Before arriving to Romania I bumped into a recent travel related blog post. It stated that there are luckily not many stray dogs in the streets of Bucharest anymore.
When we strolled around Bucharest central area, we didn’t see that many dogs either. Still the observation couldn’t be further from the truth. That is obvious when I listen to Veera Nuri, who has been living in Romania for couple of years working with the stray dogs and took time to show us some shelters.
Veera is a volunteer with Kulkurit, a Finnish Rescue Association Hobo Dogs, which co-operates with local animal protectors in Romania. She knows how to spot the animals hiding and notices if a trash bag next to the road starts to move. There might be someone in it.
The problems are so massive that it is hard to even understand. There are estimated to be over two million stray dogs in Romania. The problem escalated in the 1980’s when Ceausescu, the former dictator of Romania, forced people to move to city apartments from their countryside homes. The pets didn’t fit to the small apartments and were left in the streets. Attitudes have remained and dogs still get kicked out of homes when they are not wanted anymore.
Dogs are caught from the streets and brought to the public shelters, where dogs are regularly killed. This doesn’t reduce the total amount of dogs since the ones alive still breed. Then there are the private shelters. They are run by local animal protectors, who want to keep the animals alive and help them, not an easy task when you consider the amount of dogs in need and the resources.
Our plan is to first visit Glina shelter, a private one that Hobo Dogs used to co-operate with. Since the situation in the shelter has stayed unchanged the cooperation has ended in the beginning of this year but Veera still helps there almost on a daily basis. Some of the dogs will move to a new Carpe shelter that is being built and which we will visit after Glina.
No Running Water, No Electricity
We drive a very bumpy road to an open field. Veera parks the car next to Glina’s gate. Behind it there are cages made out of metal mesh and put together with wires hanging here and there. Dogs start to bark and the sound moves like a wave from one end of the field to another.
I remember seeing a video last winter where people shovel snow to get dogs out of their houses. Now I’m standing in the same field but it is hot and dusty. Though luckily it is not raining since when it rains the terrain turns into a mud field, Veera tells.
To be an animal protector is no easy task, especially in Romania. There are so many to be helped and resources are few. People know what you do and leave their dogs to you.
There is a conflict between the Romanian and Finnish ways of helping animals too since the quality of life is defined differently. In Romania it is seen important to take as many dogs as possible to the shelters, even if they have to live in conditions that are far from good physically and mentally. Euthanasia is not an option even when the dog is terminally ill. The shelters are so overcrowded that the living conditions easily turn horrific for the dogs and working conditions exhausting for humans. Even when the intentions are good.
We walk between the cages. There are dogs everywhere, paws against fences, many noses sniffing our hands. Puppies are of course the cutest things and attract the attention. They go all over the place with the amount of energy only puppies have, one minute jumping around our legs, then starting a small wrestling match with the cage mates. They don’t yet know they are the lucky ones, since puppies usually find homes easily. But if you are just a normal adult dog, you might have to wait for years to get adopted. It could be that the rusty cage is the only and last home that you will ever have.
In this shelter there is no running water. A man lifts water from a well and I look at it in disbelief. Does he carry the water like that for all the 250 dogs? Yes. Some dogs get so excited that they pour the water all over the ground in no time and have to wait another day for a new batch. There is no electricity. There is no place to store food but it has to be brought to the shelter everyday from a store.
Two puppies have managed to get tangled up in a fabric in the back of one cage. Luckily Veera spots them and helps them out. Who knows how much longer they would have been stuck there otherwise. Often there is no one at the shelter since the people running it have to have day jobs as well. There is just not enough time and pairs of hands to help to do all the tasks.
That is one reason why Carpe is being built: to make helping more sustainable and not just everyday battle that seems to be lost to begin with. Carpe is a common project of Romanian animal protector Carmen Manescu and Hobo Dogs.
Peggy Has Arrived
We go back to the van and drive a long way. Carpe is located near the Bulgarian border, quite far from Bucharest. But that is a small con compared to the pros. The area is more covered from wind and snow and there are no neighbours nearby to get disturbed. There will be space to store food which means one doesn’t have to make daily shopping in the nearest city.
It is quiet when the builders open the gate for us. Though there is already one excited resident to greet us. A puppy named Peggy has been dumped to the construction area over the fence.
Carpe is not yet finished but after visiting the other shelter I can see why it is built the way it is. Concrete floors, less cages, electricity, a pump for the well. Veera will be living at the shelter too, so the dogs have someone there to look after them. She also has the possibility to socialise the dogs which makes adoption process easier.
But still, a cage is a cage. It is no place for anyone to be day after day. Living a life is not just staying alive, this day has been a good reminder of that.
It is what Hobo Dogs state too. The animals should be able to fulfil the behavioral needs in a stressless and safe environment. Veera tells that their goal is that Carpe is not the final habitation of the dogs, just a place before finding their own home. When adopted the dogs also become ambassadors of Romanian dogs and their situation.
It is easy to think when facing problems this size that one can do nothing to change things. All those dogs we met and that was only one shelter! There are no quick fixes but spaying, neutering and educating are the long lasting solutions that will little by little change the situation for better.
I hope to find in every country I visit a charity to donate to. In Romania I chose to help Hobo Dogs’ spaying campaign and of course Carpe. I hope that through Carpe many of those dogs we met will find a loving home they deserve.