Romania is renowned for having a terrible stray dog problem. It’s thought that the population started to spiral out of control in 1980, when people living in the countryside were forced out of their homes and into inner city apartments in an attempt to transform Romania into an industrial society, abandoning their animals. Another contributing factor is thought to be the actions of Traian Basescu, the former Mayor of Bucharest and later President of Romania. He ordered for masses of Bucharest strays to be abandoned in small surrounding villages, lowering the number within the city but creating packs within smaller communities. However, it’s also apparent that many Romanian citizens don’t understand how important neutering is and therefore those that own dogs and allow them to roam free also add to the number of puppies born. Mass culling was the main method of population management, but without implementing neutering campaigns this dealt with the problem on a very short term basis and caused significant controversy both within Romania and overseas. In 2008 a law was passed to which ruled that no healthy animal should be euthanised. However, in 2013 following the death of a young boy by a pack of strays the slaughter of street dogs started all over again, and often in a brutal manner.
Sadly, in a country with little money, animal welfare is not a priority. In 2015 it was reported that 51% of Romanian children under 18 were at risk of poverty and in order to grow socially and economically the government have to prioritise human needs above animal needs. That said, there is no excuse for animal abuse, and NGO’s are taking into their own hands to ensure that Romanian street dogs have a glimmer of hope. One organisation who have created an amazing concept and are striving to ‘redefine animal shelters’ are CityDogs4StreetDogs, who have founded the shelter The Dog Rose. In October, myself and Alicia ventured over to Romania for a week to meet with our rescue friends at The Dog Rose who work tirelessly to create a better future for the canine population. So tirelessly in fact that the main reason of our trip was to volunteer at the shelter in order to try and relieve the pressure that they experience every single day.
The Dog Rose is a shelter like no other in Romania. Situated in a quiet, rural area the shelter is built on 2 hectares of land and includes safe, enclosed spaces for the dogs to exercise and explore, a puppy run, a classroom, running water, electricity and a team that tend to the dogs in their care day in, day out, without any complaints. It’s easy to forget you’re actually at a shelter with the constant hum of insects blended with the sound of bird calls surrounding you. Being confined to a concrete floored cubicle does nothing to benefit the happiness, social skills or health of the dogs, but often there’s no alternative. The Dog Rose made this a priority and prides themselves in developing their shelter on land where they could create safe but open compounds. Aside from raising welfare standards within the shelter, The Dog Rose has also built an education centre. The curriculum is designed for school aged children and aims to influence the way in which stray dogs are understood. The Dog Rose teaches communication and interaction, hands on experiences, basic medical introductions and the importance of neutering, aiming to build positive relationships between children and dogs. In addition, by 2019 The Dog Rose hopes to open an Animal Rescue Garden, which will be able to provide education, relaxation, entertainment and vegetarian cuisine, all whilst being surrounded by rescue dogs! To educate is to create change, which is exactly what Romania needs.
Alice and Gabi are the main driving forces behind the work on the ground at The Dog Rose. Upon meeting them it was immediately clear their lives are devoted to helping animals. Both qualified veterinarians, they run their business from their own home whilst managing the shelter on a day to day basis. Alice’s father, Eugene, also helps at the shelter every single day and is a complete natural with the dogs. His calm nature wins over even the most nervous of pups. It was incredible to watch him interact with them.
We were thrown in at the deep end on our first day in Romania when we found Chester, a beautiful, but terribly sick puppy. We drove straight to Alice and Gabi’s clinic with Chester wrapped in a plastic bag to try and raise his temperature a little and almost immediately he tested positive for every rescuers worst nightmare, Parvovirus. Parvo is an extremely contagious disease with a high mortality rate, and it attacks the intestines which stops the dog being able to absorb vital nutrients. We left Chester that night in the clinic hoping that he would pull through, but understanding that it was a possibility that he wouldn’t.
Alice called the following day to say Chester was still hanging in there but still seriously unwell. We anxiously socialised with the puppies that day, avoiding touching them as much as we could (which by the way was far easier said than done!). Even though we were clean and in new clothes, Parvo can live on surfaces for 6-12 months which is why it’s so terrifying when there’s an outbreak within a shelter environment. Thankfully, the older dogs at The Dog Rose were vaccinated and healthy, so we turned our attention to socialising the more traumatised dogs.
Heartbreakingly, a few days later Chester’s sister, Lydia, began to deteriorate and tested positive for Parvovirus too. Unfortunately she wasn’t strong enough to beat the disease. Chester however began to eat by himself and slowly started to gain weight. Things were looking up.
Over the course of the week we befriended some amazing dogs at the shelter. Viva, a beautiful Shepherd mix puppy destined for a home in the UK, Loa and Avalon, two purebred German Shepherd sisters abandoned by their breeder due to their hip dysplasia, Everest, a puppy with mange so painful she cried every time she scratched herself, and Xenya, the most affectionate little dog with a heart of gold. One night we smuggled a teeny pup named Smudge into our hotel and he proceeded to stink the entire bathroom out – who knows what the cleaners thought we’d eaten when they came in the following day!
Because the stray dog population has been growing over the decades, some of the dogs roaming the streets have never known a home, and neither did their ancestors. The dogs are rarely aggressive, but they’re often independent and trust has to be earned – they won’t seek it out. However within just a week of spending every day with The Dog Rose dogs we saw significant improvements in many of the shy characters. Romanian dogs are tough, they can fend for themselves if they have to, but when they let you in there’s no love like it.
Between the long days at the shelter we also made time to visit local foster homes, meet some of the gypsy community, feed the family of street dogs outside our hotel, encourage the locals to catch and neuter the dogs they were feeding, and of course, we were kept up to date with Chester’s progress throughout. He was still in a critical condition when we left Romania, but I’m delighted to say he’s now made a full recovery and is now looking for a forever home! Whilst Alice and Gabi had the shelter duties relieved for the week they were still working round the clock at home to nurse sick puppies back to health and feed the local stray community. They are completely committed to helping as many animals as they can and we’re keen to support their mission. Their passion is unrivalled, but to witness suffering every single day no doubt takes it’s toll.
You can donate to help The Dog Rose continue their vital work within Romania here (remember to quote ROMANIA) and you can check out the dogs available for adoption here. There are so many incredible characters looking for forever homes, please consider adopting from The Dog Rose if you’re looking for a new rescue companion. Romania needs our support to effectively manage the stray dog population.