of Health ‘A-Team
Against the Canili Lager

Original article on (translated by Fiona Tankard)

The Ministry of Health, under the direction of under secretary  Francesca Martini, has formed a task force, comprising twelve vets and four legal and administrative personnel, whose job it is to discover and eradicate the terrible canili lager and to resolve the issue of strays.

A ‘canile lager’ is a type of shelter which does not respect even the minimum hygiene regulations, where love for the animals it houses does not exist and where there is not the
slightest shred of respect for the poor unfortunate creatures who end up within its hellish walls.  Starving, sick, often badly treated, beaten or even killed by people for whom an animal means less then the dirt on their shoes.

The life expectancy of these dogs is very short and what life they do have incarcerated in these terrible places is hard. It is to stamp out this scourge on society that Ms Martini has put together the team who will work together with the Carabinieri and its specialist Nas unit.

The A-Team” (Animal Team), as they might be called, will inspect the management of these canili and undertake follow up visits, keeping them under close scrutiny. They will be able to intervene directly in the case of emergencies and will also be responsible for putting together a PR team whose job will be to communicate with the public and the  owners of these canili, informing them of  the various laws that cover animal welfare. This is something that should be obvious, part of being a human being, but so often it isn’t the case.

This is what animal lover and “animal rights warrior” Martini says: “We have started an innovative and reforming movement at the Ministry of Health at zero cost. In a federal country like ours, you have to have ministries that respond to real and urgent needs. This task force represents a fundamental, concrete and active method of tackling the problems of strays and the mistreatment of animals in Italy. They will work together with the carabinieri and Nas and will have at their disposal all the resources they need to protect and defend animals in our country”

Cosimo Piccinno, chief of Nas says: “This initiative is designed to put a stop to the degradation, maltreatment and violence against animals that is all too common and widespread
in a civilised country like
Italy. Since July 2008 we have carried out between 1200 to 1500 inspections of kennels, dog pounds, breeders, pet shops, training centres and grooming parlours. Around 30% of these ended up being officially reported to the relevant legal authorities. Our objective and the objective of the task force is to end the maltreatment of cats and dogs in Italy.

Thirty percent represents one in three, and it’s not only dog pounds and shelters that have been reported to the legal authorities. Who decides who should be allowed to run an
establishment like this? Who in the town council decides, for example, that a person is fit to run a public dog shelter?  . And isn’t that person also responsible for  what the inspectors have found in their work of the last couple of years?
And why hasn’t anyone ever checked private shelters? Now anyone – volunteer, association or private citizen can contact the Ministry of Health to report cases of maltreatment or violation of the laws governing the humane treatment of animals by sending an email to :

There are an estimated 700 000 stray dogs (probably more), of which only a small percentage are rescued from all kinds of cruelty by animal associations and individual  volunteers. They are put in kennels, cared for on the streets or put up for adoption. And this too is another problem which I will dedicate brief space to here. Because the
phenomenon of “24 hour adoption” is, without doubt, another grave problem for our society. The ease with which dogs and cats are adopted is shocking.  Sometimes the fault is that of the volunteers and their less than rigorous checking procedures, but more often than not, the fault lies with the family who wants a dog and in their enthusiasm, fails to realise that they are taking on a potential problem. They have little experience of coping with a rescue dog and resulting in terrible stress for the volunteers and, worse, for the poor animals involved who were oh-so-nearly adopted.

Let’s hope that the reduction, if not total destruction, of the canili lager will result in an increasing number of animals being sterilized, leading to fewer cats and dogs. Let’s also hope for better controlled and more rigorous adoption procedures. And finally let’s hope that all those animals who have tried to give their love and affection to people who just don’t understand and will never understand, finally get some happiness too.


Link to the article in Italian:


  1. I live in the US, and am an animal advocate/rescuer and animal lover. I had heard of Italy with it’s no kill shelters, and it sounded ideal, until I read and researched the negativity on the subject. I think you have a great beginning, a theory,, and needs more work, with the animals that are contained. Yes, in fact, sterilization is necessary, and so is breeding. Like here in the states, adoption from shelters is very important. Animals are no disposable and need love and care like humans. Too many people purchase an animal too quickly, on a whim, and then turn it in when no wanted. I try to educate people on this subject, it is a long term commitment… no turn your animal in when it’s old…or your boyfriend doesn’t get along….etc….it SHOULD be a lifetime commitment. Most rescues/shelters here do sterilize before adoption, or give free certificates for them. Most vets are very expensive and the average person can’t afford the yearly bills on them. Personally, the dogs that are placed from my care, are sterilized and microchipped for return if lost. I don’t know what the happy solution is. I know for a fact, it isn’t euthanization by gas chambers or heart sticks. Our governments need to step in and do a better job with rescues and shelters. bottom line……

    • says:

      Hi Helen

      It is all about education and changing attitudes. It is quite common in Italy to hear people say that sterilization is cruel and unnatural, but there are many shelters, organizations and individuals trying to counter this belief. It will take time, but hopefully the change of attitude will prevail.

