by Arabella McIntyre-Brown
There’s nothing so faithful, or as happy, loyal and loving as a dog – a human’s best friend for millennia. Lapdogs or working dogs, huge hounds or tiny terriers, pure breeds or mongrels, dogs are probably the best return on investment of any pet in terms of blatant love, protectiveness, and entertainment.
So why are there so many unloved, unwanted dogs abandoned in Romania?
Unfair question, of course. Those who adore dogs can’t fathom why everyone doesn’t adore dogs. Those who don’t, see a hairy, dirty, noisy beast with too many teeth at one end, too much by-product at the other end, and too much trouble altogether.
People’s attitudes in Romania to animals in general, and particularly to dogs and cats, tends to split along the boundary between town and country. Many of my city friends, even those living in apartments, have cats, dogs or both. They are devoted to their pets, and lavish good food and veterinary care on them for no reason other than that their pets are worth it.
Sergiu Stănescu and his wife Gabriela are two such people. Already having a large German Brach in their one-bedroom apartment in Bucharest, Sergiu found a huge but skeletal Carpathian Shepherd puppy in the mountains, desperate for help. “She weighed 17 kilos when she should be 40kg,” says Sergiu. “She had been thrown out like garbage by the shepherds, and had survived for several months till she found us.”
Shepherd dogs in Romania are kept to guard against bears and wolves, not for herding the sheep. The dogs are large and powerful, and must have strong pack instincts. Disobedience is punished with a big stick or abandonment; any weakness can result in severe injury or death for dog or livestock when wild predators attack the flocks.
In rural Romania dogs have to earn their keep. A village dog is a tool, tolerated for its territorial instincts, a cheap alarm against strangers and predators. It’s a tool that eats, but gets survival rations, often no more nutritious than bread, maybe some leftover soup and scraps. Kept all day on a two-metre chain, let off the chain at night if they’re lucky, it’s no wonder they get vicious. Bored, lonely and frustrated, very often with no shelter from the weather, you’d get pretty murderous, too.
Sergiu gave the starving Carpathian puppy a home, and now Ayra weighs 45kg and is a formidable protector, although soft as butter with friends.
Bucharest’s stray dog problem is infamous. Five years ago, the city was overrun; statistics are unreliable, ranging from 10,000 to more than 50,000 street dogs just in Bucharest. Two people died from dog bites, and then a small child was killed by a pack of strays, and the government’s reaction was to capture and kill the whole lot. Over 20,000 were killed in a matter of months (euthanised is too kind a word), but another 20,000 adopted by people appalled by the threat of death. The cull created a huge scandal, and although there are markedly fewer strays on Bucharest’s streets, Romania still has a huge problem.
There are specific reasons for the high number of stray dogs here, and there are scandals about fraud and cruelty in the dog-capture-rehoming-euthanasia industry, but this is Christmas, and I’m limiting the bleak stories.
The heartwarming numbers of people dedicated to helping dogs goes some way to counter the onslaught of dark news about animals, in Romania, UK, US and elsewhere. Local shelters run by big-hearted Romanian individuals, desperately short of money, forced to use premises that are less than ideal (vast understatement); devoted foreigners working with Romanians to get homeless dogs adopted; cross-border teams working to raise funds for animal welfare, rescue, rehoming and education, and tireless people scooping up dogs from the roadside to house and feed in their own homes.
Luiza Peter is a vet working with the American-run charity Romania Animal Rescue. “I fell in love with what Aurelian Stefan and his team were doing at RAR, when I visited the Centre of Hope in Bucharest. It’s a big hospital for animals in need, where they treat illnesses and injuries for free. I joined RAR in April 2017.”
People bring animals to the Centre of Hope for emergency treatment, and for neutering. Spaying and neutering animals is a priority for RAR, being the best way to cut down on strays and feral animals on the streets.
“We collaborate with shelters, and on average we neuter ten dogs each day. This year alone we have sterilised 10,000 animals, and 60,000 in total,” says Luiza.
RAR also takes in homeless animals and rehomes as many as possible. “This week we have sent two dogs to new homes in the USA,” Luiza says.
RAR was founded by Nancy Janes, and is part of the international charity based in California; many Americans take dogs from Romania. “Nancy is the big boss,” says Luiza. “A great lady with a good heart.”
RAR’s education campaigns focus on children, of course. “We give out free worming treatments for animals, and free leashes,” says Luiza.
Nancy Janes says: “Children and students often bring injured animals that they find to our clinics as they learn about our free care for these animals. It’s wonderful that they have a place to turn to who will set the right example of compassion.”
All donations are hugely appreciated, from tiny amounts to major sponsorships. The big fundraising campaign at the moment is aimed at buying new medical equipment: an endoscopic device and an ultrasound machine. Transport costs for rehoming, day-to-day care for dogs in the shelter, and sterilising operations all need funding.
I’m donating royalties from my new book, Floss the lost puppy, to RAR and to Eli Pet Transport, but if you can help beyond buying the book, that would put smiles on even more dogs’ faces.
Read The true story of Pita, the lost puppy the inspiration for the character Floss!
Romania Animal Rescue (RAR) – www.romaniaanimalrescue.org