    As a visitor to italy and being on my own I do not wish to be bitten by a dog. Added to this I do not speak italian and no doubt the dogs do not understand english. As well I do not wish to spend my time in recovery not speaking the language and being frm the other side of the world.
    I came here to walk the countryside but that has been stopped due to the dog attack that occurred on me. Luckily I was not biten just charged from behind by two dogs (another was barking at me from on top of a roof. I thought that was going to be ok as it wouldn’t jump down that far) next minutes I was nearly bowled over by the two from behind. These roads are so narrow, no footpath, and drivers wizzing passed made the situation very dangerous for me. The dogs pushed me into the road to the point of making me stumble. I think the above dog that was barking stopped them from going any further with
    their attack on me.
    1.All dogs in cities should be rounded up and sterilised.
    2. All dog owners should pay a dog registration fee
    3. All dogs should be microchipped
    4. All dog owners should be required to have them fenced
    5. Dogs should only be keep in regard to the size of the property
    Sadly any dog that is found on public property and no meeting these requirements should be put down.
    I love dogs and had a lovely dog of my own.
    However every dog should be a wanted dog.
    In a civilized country people are known by how they look after the weakest I believe that includes taking care of animals

  3. i am italian and i am so sorry about the problem of canili lager in italy, btw the animals are maltreated even in other western countries, not only in italy.
    and i am sorry also to read that the responsability is the Church. The doctrin of the Church in fact condemns the mal treatment of animals cause they are God’s creatures. I am catholic and worked 2 years by an ex canile lager to help the dogs to re-home. I have adopted one of them as well. and many catholics love animals too.
    The cause is the personal sensibility toward the needs of the animals . there are no catholics hate animals as there are catholics love animals.
    anyway many associations are hard working to help animals in italy. There are laws againgst the mal treatment of animals. Many canili lager in fact were been legally sequestered. I know many other not yet.
    So please dont’t show italy as the worse western country. Here for example the wolf and the bear are legally protected any one can kill them ever. in other countries not they are victims of legal killing.
    the bad persons are everywhere not only in italy. the important thing are the laws and here we have good protecting laws to animals. the mentality of some people little by little will change also as consequence of the laws.
    excuse my english. bye

  4. They SHOULD and in fact here ARE laws but never enforced. The best thing would be madatory sterilizations. These dogs are there because people don’t sterilize their dogs and then then abandon the puppies. Just two days ago I picked up puppies of fthe freeway. My friend found 9 dead puppies in teh dumpster near her house. It is education.

  5. I have just seen this thread, better late than never! Having lived here for 46 years (in the deep south) I have noted very little change in people’s mentality about ‘fixing’ companion animals.
    I have always and often asked myself why the government won’t change their tactics; intead of paying to house the animals in canili lager, why don’t they pay out ‘una tantum’ for each animal that is adopted out? It seems so logical to me. Obviously a set sum per month would need to be paid to cover the cost of housing the animals but the more animals you adopt out to responsible people the more you ‘earn’ to cover your costs etc.
    Each canile should have a register listing details of whom they adopt out to so that spot checks can made, by the authorities, to ensure that the adoptive family is bona fide and check on the welfare of the animal.

  6. Lilian, I live in Italy and I am married to an Italian. I work in rescue, whichh is damn hard work in Italy. So yes, I DO KNOW ITALIAN CUSTOMS. Just yesterday i found two nearly dead kittens abandoned full of mange and worms. I live in the Lazio countryside…a common site. I hate when Italian get all uppidy about the problems here and try to make comparisons to other countries. just educate the people. It is EASY.

  7. says:

    Fantastic analogy Sarah….. People are more educated now so hopefully as you say “Things will get better” There should be teachings in schools from an early age on animal welfare, to encourage respect and compassion for all living creatures. It is just sheer ignorance ! and thankfully the italian government have been shamed into tackling these private pounds, at least !

  8. oh gosh Sarah you don’t really know about Italians customs! the problems related to a massive castration on stray dogs is well know in every country all over the world , we allways come at the same point : it needs money, time , volunteers to do it which are not available on a large scale. People can be educated but at the end needs money to get dogs to the vet, bdw from my point of view Church is a problem all over the world. What’s about the numberless of dogs legaly p.t.s at the dog pounds every years in Ireland, UK States etc? don’t they have a soul? for me YES and for me that’s is a murder

  9. Well, you know it is not catholic to spay or neuter. Also a priest once told me having companion animals is vain. the Church is one of the problems in italy. The teach that animals have no souls. It is part of their doctrine, so an entire country is indoctrinated believing this. it WILL get better. In Victorian England the nobility didn’t believe that lower class children had souls or feelings so it was perfectly acceptable to exploit them in industry. Times change!!

  10. Christiana says:

    Italy really needs to tackle the people’s mentality related to spaying and neutering pets. So many misguided Ialians think it is against nature to get their pets fixed, or that it costs too much, but they think it’s OK to dump the puppies/kittens once they have out grown the cute stage.
    Other people who refuse to neuter their animals wonder why their pets are always running off, or throw them out once they start marking their territory in the house.
    Until Italy starts to educate people in this serious matter, (eg publicity campaign, adverts on TV, posters in stations etc), these lager like canili will flourish.
    Sorry to vent like this, but I meet so many people every day who come out with the most unbelieveable reasons why they dont spay/neuter, it really annoys me.

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